Over the last nine months Indigenous Watchdog has documented numerous examples of systemic racism against First Nations, Métis and Inuit people across Canada in healthcare delivery, child welfare jurisdiction and justice systems including excessive use of force by the police. Among its conclusions, “In Plain Sight – Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care”, an independent investigation released on December 1, 2020 states “If we want to address systemic racism then we have to confront the racism that remains in our institutions, as reflected in our laws, policies and practices, including the Indian Act”.
When measuring the socio-economic gaps between Indigenous people and the rest of Canada, examining the underlying individual and institutional beliefs, assumptions and attitudes is essential to understanding why those gaps refuse to shrink decade after decade and why in some instances, they actually continue to grow. Three strong examples of why systemic racism will not go away can be seen in the recent actions of the premiers of three provinces: Quebec (Nov. 24), Manitoba (Nov. 2) and New Brunswick (Nov. 17):
- In Québec, the world was shocked by the death of Joyce Echaquon who recorded her abuse while dying in a Joliette hospital on September 28, 2020. Premier Francois Legault unequivocally denies that systemic racism exists in Québec despite the overwhelming conclusions reached by the Viens Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Final Report including Volume 2 – Québec
- In Manitoba, the government clawed back $325M of federal Child Special Allowance payments for indigenous children. The government eliminated the clawback in 2019 and then passed legislation prohibiting First Nations from taking the government to court to reclaim the funds appropriated between 2010 and 2018. In addition, 13 years after Jordan’s Principle was unanimously passed in the House of Commons, Manitoba is still fighting the federal government over jurisdiction and payments for the delivery of health services. Manitoba denied services to an on-reserve Indigenous youth while the same services were covered for non-Indigenous youths
- In New Brunswick, the deaths of Chantal Moore and Rodney Levi within a week at the hands of the police raised legitimate questions about the excessive use of force by the police
What do those actions say about those premier’s commitments to reconciliation.
Two months after the death of Joyce Echaquon in a Joliette hospital while enduring racist taunts, verbal abuse and sub-standard care at the hands of nursing and hospital staff, Premier Legault refuses to admit that systemic racism exists within Quebec society. On November 24, the government refused to adopt a Liberal motion to recognize Joyce’s Principle, “a call to action, aiming to ensure Indigenous people have equal access to “the highest standard” of government-run health services. Drawn up by the Atikamekw nation, it calls for Indigenous care without discrimination to all health and social services and the recognition of Indigenous traditions.” The government took exception to the reference to systemic racism.
Premier Legault seems to have forgotten that only one year earlier on Oct. 2, 2019 he stood in the provincial legislature and publicly apologised to the Indigenous people of Quebec “for discrimination they suffered in dealing with the state” (CBC). The public apology was the first of two key recommendations from the “Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Québec: listening, reconciliation and progress: Final Report (the Viens Commission):
Call for action 1: Make a public apology to members of First Nations and Québec’s Inuit for the harm caused by laws, policies, standards and the practices of public service providers
Call for action 2: To National Assembly – Adopt a motion to recognize and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Québec
The mandate of the Viens Commission was to investigate, ascertain the facts and make analyses with a view to making recommendations as to the concrete, effective and sustainable measures to be implemented by the Gouvernement du Québec and by the Aboriginal authorities to prevent or eliminate, regardless of their origin or cause, any form of violence or discriminatory practices or differential treatments in the provision of the following public services to the Aboriginals of Québec: police services, correctional services, justice services, health and social services and youth protection services.
Jacques Viens’ conclusion: “It seems impossible to deny the systemic racism experienced by First Nations and Inuit people in their relations with the public services investigated”. The commission identified 142 Calls to Action across broad segments of Québec society:
- Police Services (13 Calls for action)
- Justice Services (16 Calls for action)
- Correctional Services (18 Calls for action)
- Health and Social Services (34 Calls for action)
- Youth Protection Services (30 Calls for action
- Tracking Mechanism (5 Calls for action)
- Other (26 Calls for action)
In addition, the MMIWG Final Report Volume 2 – Quebec stated “The Institut national de la santé publique du Québec [INSPQ; Quebec public health institute] published a document that acknowledges the inadequacy of the services provided to Indigenous peoples and the discrimination described by the women who testified before the National Inquiry”.
On Sept. 14, 2018 François Legault, Leader of Coalition Avenir Quebec, in a letter to Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) stated that a CAQ government would implement UNDRIP with the full collaboration of Indigenous peoples. Two years later on Aug. 14, 2020 Premier Legault reversed his position due to fears that it will force the government to give Indigenous groups a veto on all economic projects…citing a risk to the integrity of the province and the right of Quebec’s self-determination” (CTV Aug. 14, 2020). As AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard observes: “Demanding for yourself (self-determination) what you deny to others (Indigenous self-determination) is absurd.” So much for the Viens Commission Call for Action 2!
Every year since 2016 the Manitoba Government has issued “The Path to Reconciliation Annual Report” on how the province is advancing reconciliation. Except 2020.
