This human rights complaint is about the inequality between the special education services provided to First Nations and non-First Nations children in Canada.
The complaint is against the federal government (specifically, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada), and was started by the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation (the “First Nation”) on behalf of two children with Down syndrome, Sloan and Marvin. We say in the complaint that First Nations children do not get the same special education services as non-First Nations children.
The First Nation started the complaint when Aboriginal Affairs refused to pay for the special education supports (e.g. educational assistants, specialists, etc.) required by two children with Down syndrome. Those children, Sloan and Marvin, must attend a provincial school because of their special needs. Because they live on reserve, they cannot attend the provincial school for free. The special education supports for Sloan and Marvin cost over $80,000 per year. If that bill cannot be paid, they cannot go to school. When the federal government refused to pay that amount, the First Nation started this complaint.
Aboriginal Affairs said that the First Nation should pay for Sloan and Marvin’s education out of its existing special needs budget from Aboriginal Affairs (about $165,000). However, Mississaugas’ special needs budget cannot possibly absorb that additional high cost. The special needs funds were already stretched to their limits, and were completely allocated to other special needs children. Sloan and Marvin’s education would take up approximately half of the overall funds. Sloan and Marvin’s special needs supports could not be paid for without taking away necessary support required by other special needs children.
The human rights complaint is also about systemic discrimination against First Nations children with special needs more generally. The complaint alleges that First Nation children are not guaranteed the same level of special education services as non-First Nations children. If successful, the case will potentially lead to much improved special education services for First Nations children.
Aboriginal Affairs is raising legal objections and technicalities to try and slow down and stop the complaint. The federal government lost its first attempt to have the case dismissed. In a preliminary decision, the Canadian Human Rights Commission sided with the First Nation, and stated that it “has established that it has reasonable grounds for believing that [Aboriginal Affairs] is carrying out a practice that discriminates in the provision of services.” This is only the first step in a long legal battle.
The basis of the case is very simple – that First Nations children should get at least the same level and quality of special education services as non-First Nations children. The Mississaugas of the New Credit will continue to fight for equal and adequate special education services, and hope that this case will make a difference for First Nations children with special needs across the country.
For more details, read this letter provided to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.