Assembly of First Nations: Canadian Human Rights Tribunal – RULING

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Assembly of First Nations: Canadian Human Rights Tribunal – RULING

by ahnationtalk on January 26, 2016375 Views


Assembly of First Nations: Canadian Human Rights Tribunal – DECISION

In loving memory of Réjean Bélanger

I. Acknowledgement

[1] This decision concerns children. More precisely, it is about how the past and current child welfare practices in First Nations communities on reserves, across Canada, have impacted and continue to impact First Nations children, their families and their communities

[2] These proceedings included extensive evidence on the history of Indian Residential Schools and the experiences of those who attended or were affected by them. The Tribunal also heard heartfelt testimony from someone who attended and was directly impacted by attending a residential school. At the outset of these reasons, the Panel Members (the Panel) believe it important to acknowledge the suffering of all residential school survivors, their families and communities. We recognize the courage of those who have spoken about their experiences over the years and before this Tribunal. We also wish to honour the memory and lives of the many children who died, and all who were harmed, while attending these schools, along with their families and communities. We wish healing and recognition for all Aboriginal peoples across Canada for the individual and collective trauma endured as a result of the Indian Residential Schools system.

II. Complaint and background

[3] Child welfare services, or child and family services, are services designed to protect children and encourage family stability. The main aim of these services is to safeguard children from abuse and neglect (see Annex, ex. 1 s.v. “child welfare”). Hence the best interest of the child is a paramount principle in the provision of these services and is a principle recognized in international and Canadian law. This principle is meant to guide and inform decisions that impact all children, including First Nations children

[4] Each province and territory has its own child and family services legislation and standards and provides those services within its jurisdiction. However, the provision of child and family services to First Nations on reserves and in the Yukon is unique and is the subject of this decision.

[5] At issue are the activities of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), known at the time of the hearing as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), in managing the First Nations Child and Family Services Program (the FNCFS Program), its corresponding funding formulas and a handful of other related provincial and territorial agreements that provide for child and family services to First Nations living on reserve and in the Yukon Territory. Pursuant to the FNCFS Program and other agreements, child and family services are provided to First Nations on-reserve and in the Yukon by First Nations Child and Family Services Agencies (FNCFS Agencies) or by the province/territory in which the community is located. In either situation, the child and family services legislation of the province/territory in which the First Nation is located applies. AANDC funds the child and family services provided to First Nations by FNCFS Agencies or the province/territory.

[6] Pursuant to section 5 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (the CHRA), the Complainants, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (the Caring Society) and the Assembly of First Nations (the AFN), allege AANDC discriminates in providing child and family services to First Nations on reserve and in the Yukon, on the basis of race and/or national or ethnic origin, by providing inequitable and insufficient funding for those services (the Complaint). On October 14, 2008, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) referred the Complaint to this Tribunal for an inquiry.

[7] In a decision dated March 14, 2011 (2011 CHRT 4), the Tribunal granted a motion brought by AANDC for the dismissal of the Complaint on the ground that the issues raised were beyond the Tribunal’s jurisdiction (the jurisdictional motion). That decision was subsequently the subject of an application for judicial review before the Federal Court of Canada.

[8] On April 18, 2012, the Federal Court rendered its decision, Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Canada (Attorney General), 2012 FC 445 (Caring Society FC), setting aside the Tribunal’s decision on the jurisdictional motion. The Federal Court remitted the matter to a differently constituted panel of the Tribunal for redetermination in accordance with its reasons. The Respondent’s appeal of that decision was dismissed by the Federal Court of Appeal in Canada (Attorney General) v. Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2013 FCA 75 (Caring Society FCA).

[9] A new panel, composed of Sophie Marchildon, as Panel Chairperson, and members Réjean Bélanger and Edward Lustig, was appointed to re-determine this matter (see 2012 CHRT 16). It dismissed the Respondent’s motion to have the jurisdictional motion re-heard, and ruled the Complaint would be dealt with on its merits (see 2012 CHRT 17).

[10] The Complaint was subsequently amended to add allegations of retaliation (see 2012 CHRT 24). In early June 2015, the Panel found the allegations of retaliation to be substantiated in part (see 2015 CHRT 14).

