Human rights complaint alleges First Nation adults with disabilities left behind

·3 min read

WINNIPEG — Three human rights complaints have been filed against the federal government alleging systemic discrimination and a failure to provide proper services to First Nations adults with disabilities in Manitoba.

The complaints were brought by the Public Interest Law Centre this week on behalf of two First Nations people and a coalition of Indigenous adults with disabilities.

"The needs of children do not disappear when they turn 18 years old," Joni Wilson, who complained on behalf of her son, said in a news release.

"Adults with disabilities like my son Aidan also deserve and have the right to services and supports just like other Canadians enjoy," she said.

Aidan Wilson, a 19-year-old Anishinaabe man from Peguis First Nation, has lived in Winnipeg most of his life because of challenges getting help with his disabilities.

He was born with six different heart conditions and had several surgeries before his first birthday. He also had cancer as a baby and suffered a stroke, which paralyzed the right side of his face, arm and leg.

The complaint says disability-related services weren’t available on his First Nation for most of his life and the family had to move to the city. Living in Winnipeg has meant that he has been separated from his community and culture, the complaint says.

“Canada’s continued failure to provide necessary supports for First Nations adults with disabilities is unconscionable, particularly at a time when reconciliation is stated to be a top priority for Canada,” Joëlle Pastora Sala, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Centre, said in a news release.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in 2017 that Jordan’s Principle, which ensures First Nations children get services they need when they need them no matter the jurisdiction, must be fully implemented.

It is named for Jordan River Anderson, a boy from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. He spent five years in hospital while the Manitoba and federal governments argued over which level of government had to pay for his care in a special home.

The recent complaints say that while the principle has brought important change, there is one big issue: it ends once people reach adulthood. The complaints say the needs of First Nations people with disabilities don’t disappear once they turn 18.

They say adults are often forced away from families, language and tradition because disability-related services aren’t available in their communities.

Indigenous Services Canada has not yet provided comment.

Another complaint filed this week alleges family members of a First Nation woman with disabilities is struggling to get respite and financial support as they manage her care full time.

Carly Sinclair, 30, is an Anicinabe woman from Sagkeeng First Nation. She was four years old when she contracted a rare neurological disorder from a mosquito bite. She developed a severe form of childhood epilepsy and intellectual impairment. She has to use a wheelchair and requires daily care.

The complaint brought by her mother says Sinclair was unable to finish school as she had no supports and still doesn’t receive regular doctor visits.

The complaints say First Nations adults are denied social inclusion and the ability to meaningfully participate in daily life.

“These families show tremendous courage and determination in working to get the kinds of necessary supports for their loved ones that other Canadians enjoy,” Sala said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2021.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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