The Commission closely examines every discrimination complaint it receives. In some cases, the Commission will refer a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing. In rare instances, a case will make its way through Canada's court system, sometimes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. This can take several years. In cases where the issue has the potential to either affect the rights of many people in Canada or help define or clarify human rights law, or in cases where the complainant is in a vulnerable situation, the Commission's legal team will participate in the hearing and represent the public interest all the way through the process.
This past year, as we moved through a third and fourth wave of the pandemic, the Commission continued to mitigate delays by participating in virtual legal proceedings, including online mediations and even online hearings.
A victory for Indigenous children and families
In a 2021 hearing, the Federal Court upheld the landmark Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision on Indigenous child welfare compensation. The Federal Court dismissed both of the Government of Canada's applications for judicial review on this matter. The first was related to compensation of First Nations children and their caregivers; and the second decision related to the issue of who is eligible for services under Jordan's Principle.
This all stems from the landmark 2016 decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in the case now known as the Indigenous Child Welfare Case. In that historic decision, the Tribunal found that the federal government discriminated against First Nations children by knowingly underfunding on-reserve child and family services, leading to "trauma and harm to the highest degree, causing pain and suffering."Footnote 1
This Federal Court decision in 2021 is another vital step towards solidifying the 2016 Tribunal decision and the compensation it awarded to generations of First Nations children. At the time of writing, parties have reached a tentative and non-binding agreement-in-principle to reform the First Nations child and family service program, fully implement Jordan's Principle, and compensate 200,000 First Nations children and families who suffered as a result of Canada's discriminatory funding of these services. The Commission welcomed the historic $40 billion dollar agreement-in-principle which, if approved and finalized, will end litigation that began in 2007 with a discrimination complaint to the Commission from the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations.
Improving health services for those in federal custody
As a result of a complaint filed by Prisoners' Legal Services (PLS), the Commission reached a collaborative agreement with the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and PLS to improve health services for people in federal custody with an opioid use disorder.
The CSC committed to providing timely access to Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) through the elimination of waitlists and a focus on continuity of care, ensuring program discontinuation only when clinically appropriate or at the request of the patient. The CSC will work to create a recovery plan that is trauma-informed and culturally appropriate.
The ongoing opioid crisis is a serious concern across Canada. The Commission maintains that this issue must be addressed using a human-rights based approach that puts the medical needs of the individual first.