[11] The present decision deals with the merits of the Complaint. During deliberations our friend and colleague, Tribunal Member Réjean Bélanger, passed away. Despite his valued contributions to the hearing and consideration of this matter, he sadly was not able to see the final result of his work. While this decision is signed on behalf of the remaining Members of the Panel, we dedicate it in his honour and memory.

III. Parties

[12] The Caring Society is a non-profit organization committed to research, policy development and advocacy on behalf of First Nations agencies that serve the well-being of children, youth and families. The AFN is a national advocacy organization that works on behalf of over 600 First Nations on issues such as Treaty and Aboriginal rights, education, housing, health, child welfare and social development. The Commission, in appearing before the Tribunal at a hearing, represents the public interest (see section 51 of the CHRA). AANDC is the federal government department primarily responsible for meeting the Government of Canada’s obligations and commitments to Aboriginal peoples.

[13] Additionally, two organizations were granted “Interested Party” status for these proceedings: Amnesty International and the Chiefs of Ontario (COO). Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organization committed to the advancement of human rights across the globe. It was granted interested party status to assist the Tribunal in understanding the relevance of Canada’s international human rights obligations to the Complaint. The COO is a non-profit organization representing the 133 First Nations in the Province of Ontario. It was granted interested party status to speak to the particularities of on-reserve child welfare services in Ontario.

IV. The hearing, disclosure and admissibility of documents

[14] The hearing of the Complaint spanned 72 days from February 2013 to October 2014. Throughout the hearing, documentary disclosure and the admissibility of certain documents as evidence became an issue.

[15] All arguably relevant documents were not disclosed prior to the commencement of the hearing. Despite agreeing to complete its disclosure prior to the start of the hearing, and subsequently confirming that it had, AANDC knew of the existence of a number of arguably relevant documents in the summer of 2012 and yet failed to disclose them prior to the hearing. Only after the completion of an Access to Information Act request made by the Caring Society, and shortly before the third week of hearings, did AANDC inform the parties and the Tribunal of the existence of over 50,000 additional documents and an unspecified number of emails, which were potentially relevant to the Complaint, but had yet to be disclosed. As a result, the Tribunal vacated hearing dates in June 2013, rearranged the proceedings to hear the allegations of retaliation in July and August 2013, and, following a deadline for AANDC to complete its disclosure by August 31, 2013, resumed the hearing on the merits on dates from August 2013 to January 2014 (see 2013 CHRT 16).

[16] Following the disclosure of over 100,000 additional documents by AANDC, the hearing resumed. However, AANDC did not complete the disclosure of all arguably relevant documents until August 2014 due to an objection under section 37(1) of the Canada Evidence Act. Specifically, certain documents were characterized as being subject to Cabinet confidence privilege. All the parties agreed to have the Clerk of the Privy Council review the documents to determine if the privilege applied. This review process was completed fairly quickly once the Clerk was provided with the documents.

[17] An issue arose as to how the 100,000 additional documents could be admitted into evidence. The Caring Society requested an order that any additionally disclosed documents upon which it wished to rely be admitted as evidence for the truth of their contents, regardless of whether or not the author or recipient of the document was called as a witness, and whether or not they were put to any other witness. For reasons outlined in 2014 CHRT 2, the Panel ruled as follows:

a. Rule 9(4) of the Tribunal’s Rules of Procedure will continue to apply. As such, documents will continue to be admitted into evidence, on a case-by case basis, once they are introduced during the hearing and accepted by the Panel;

b. There will be no need to call witnesses for the sole purpose of authenticating documentary evidence. Any issues raised relating to authentication will be considered by the Panel at the weighing stage;

c. For the purposes of Rule 9(4), a document has not been fully “introduced” at the hearing until counsel or a witness for the party tendering it has indicated:

i. which portions of the document are being relied upon; and

ii. how these portions of the document relate to an issue in the case.

d. Should a party wish to rely on evidence during its final argument that was not introduced according to the procedure above (either prior to or subsequent to this order), appropriate curative measures may be taken by the Panel, and in particular, the opposing party may be allotted additional time to adequately prepare a response, including calling additional witnesses and bringing forward additional documentary evidence, in accordance with the principles of procedural fairness. This may result in an adjournment of the proceedings.

