Indigenous group files legal challenge over ‘inadequate’ COVID-19 funding

Indigenous group files legal challenge over ‘inadequate’ COVID-19 funding

OTTAWA — A national Indigenous organization that represents First Nations, Inuit and Metis living off-reserve and in urban centres is taking the federal government to court over what it alleges is “inadequate and discriminatory funding” for the COVID-19 response.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples has filed for a judicial review in the Federal Court of Canada, challenging the funding amount of $250,000 it received as part of a COVID-19 fund earmarked for off-reserve Indigenous populations.

The national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Robert Bertrand, says the meagre funding allocation dedicated to off-reserve Indigenous organizations contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The amount CAP has received for our constituents across Canada is a slap in the face,” Bertrand told a Commons committee Wednesday.

He said his organization planned to return the money to Ottawa.

The federal government pledged $305 million to help First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, with $15 million of this money set aside for organizations providing services to those living off reserves or in urban centres.

Earlier this month, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller acknowledged the $15 million was not enough. His department received far more applications than the 94 proposals it approved.

Miller was not available for an interview Wednesday, but a statement from his office said Indigenous Services Canada has been made aware of the court challenge.

His press secretary, Vanessa Adams, said in the statement the money provided to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples was “just one part” of the department’s response to the pandemic.

“We know more support is needed and are actively working with communities to identify and deliver the supports to make sure no Indigenous community is left behind,” Adams said.

Christopher Sheppard-Buote of the National Association of Friendship Centres told the committee the federal government’s distinctions-based approach to COVID-19 relief funding, which recognizes the unique rights, interests and circumstances of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities, is leaving many urban Indigenous people and groups behind.

Those who are not living on a First Nation reserve or in an Inuit or Metis community are feeling “unseen” in the federal COVID-19 response, Sheppard Buote said, despite the fact the majority of Indigenous people in Canada do not live in a distinct Indigenous community.

Friendship centres across Canada, which provide culturally enhanced programs and services to urban Indigenous residents, jumped into action to help their clients when the pandemic began. They have been delivering food, caring for elders, supporting people in applying for federal and provincial funding programs and have been helping people find safe transportation and shelter — all in spite of an inadequate level of funding coming from Ottawa, he said.

Edith Cloutier, executive director of the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre, says the pandemic hit her centre hard, but her employees and volunteers did what they have always done — they took care of the people in their community.

“Financial concerns and funding were not our guiding principles on insisting on continuing to serve the members in our community. We acted because there was a need to act and to act quickly, and because it was the right thing to do,” she said in French.

“But fighting this crisis, it will have a cost.”

While she was pleased to see Ottawa dedicate funding to ensure Indigenous populations get additional support through COVID-19, she said the “blind spot” in this financial aid has been the people she serves.

This will have an impact on her community and on those who are helping fill those gaps, Cloutier said.

“It’s unfortunate that the organizations that are there to help the most vulnerable themselves become vulnerable.”

She said her centre is mourning the recent deaths of two former clients: a 41-year-old man named Mathieu, who died by suicide last month and Nathan, a 19-year-old Cree man who was found lifeless last week in downtown Val-d’Or, Que.

“These losses are collateral damage from COVID-19 … previously, their moccasins had carried them to the friendship centre during a period of deep distress and vulnerability, looking for an outstretched hand, support, cultural anchor and some sense of identity,” she said.

“Our experience over the last eight years and in managing this health crisis has allowed us to see that this pandemic has only increased the depression and the vulnerability of these Indigenous populations.

“We see that the tragic end of Mathieu and Nathan and so many more are there to remind us of this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.

— Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

robbery
UPDATE: Shooting suspect arrested by Wetaskiwin/Camrose RCMP

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey. Photo Submitted
Rimbey hotel gets new lease on life

The Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey is now open and taking bookings

Leanne Evans, Rimbey Neighbourhood Place Program Coordinator, accepts a donation of $5,000 from Kevin Maxwell manager of Field Support for Telus. (Photo Submitted)
Rimbey Neighbourhood Place making big changes behind the scenes

Rimbey Neighbourhood Place recently recieved a $5,000 donation from Telus

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. Advisers are reportedly recommending Alberta's kindergarten to Grade 4 arts and social studies curriculum remove all references to residential schools because it's "too sad" for young children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Advisers suggest Alberta students not learn about residential schools before Grade 4

Documents suggest children younger than Grade 4 are too emotionally vulnerable to learn about residential schools

File photo
RCMP’s response to online discussions about anti-racism demonstrations

Ponoka RCMP Staff Sgt.’s comments misattributed online

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

The project is expected to create up to 2,920 direct jobs during construction, the federal release said

Most Read