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Equality for First Nations Children

The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation has filed a human rights complaint about the unequal and inadequate special education services in First Nations communities. The case focuses on two First Nations children, Sloan and Marvin; the federal government refused to pay for Sloan and Marvin to go to school. The First Nation is asking that Sloan and Marvin – and other First Nations children – be guaranteed the same quality of special education as non-First Nations children.

The Wrong Side of the Road

At the top of this page you will see an image of a typical road in Ontario. This is the road that divides the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation reserve from the neighbouring Haldimand County. At first glance, it is hard to tell the difference between the reserve and non-reserve lands. On both sides of the road there are regular-looking houses where regular families, parents, and children live. However, even though both sides may look the same, there are some big differences when it comes to special education and other government services.

On the non-First Nations side of that road (i.e. Haldimand County), children can go to a provincial school for free. This is a right protected under Ontario’s Education Act. Children are also legally guaranteed an appropriate special education. Parents have special rights under the Education Act, including the right to participate in decisions about their child’s education. If parents are not happy with important decisions affecting their children, they can make use of special mechanisms to appeal those decisions.

On the First Nations side of that road (i.e. on the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation reserve), children and parents do not have those same rights. Children can’t simply enroll in the provincial school – someone must pay the fees. Children with special needs may not get the education they need – there is no guarantee. The resources for timely identification, assessment, and accommodation of special needs are often unavailable. Parents on the First Nations side cannot access the same kind of participation and binding appeal mechanisms as the parents across the road.

This is unequal, unfair, and discriminatory. There is no reason why First Nations children should not be guaranteed at least the same quality of special education services as non-First Nations children. That is what this human rights case is about. For more details, read this letter provided to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.