[18] Following the completion of the hearing, further issues arose as to which documents ought to form part of the record before the Tribunal. AANDC raised concerns regarding the admissibility of documents relied on by counsel for the Complainants and Commission, but not referred to orally during the hearing. In 2015 CHRT 1, the Panel ordered:

Documents listed in Appendix B of the Commission’s December 1, 2014 letter (including Documents Referred to Only in Final Written Submissions (which were Adopted Orally) found at page 9) will be considered as forming part of the evidentiary record. The Respondent will be granted an opportunity to respond to the Complainant’s documents listed in Appendix B and supporting submissions with the exception of tab-66. Should the Respondent decide to benefit from this opportunity, the Respondent is to advise the parties and the Tribunal of its intention and form of response by no later than January 21, 2015, following which the Respondent will have until February 4, 2015 to file its response.

[19] In response to the Panel’s order, AANDC provided written representations with respect to the documents at issue. According to AANDC, the Panel should place little, if any, weight on those documents in determining the merits of the Complaint. It also provided a chart summarizing its position on each of the documents.

[20] AANDC’s submissions on the documents subject to the Panel’s order in 2015 CHRT 1, along with its other submissions regarding the weight to ascribe to the evidence in this matter, have been taken into consideration by the Panel, together with the submissions of the other parties, in making the findings that follow.

V. Analysis

[21] As mentioned above, the present Complaint alleges the provision of child and family services in on-reserve First Nations communities and in the Yukon is discriminatory. Namely that there is inequitable and insufficient funding for those services by AANDC. In this regard, the Complainants have the burden of proof of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. A prima facie case is “…one which covers the allegations made and which, if they are believed, is complete and sufficient to justify a verdict in the complainant’s favour in the absence of an answer from the respondent” (see Ont. Human Rights Comm. v. Simpsons-Sears, 1985 CanLII 18 (SCC) at para. 28).

[22] In the context of this Complaint, under section 5 of the CHRA, the Complainants must demonstrate (1) that First Nations have a characteristic or characteristics protected from discrimination; (2) that they are denied services, or adversely impacted by the provision of services, by AANDC; and, (3) that the protected characteristic or characteristics are a factor in the adverse impact or denial (see Moore v. British Columbia (Education), 2012 SCC 61 at para. 33 [Moore]).

[23] The first element is relatively simple in this case: race and national or ethnic origin are prohibited grounds of discrimination under section 3 of the CHRA. There was no dispute that First Nations possess these characteristics.

[24] The second element requires the Complainants to establish that AANDC is actually involved in the provision of a “service” as contemplated by section 5 of the CHRA; and, if so, to demonstrate that First Nations are denied services or adversely impacted by AANDC’s involvement in the provision of those services.

[25] For the third element, the Complainants have to establish a connection between elements one and two. A “causal connection” is not required as there may be many different reasons for a respondent’s acts. That is, it is not necessary that a prohibited ground or grounds be the sole reason for the actions in issue for a complaint to succeed. It is sufficient that a prohibited ground or grounds be one of the factors in the actions in issue (see Holden v. Canadian National Railway Co., (1991) 14 C.H.R.R. D/12 (F.C.A.) at para. 7; and, Quebec (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse) v. Bombardier Inc. (Bombardier Aerospace Training Center), 2015 SCC 39 at paras. 44-52 [Bombardier]).

[26] In this regard, it should be kept in mind that discrimination is not usually practiced overtly or even intentionally. Consequently, direct evidence of discrimination or proof of intent is not required to establish a discriminatory practice under the CHRA (see Basi v. Canadian National Railway, 1988 CanLII 108 (CHRT); and; Bombardier at paras. 40-41).

[27] In response to the Complaint, AANDC led its own evidence and arguments to refute the Complainants’ claim of discrimination. It did not raise a statutory exception under sections 15 or 16 of the CHRA. Therefore, the Tribunal’s task is to consider all the evidence and argument presented by the parties to determine if the Complainants have proven the three elements of a discriminatory practice on a balance of probabilities (see Bombardier at paras. 56 and 64; see also Peel Law Association v. Pieters, 2013 ONCA 396 at paras. 80-90).

[28] It is through this lens, and with these principles in mind, that the Panel examined the evidence and arguments advanced by the parties in this case. For the reasons that follow, the Panel finds AANDC is involved in the provision of child and family services to First Nations on reserves and in the Yukon; that First Nations are adversely impacted by the provision of those services by AANDC, and, in some cases, denied those services as a result of AANDC’s involvement; and; that race and/or national or ethnic origin are a factor in those adverse impacts or denial.

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