By Shari Narine
January 9, 2017
There is mixed reaction to the recent appointments of two ministerial special representatives.
The First Nations Leadership Council of British Columbia is calling foul when it comes to the appointment Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux on the reform of on-reserve First Nations Child and Family Services program. But Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Grand Chief Abram Benedict sees the appointment of Fred Caron, who will consult with First Nations on Canada-US border issues, as a “step in the right direction.”
In a letter Dec. 6 to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, the Leadership Council called the appointment of Wesley-Esquimaux a “stall tactic” in order to delay complying with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling of a year ago. The CHRT tribunal found that Canada discriminates against children on-reserve in its delivery of child welfare services.
The appointment of Wesley-Esquimau in October by Bennett and Minister of Health Jane Philpott, was described in a government statement as a “concrete step in (Canada’s) commitment to engage with partners to develop options for full-scale reform,” read a statement.
But in its Dec. 6 letter, the Leadership Council expressed frustration in its recent meeting with Wesley-Esquimaux, calling it “unstructured,” saying it lacked an agenda, and that no goals or terms of reference had been set for her appointment.
“Rather than invest in Dr. Wesley-Esquimalt’s position, Canada should have immediately complied with the CHRT. Implementing the historic decision of the CHRT is not a matter for consultation or “engagement” by a Ministerial Special Representative because it is legally binding,” wrote the council.
For Grand Chief Benedict, investment in Caron is a worthwhile endeavour – especially for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, who has been working with Caron as its negotiator on self-government and land claim settlement. Both those files, says Benedict, are well along with land claim negotiations in the process of ratification from members and self-government in the final stages.
“I think as a whole, as a team (Caron) has been instrumental (in getting us to this point). We haven’t had any issues with him. He’s been helpful,” said Benedict.
He adds that interaction with the Harper government, which included presenting information and documentation and writing letters, met with no results.
“There seems to be a more responsiveness from this government to at least sit down and talk about some of these challenges that we have where the previous government didn’t want to sit down and talk about them,” said Benedict.
Caron’s mandate is to meet with First Nations along the border as well as national First Nations organizations “to explore their views concerning Canada-US border crossing challenges and their perspectives on potential solutions,” said Bennett in a news release.
The appointment follows a recommendation from the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, which stated in its Border Crossing-Jay Treaty report in June 2016 that “measures must be implemented to facilitate legitimate travel for day-to-day activities by First Nations people. Further, the Committee believes based on its hearings that (Canada Border Services Agency) is focused on maintaining the status quo, and therefore cannot reasonably be expected to initiate and lead discussions on potential solutions. For these reasons, the Committee recommends… (the appointment of) a special representative….”
Benedict, who expects to meet with Caron in the next few weeks, says he will be bringing to the agenda a number of issues, including alternative reporting, preclearance, border identification cards, and the creation of an oversight body to exam complaints and concerns with Canada Customs.
As it stands now, he says, it is a lengthy and convoluted process at the Three Nations Crossing on Cornwall Island.
While Caron has a year to produce his report, Benedict says he is not willing to wait that long for action to be taken.
“We can’t wait for this report to be presented to the senate. That’s the message we’ll be letting the special representative know, the same message we’ve been communicating to the minister of Indigenous Affairs as well as the minister of public safety,” said Benedict.