(Ottawa) Health is the next area where First Nations could obtain full autonomy. Minister Patty Hajdu hopes to be able to table a bill to this effect within “six to eight months”. The Supreme Court declared constitutional on Friday a federal law which recognizes their full powers in matters of youth protection.
What there is to know
There An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (Bill C-92), which came into force in 2020, recognizes the right of Indigenous, Inuit and Métis people to determine their child protection practices.
It gives precedence to the laws of these communities for the protection of youth over federal and provincial legislation.
The Quebec government, which made it a constitutional battle, was dismissed on Friday by the Supreme Court.
The Atikamekw Nation of Opitciwan, in Mauricie, was the first to take advantage of it in Quebec two years ago. Its council adopted its own law to free itself from the Directorate of Youth Protection (DPJ), which constituted a step towards its self-determination. This is a proven model, as reported by The Press in January.
“It’s a moment that I will never forget in my mandate as chief,” declared the chief of Opitciwan, Jean-Claude Mequish, visibly moved.
A large delegation from its community, including many children, made the long journey from Haute-Mauricie to Ottawa to attend the press conference of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (APNQL) after the publication of the judgement.
The Atikamekw Nation of Opitciwan will therefore be able to continue to manage its own youth protection system. In a unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court rejects the argument of the Quebec government which considers that Bill C-92 encroaches on its jurisdiction.
It is a decision that will take into consideration our culture, unlike what happened in past years. (With) youth protection, many of our members who have been placed in majority. They lost their language. They lost their culture.
Jean-Claude Mequish, chief of Opitciwan
A decision “extremely important for reconciliation,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, stressed that she was coming to put a stop to these colonial practices. The government has already allocated 23 billion to finance community youth protection services.
“It actually informs things like legislation to assert self-determination in health care delivery,” she acknowledged. The minister believes that the judgment will also facilitate the debate surrounding Bill C-61 on the management and control of drinking water sources for First Nations.
This is a crucial judgment for indigenous communities across the country because it changes their balance of power and opens the door to the recognition of other powers in “all areas that affect their daily lives,” according to the chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (APNQL), Ghislain Picard.
The decision was also welcomed by the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, the President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Natan Obed, the President of the Métis National Council, Cassidy Caron, and the Makivik Corporation which represents the Nunavik Inuit.
“We still live in a country where our rights are contested, particularly by administrations which imagine that their control is always superior to the rights of indigenous peoples,” Mr. Obed said at a press briefing.
Mr. Picard deplored that Quebec’s legal challenge caused communities who wish to follow suit in Opitciwan to lose four years and called on the Legault government to collaborate today. He revealed that there are now around fifteen who want to develop their own child protection services.
The government of Quebec must stop denying the legitimacy of our governments. It must now recognize and respect the competence of First Nations to govern themselves and exercise their inherent rights.
Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador
In Quebec, it was the Minister for Social Services, Lionel Carmant, who was appointed to react to the decision of the highest court in the country. The latter was not available for an interview on Friday.
“Our government takes note of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada rendered today. It is important to reiterate that our disagreement has always been with the federal government, and not with the First Nations and the Inuit,” indicated the minister in a statement sent by his office.
The Legault government says it “agrees with the objective of promoting the exercise, by First Nations and Inuit, of greater autonomy in matters of youth protection, in harmony with the Quebec regime.” Quebec recalls having made “significant modifications” to the Youth Protection Act to take into account “historical, social and cultural factors” of the First Nations.
In parliamentary committee, Minister Lionel Carmant raised concerns about indigenous children who live outside the community. He spoke of the “risk” of the multiplication of distinct indigenous laws which could complicate interventions in urban areas.
“Given the significant repercussions of the judgment, particularly on the question of the protection of vulnerable children and Indigenous governance, Quebec will continue to carefully analyze the decision rendered by the Court,” it was added.
“Constitutional architecture” preserved
“Nothing prevents Parliament from affirming that Indigenous peoples have jurisdiction to pass laws relating to child and family services,” the Supreme Court wrote in its judgment. “Contrary to what the Attorney General of Quebec argues, the Canadian “constitutional architecture” is in no way shaken. »
She therefore concludes that the law is constitutional as a whole, contrary to the Quebec Court of Appeal. She considered that the An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families respected the Constitution, except for an article and a paragraph which gave primacy to indigenous legislation regarding child protection over federal and provincial laws. However, Parliament can choose to give the same force of law to indigenous legislation under the Constitution Act of 1867underlines the highest court in the country.
He insists that Bill C-92 “represents significant progress” for reconciliation with First Nations, that it is part of the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and that it responds to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action to establish national standards for Indigenous child protection.
“Considered in its entirety, the Act has the bona fide character of protecting the well-being of Aboriginal children, youth and families by promoting the provision of culturally appropriate child and family services and, in doing so, contributing to to the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples,” he emphasizes.
All nine Supreme Court justices heard the case, but Russell Brown, who resigned in June, did not participate in writing the judgment.
The law, which came into force in January 2020, recognizes the right of Indigenous, Inuit and Métis people to determine their child protection practices. The Atikamekw Nation of Opitciwan, in Mauricie, was the first to take advantage of it in Quebec two years ago. Its council adopted its own law to free itself from the youth protection directorate (DPJ), which constituted a step towards its self-determination. This is a model that has proven itself, as reported The Press in January.