Health Canada knew of massive gaps in First Nations child health care, documents show

Posted
October 24, 2017

Health Canada officials were sent scrambling after a landmark human rights ruling last year that found the federal government discriminated against First Nation children by underfunding services for First Nation children, according to internal correspondence provided to CBC News.

The Health Canada documents reveal the department knew it faced serious shortfalls in the level of health services provided to First Nations children and was unprepared to implement changes prescribed by the human rights ruling.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in January 2016 that Ottawa discriminated against First Nation children by underfunding on-reserve child welfare services and by failing to apply Jordan's Principle, which places the needs of First Nations children ahead of jurisdictional disputes between governments.

The tribunal ordered Ottawa to immediately increase child welfare funding, overhaul the child welfare system and apply Jordan's Principle on all publicly delivered services, including health and education, for children.

At the time of the ruling, Health Canada's data showed on-reserve First Nation children faced a massive gap in health services compared with what was available provincially, according to the internal correspondence obtained by NDP MP Charlie Angus through the Access to Information Act.

The correspondence said Health Canada wasn't equipped to assess children with special needs, and faced gaps in mental health services and health support for children in care. 

"There are important barriers in access to services for First Nations children and youth living with certain medical conditions," said one draft Health Canada memo sent on Jan. 29, 2016, by Kristin Doull, with the population and wellness division of the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

"Mental health services in schools has also been identified as a gap with confusion and ambiguity over who is responsible for provision of the service."

Read more: Health Canada knew of massive gaps in First Nations child health care, documents show