UPDATE: The Assembly of First Nations' Response
I've written on more than one occasion about the discrimination faced by Jeremy Meawasige (and other First Nations' children) like him.
Let's say it altogether, shall we?
Now that wasn't that so hard, was it?
For once, I am pleased to report good news. For now anyway. *
OTTAWA — The Federal Court has ordered Ottawa to reimburse a First Nations band for the cost of taking care of a severely disabled teenager living at home — a ruling that could have widespread implications for federal social services on reserves.
“It sets an important precedent to ensure all First Nations children across Canada are given equal access to essential government services,” said Paul Champ, the lawyer for the boy’s mother.
The case centres around 18-year-old Jeremy Meawasige, who has hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, spinal curvature and autism, is self-abusive and can only communicate with his mother, Maurina Beadle.
You might recall that federal officials have been arguing (both in and out of court) that they were in complete compliance with Jordan's Principle and providing funding in line with provincial programs. But the court found that what they
Of course, some of us might call that very proposition into question too - since when, exactly, has there been "provincial provisions for special circumstances", you ask?
And up until the 2011 decision of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Boudreau, it appeared that the answer was that there were no "provincial provisions for special circumstances", at least not in Nova Scotia.
["As you know the Direct Family Support program bases its respite amount on $10 per hour. Unfortunately Services for Persons with Disabilities (SPD) staff have not been authorized to increase this hourly amount at this time. In regards to the possibility of increasing your monthly amount, in order that you can use the additional funding to pay extra per hour, SPD has not been authorized to allow any increases which result in payments exceeding $2200 per month. As Brian’s current respite allowance already exceeds $2200 per month no increase may be authorized at this time."]However, Boudreau, as you will recall, not only settled the question of whether the Services for Persons with Disabilities program is authorized by legislation, it also made it clear that there is nothing voluntary about the SPD program (once eligibility for services has been shown/accepted, a legal entitlement arises automatically) and, as with any other “assistance” under the Social Assistance Act, eligibility triggers not just a right to that assistance but one that is to be immediately provided.
Even better, the court in Boudreau found that, generally, the SPD Program falls under the ‘special needs assistance’ provisions in the Social Assistance Act and, in situations where the legislation does not stipulate a maximum amount for such assistance, the Department should be paying “reasonable” amounts sufficient to meet the need.
And so it was, with a stroke of Justice Rosinski's pen in the Boudreau decision, that the Province could no longer rely on the November, 2009 directive from the Director of the SPD program limiting the Direct Family Support program approval levels for respite funding to $2200 per month.
And that decision in Boudreau, you see, was exactly what Maurina Beadle and the Pictou Landing Band Council relied on in their successful judicial review application for Jeremy Meawasig.
Back to that good news I mentioned in the beginning of this post - the Federal Court ruling now obligates Ottawa to uphold Jordan’s principle ... in more than just principle, one might say.
“Jordan’s principle is not to be narrowly interpreted", Justice Leonard Mandamin warned.And although Mr. Justice Mandamin didn't say exactly how much the federal government should be paying to the Pictou Landing band council, after noting that Jeremy's mother is often the only one who is able to understand and communicate with him and Jeremy's only other option would be institutionalization and separation from his mother and community, the court indicated that it should be a lot more than the $2,200 it is already paying. It is expected that this decision will give Jeremy's mother and the band council grounds to demand a full reimbursement.
There's more to this story, of course.
Go read the piece in the Chronicle Herald to see the reaction of Jeremy’s 23-year-old brother, Jonavan Meawasige, who has taken on much of Jeremy's home care over the past two years, while also trying to fish for a living and the expected implications for other First Nations children, including in a separate case on First Nations child welfare in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, where it is being argued that First Nations children have the right to welfare services on par with what provincial governments offer off-reserve children.
Well, imagine that. Now what do you suppose they will think of next?
* Hoping and praying this decision won't get appealed by the federal government. And that our provincial government will stop trying to do an end run around the Bourdreau decision, telling families that it has no absolutely no application to their particular case, when that is, at a minimum, very debatable.