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Open letter to Justin Trudeau: Give First Nations children an equal chance

Dear Prime Minister,

We write as a group of concerned citizens to urge you and the Canadian government to support culturally based equity for First Nations children. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that Canada fundamentally must acknowledge and remedy its unjust treatment of Indigenous peoples. While we are concerned for and committed to the well-being of all Indigenous children, First Nations children are uniquely affected by federal underfunding of services on-reserve. It is unacceptable that the federal government does not provide First Nations children, youth and families with equitable education, health care, child welfare and basics such as clean drinking water.

We are deeply moved by the statements of residential school survivors recounting the harm they experienced, separated from their families, communities, cultures and languages. We cannot stand by while another generation of children is removed from their families because the federal government fails to fund child-welfare services equitably, as evidenced by the dramatic over-representation of First Nations children in child-welfare care. This generation of First Nations children must be treated fairly with the best opportunity for a healthy and happy childhood.

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As you will remember, your government welcomed the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's decision of January, 2016, which found that federal underfunding of First Nations child welfare and failure to ensure equitable access to public services constituted a clear breach of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The government saw the tribunal's decision as a vital first step in achieving substantive equality for First Nations children. Unfortunately, the tribunal has since issued several non-compliance orders against your government. Three of these orders came after the tribunal considered the additional investments made for child and family services in Budget 2016. In June, your government elected to seek judicial review of one such order by the tribunal, a choice which we cannot understand or support. Your government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on litigation to resist full implementation of the tribunal's decisions – a move that is incompatible with your pledged support for a new partnership with First Nations, and all Indigenous people in Canada and their governments.

Current funding levels are insufficient to address the impacts of long-standing federal inequities and meet the real needs of First Nations children. We are asking you to implement the tribunal's decisions immediately, drop the application for judicial review and work with First Nations to end inequalities in all service areas. We know there is a better path forward, and we ask that you direct the Ministers of Justice, Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development, and Health to meet directly with those who have brought the human rights complaint to the tribunal without delay. As your government approaches the halfway point of its mandate, we respectfully remind you that equity for First Nations children is the greatest piece of unfinished business on the national agenda.

Signatories: Murray Sinclair, Bob Rae, Sheila Fraser, Shelagh Day, Gordon Ritchie, Atom Egoyan, Arsinée Khanjian, Linda Fraser, Michele Landsberg, Geoff Cape, Sarah Dinnick, Mark Kingwell, Martin Katz, Victoria Jackman, Barbara Filipetti, John Filipetti, David Allan, Mary Allan, Kate Daniels, David Moos, Julie Moos, Mimi Joh, John Carnella, Henry Jackman, Cheryl Milne, Edward Morawski, Shanly Arnett, Heather Farnworth, Carol Weinbaum, Barb Collombin, Kate Robson, Carol Sewell, Brian Imrie, Karen Goos, Althea Macdonald, Tracy Pryce, Tara Black, Elisa Nuyten, Susanne Truelsen, Mary Wellner, Andrew Livingston, Diana Carradine, Muzzamil Imran, Helene Clarkson

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