Indigenous child welfare law largely upheld after Quebec court challenge
By Benjamin Powless
Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative
First Nations leaders applaud a Quebec Court of Appeal decision that upheld key elements of a federal First Nations child welfare law in effect since January 1, 2020, against a challenge of the Quebec government. The law, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, recognizes First Nations authority over child and family services.
The Quebec government argued that the federal law was unconstitutional because it undermined provincial jurisdiction. The Quebec Court of Appeal’s Feb. 10 decision upheld much of the law, but struck down parts it said infringed provincial rights.
According to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the decision “affirms that First Nations have an inherent right of self-government, including jurisdiction over child welfare and family law.”
“The decision of the Government of Quebec to challenge the Court’s ruling is deeply disappointing,” AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said in the statement. “Advancing the priorities of First Nations requires recognizing the law-making powers of First Nations affirmed by Section 35 of the Constitution Act. Moving forward on the path to healing requires respecting the inherent rights of First Nations, regardless of where the rights holders reside.
“The process towards the application of our right to self-determination is already well underway,” said AFN Quebec and Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard. “We are in the best position to ensure the well-being of our people and especially our children. The province of Quebec must understand that this political will will not go away and that any interference will be strongly denounced.
The AFN intervened in the lawsuit alongside the federal government, arguing that the law was necessary to uphold First Nations rights.
rights to monitor their own child protection laws and policies.
The court said Quebec’s argument that their authority over public services would be fettered by law did not hold and that the law was in fact consistent with Quebec’s own child protection legislation.
The court also denounced the “deplorable overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in youth protection”. It included a reference to the 2019 Viens Commission in Quebec which found systemic discrimination against Indigenous people and said Indigenous children placed in non-Indigenous families were unsuitable.
Isabelle Boily, spokesperson for the Attorney General of Quebec, said the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court. “The Attorney General of Quebec will indeed be present to defend the courts of Quebec, as has always been the case in this case. The Government of Quebec remains of the opinion that the federal law exceeds the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada under the Canadian Constitution.
Boily added: “The Government of Quebec subscribes to the objective of promoting the exercise by Aboriginal people of greater autonomy in the area of youth protection. However, it must not be imposed unilaterally by the federal government, without Quebec’s contribution, as was done with Bill C-92.
Benjamin Powless is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works for the NATION. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive funding from LJI.
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