On November 6, 2020 Bill 2, the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act was passed. Bill 2 is Manitoba’s attempt to legalize the theft of Children’s Special Allowance money from children in care in Manitoba where approximately 90% of all children in care are Indigenous. It is also Manitoba’s attempt to escape legal accountability for the theft. Three days later, on Nov. 9, 2020 a group of 19 Indigenous child and family agencies and Authorities and the Southern Chiefs Organization filed a constitutional legal challenge against Manitoba’s Bill 2. Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO), the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) are particularly concerned by section 8, “which sets out to legally end the ability of current and former children in care to sue the Manitoba government for clawing back their monthly Children’s Special Allowance (the maximum Canada Child Benefit payment plus the Child Disability Benefit).
“From 2005 to 2019, approximately $338 million dollars of the Child Special Allowance (CSA) funds meant for First Nations children in care were stolen by the provincial government. This is an illegal action. We have a government trying to justify their actions, wiping their hands clean from the claw backs of the CSA by protecting themselves from any legal recourse through Bill 2,” stated Chief Karen Batson of Pine Creek First Nation. “This is a human rights violation and is another example of how the provincial government has neglected children in care in the past, present, and now future,” concluded Chief Batson.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Official Opposition Manitoba NDP and the Manitoba Liberal Party, denounce and reject Bill 2 and stand in opposition against the Provincial government’s approach to denying First Nations families and children access to justice. Section 84 of the “Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act” will retroactively legalize Manitoba’s actions since January 1, 2005, as well as take away the right to any reparations for the children and families affected by the practice of clawing back the Children’s Special Allowance.
In addition, the Government of Manitoba is continuing to have jurisdictional disputes with the federal government over Jordon’s Principle, passed unanimously in the House of Commons 13 years ago in 2007. A Manitoba Human Rights Commission (MHRC) decision found a First Nations family was discriminated against “on the basis of their ancestry as Anishinaabe people and the disability of Dewey a teen who wasn’t able to access consistent health care on reserve because of jurisdictional disputes and systemic discrimination…The province maintaining the federal government is responsible for providing health care and related services in First Nations communities”. This is precisely the kind of jurisdictional dispute that Jordan’s Principle was designed to address. The MHRC adjudicator noted that “The same problems did not afflict neighbouring non-First Nations communities, and those residents enjoyed health care and related services without denial, delay, or interruption.” (CBC. Aug. 19, 2020)
“I want to reconfirm this government’s commitment to build and strengthen relationships with the Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy and Wolastoqey people, so we can work toward the betterment of our province as a whole,” Premier Blaine Higgs, speech to the AFN’s 40th Annual General Assembly. July 24, 2019 (CBC)
Premier Higgs has ignored repeated requests from the six chiefs of the Wolastoqey First Nations for an inquiry into the death of two Indigenous people in New Brunswick at the hands of the police. The chiefs asked for an inquiry into systemic racism to be established 30 days after the election held on Sept. 14, 2020 and two months later none of the six Wolastoqey Chiefs have heard from Premier Blaine Higgs or Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn. The Speech from the Throne on Nov. 17, 2020 highlighting the government’s agenda made no mention of the issue.
In fact, his initial response was to remove Jake Stewart from his position as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs – and out of cabinet and into the back benches – and demote the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs from a seat at the cabinet to a first-time minister who also has the duties and responsibilities as the Minister of Economic Development and Small Business, Opportunities New Brunswick and Immigration. Premier Higgs new philosophy and legislative focus for Aboriginal Affairs is one of: “Out of sight, out of mind!”
The premier also refused to respond to a survey on systemic racism submitted by the Wolastoqey Nations before the election. The optics would seem to indicate that Premier Higgs is punishing a constituency for which he obviously has little regard. After all, the Indigenous population of New Brunswick totals 29,380, just 4% of the province’s population. So, from his perspective: why should he care?
Perhaps as an answer to that question, Premier Higgs should read the New Brunswick official response to the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report issued on June 14, 2015 that committed that New Brunswick “will work to repair and rebuild the relationship with First Nations”. To that end, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs was created as full-time dedicated cabinet post because ““rebuilding this relationship deserves a full-time minister”. Apparently, not any more.
Something else Premier Blaine can add to his reading list: four days BEFORE the Speech from the Throne, the RCMP Civilian Complaints and Review Commission issued its “Report into the RCMP’s Response to Anti-shale Gas Protests in Kent County, New Brunswick”. “Canada’s ongoing reconciliation with Indigenous people includes protecting the rights of those whose voices have been diminished by systemic sources of racism in our society,” commission chairwoman Michelaine Lahaie said in a statement accompanying the report.
The latest examples from above are the tip of the iceberg, the most current – and visible – examples of where and how systemic racism exists in Canada. The problem is that the elected leaders in those provinces are refusing to listen to what the Indigenous leaders are asking and refusing to admit that the problem exists. If there is no problem, there can’t possibly be a solution.
That is a problem.