Liberal government withdraws court case on First Nations health care

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is withdrawing a Federal Court challenge over the delivery of health-care services for First Nations children after reaching an agreement with the parties in a case before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said Thursday that changes have been made to address two aspects of a May tribunal finding the government wanted to address in Federal Court.

“I really hope today’s decision will demonstrate to all the parties involved … it is in the best interests of children in this country, in this case First Nations children, if we find a way to collaborate,” Philpott said speaking outside of the House of Commons.

In June, the Liberal government announced it was going to court to quash parts of a compliance order issued last spring by the quasi-judicial human rights tribunal.

Specifically, Ottawa took issue with the fact the tribunal wanted requests for health services for First Nations children processed in 12 to 48 hours. It was also concerned about the tribunal stipulation it could not case conferences.

An agreement has now been reached between the government, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations saying there is a legitimate role for clinical case conferences — discussions related to the delivery of services involving professionals.

It says the tool may be used when “reasonably necessary” to understand a First Nation’s child’s clinical needs so professionals can access more information on a case.

The agreement also says decisions on service delivery made within a 48-hour window may not always not be in the child’s best interests.

“In a situation where irremediable harm is reasonably foreseeable, Canada will make all reasonable efforts to provide immediate crisis intervention supports until an extended response can be developed and implemented,” the agreement states.

“For non-urgent cases in which this information cannot be obtained within the 48-hour time frame, representatives from the government of Canada will work with the requester in order to obtain the needed information so that the determination can be made as close to the 48-hour time frame as possible.”

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said Thursday she is pleased with federal government’s decision to withdraw the judicial review but she said it would have been helpful if it had raised concerns with the parties in the case before going to court.

“They waited 30 days to file that judicial review, which is the maximum limit,” she said.

“During that time, they did not raise these concerns with either ourselves or the AFN. I think both of us would have been willing to sit down and resolve any kind of reasonable issue but we didn’t have that opportunity.”

In the future, Blackstock said she hopes concerns and questions on legal orders from the human rights tribunal will be raised to see if a resolution is possible.

The government has yet to provide a path showing it is implementing tribunal findings in areas including early childhood education and First Nations child welfare, Blackstock added.

“We need to measure success at the level of children” she said. “I’m hoping we … see this example of this resolution of this judicial review become more of the (government’s) standard operating procedure.”

Philpott said Thursday that more than 24,000 services have been approved for First Nations children under Jordan’s Principle — a policy named after a First Nations boy who died while bureaucracies squabbled over financial jurisdiction — including mental health supports and medical equipment.

Ottawa is committed to implementing the policy and complying with tribunal orders, she said.

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