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David Langtry, Acting Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission, speaks with the media during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday June 17, 2011.
CONTRIBUTION · 20th June 2012
Adrian Wyld - Canadian Press
It's been a year now since aboriginal people have had the full use of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and they're using their new power to hold both the federal government and their own First Nations governments to account, new data shows.

The cases involve fundamental conditions on reserves, and throw hundreds of millions of dollars in annual federal funding into question.

Statistics compiled by the Canadian Human Rights Commission show that 162 complaints were registered against First Nations governments over the past year -- mostly about on-reserve housing and eligibility to vote in band elections.

"We're very pleased," acting chief human rights commissioner David Langtry said in an interview.

That's because some had suggested many aboriginal people wouldn't have the wherewithal to launch a challenge - a fear that clearly has not materialized, Langtry said.

Of those 162 files, 77 have been closed, and the others are still near the beginning stages of the commission's pipeline. That's a similar rate to non-aboriginal cases that progress through the human rights system, Langtry added.

"I'm encouraged by the extent to which people affected by the Indian Act, after over 30 years of virtual exclusion, are using the Canadian Human Rights Act as a potential catalyst for improving life on reserves," he said.

Challenges against the federal government, on the other hand, are far more advanced, and the stakes far higher.

Aboriginal people have now had three full years of being able to use the Canadian Human Rights Act to examine the federal government.

Before 2008, the act didn't cover matters under the Indian Act.

In the past three years, First Nations groups have registered 150 complaints against Ottawa.

Langtry said the most serious of them target the large disparities between federal and provincial funding for services such as child welfare, education and police.

Ottawa is fighting those cases on a technicality, saying federal funding for services is not covered by the human rights act.

Billions of dollars are at stake. If First Nations complainants win the day, the federal government would likely be required to fund social services on reserves at the same level per capita as provincial governments fund similar services off reserves.

"It has huge ramifications," said Langtry.

Many experts anticipate the federal government will fight the rulings all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

But if Ottawa's arguments hold sway, First Nations will find it very difficult to make any kind of human rights claims in the area of social services, Langtry said.

"Our argument is that's not what Parliament intended," he added.

"The federal government should have as much accountability as anyone else."

So far, the human rights commission has referred three such cases to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a judicial ruling.

The most prominent - and most advanced - case against Ottawa is about child welfare. First Nations groups argue that funding for child welfare on reserves is about 22 per cent lower than for children off-reserves. They say they should be treated equally.

The federal government tried, but failed, to argue that the case should not be heard, however, it is appealing that ruling.

Similar cases on special education and police services have also been referred to the tribunal.

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Keep the Indian Act, and civilize it.
Comment by Janice Robinson on 21st June 2012
Like all other "acts," the Indian Act is law. To disrespect it and/or ignore it, when dealing with First Nations peoples and our territories, is illegal......against the law! Just like the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Indian Act gives us indesputable recourse (right up to the highest court in the land) when/where questionable conduct requires attention. Treaties are broken every day, shamelessly and without punishment....even by the very Indian treaty maker/politicians/yesmen who try to sell them to us. Governments, and the corporations they support, manipulate and disrespect all treaties whenever it suits them.

Treaty makers of today receive millions of dollars, from the government, to betray the people. These dollars are factored into the treaties, and will be paid (over the course of hundreds of years) by our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, if we sign these "treaties."

The truth(s) stare us in the face. Let us keep the Canadian Human Rights Act AND the Indian Act.

Whii Nea ach,
from the esteemed Tsimshian Eagle House of Gitxon. Kitsumkalum, B.C.