OTTAWA — The federal government is working “day and night” to ensure concerns over proposed welfare legislation to benefit Indigenous children are taken seriously to enable the bill to be introduced soon, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said Friday.
It would be unhelpful and “entirely disrespectful” if the concerns were not heard, O’Regan said in an interview, adding the government hopes to be able to table the bill as quickly as possible.
Earlier this week, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron published an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying the bill allowed for “provincial intrusion” into First Nations’ sovereignty.
“(W)e do not wish to see the federal government put in place a child-welfare system that subordinates or places us under a province with no recognition of our right to set our own family policy and protect our children and families,” he wrote. If provincial authorities can tell First Nations how to handle child-welfare cases, that’s a renewal of colonialism, he wrote.
In November, former Indigenous-services minister Jane Philpott, now the president of the Treasury Board, said the government was moving forward with legislation to address a broken child welfare system in Canada that has taken Indigenous kids from their families for more than a century.
“This is our modern-day variation on the legacy of residential schools,” she said, vowing that children would no longer be removed from families over poverty alone. Philpott also said she hoped there will be enough time to get the bill passed before October’s federal election.
At the time of January’s cabinet shuffle, she also suggested the bill was ready to go as she handed the portfolio over to O’Regan.
(Cameron’s letter says he and his federation want to have a good relationship with O’Regan but are frustrated to deal with a new minister “at such a crucial moment.”)
Since the shuffle, however, the Trudeau Liberals have opted to delay the legislation, which was originally expected to be brought forward by the end of January.
O’Regan said the government heard through engagement with First Nations, Inuit and Metis that “essential elements” must be addressed before that can happen.
“We still very much want to stay on track but we understand that everyday counts and that’s how we are operating,” O’Regan said Friday.
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Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press