Feds seek ‘clarity’ on First Nations health

OTTAWA — The Liberal government said Friday it is going to Federal Court to seek “clarity” on two aspects of a compliance order issued in May by a quasi-judicial human rights tribunal on the delivery of First Nations child health care.

In a joint statement, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government’s plan to seek clarification in court is informed by their “experience and expertise as doctors.”

The federal government takes issue with the fact the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal said last month that requests for health services for First Nations children must be processed within 12 to 48 hours.

In most cases, the government can adhere to this timeline if it is addressing a life-threatening matter, Philpott said, adding there are occasional circumstances that arise where a “rapid decision” may not be the right one.

“We are asking for a review just to make sure they understand the implications of what they decided and we are concerned it may not in fact be best for kids,” Philpott said in an interview.

The federal government is also concerned about the tribunal stipulation that it cannot use case conferences, she said.

“We are concerned that it may not be in the best interests of kids,” Philpott said.

“I know as a family doctor that you often need to pull together members of the care team and figure out who else has to be involved, there needs to be co-ordination so there’s not confusion amongst members of the care team.”

Since July 2016, she said the government has approved approximately 8,800 requests for health, social and education services for First Nations children.

First Nations child advocate Cindy Blackstock, who has spent the last 10 years fighting the federal government on First Nations child welfare services, said Friday she is disappointed but not surprised by Ottawa’s decision to go to court.

She said the neither the tribunal, nor her organization — the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society —has ever argued against case conferencing for medical purposes.

“It is crazy,” Blackstock said in an interview. “Why wouldn’t they just ask us to consent to that?”

Rather, she said, there should be no case conferencing related to payment of services for First Nations kids, noting the federal government remains out of compliance with orders from the tribunal.

“They are trying to find these little loopholes,”she said, pledging to meet Ottawa in court. ”I don’t see anything compelling here.”

Former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae also expressed dismay at the government’s decision.

“Astonished and deeply disappointed Federal Crown is appealing,” Rae tweeted Friday.

Romeo Saganash, the NDP’s indigenous affairs critic, said Friday he is “disgusted” to learn the Liberal government is going to Federal Court on the tribunal’s latest compliance order.

“How desperate can he (the prime minister) be to disregard basic human rights of Indigenous People?” Saganash said in a statement.

This month, the federal justice minister’s office said it has spent $707,000 in legal fees following the tribunal’s January 2016 decision on First Nations child welfare.

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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