Jordan's Principle explained: Canadian Human Rights Tribunal needed to make government accountable

“Jordan could not talk, yet people around the world heard his message. Jordan could not breathe on his own and yet he has given the breath of life to other children. Jordan could not walk, but he has taken steps that governments are now just learning to follow.” — Cindy Blackstock, executive director, First Nations Child & Family Caring Society

Jordan’s Principle is a child-first, needs-based approach named in memory of Jordan River Anderson, a First Nations boy from Norway House Cree First Nation in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Jordan was born with a rare multifaceted disorder and was hospitalized from birth. He died at the age of five, in the hospital, while provincial and federal jurisdictions argued for over two years and could not agree as to who was responsible for paying for his at-home care, services available to any other child in Canada without dispute.

Jordan’s Principle, a legal rule, ensures that First Nations children aged zero to 19 receive the same access to health, social and educational programs, services and supports as all other children in Canada.

In 2007, Jordan’s Principle received unanimous support in the House of Commons and was passed as legal rule. In the years following, from 2007 to 2016, the federal government did not adhere to the ruling and Indigenous children were unable to receive assistance through Jordan’s Principle. In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of First Nations children and ordered Canada to immediately do the following: cease its discriminatory practices regarding First Nations child welfare, reform the First Nations child welfare program, cease applying a narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle and take measures to implement the full meaning and scope of Jordan’s Principle for all First Nations children living on or off reserve.

Jordan’s Principle has created positive, transformative change, but the government’s implementation of the tribunal’s orders has been inadequate, including service gaps, delays and denials; these shortcomings seriously impact Indigenous children with disabilities and special needs. The level of service provided by the province or territory is the minimum standard. Service supports under Jordan’s Principle are based on what the child needs, not what the province or territory normally offers. The province normally delivers health care “off reserve,” while the federal government funds health care “on reserve.”

Despite changes to child welfare, First Nations children continue to face systematic barriers when it comes to education, health and social supports. The fact that Jordan had to be put in the child welfare system to be considered for services is tragic. Jordan’s Principle ensures that Indigenous children receive the care and support they need, at home.

Requests are based on the needs of the child on a “substantive equality basis.” Substantive equality means that First Nations children may need services and supports above what is ordinarily provided by the provinces and territories. The tribunal ruled that substantive equality is needed to address the impacts of Canada’s colonial history and discrimination against Indigenous peoples.

First Nations children on and off reserve experience challenges and barriers accessing care and services. Many First Nations communities do not have early intervention services available, impacting the development of a child with special needs. A 2013 study by Woodgate noted, “First Nations families have unique perspectives of disability and are more focused on what children with disabilities can do, and not what they are unable (to do).”

Research indicates there are disabling environments both on and off reserve, conditions or barriers that prevent families from having a life, which include structural (infrastructure, physical environments, transportation), social (lack of disability awareness), economic (poverty) and other barriers due to historical trauma and colonialism. Services and supports received through Jordan’s Principle should not be regarded as benefits but rather rights under the orders of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Jordan’s Principle is included as the third of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Jordan River Anderson’s legacy initiated change and the need for Canada to move beyond the standard of basic survival for First Nations children, to a human rights level of equality and inclusion. Jordan’s Principle is not a substitute for systematic reform, but a stepping-stone toward it. Government and community organizations must build capacity and create space across all sectors to ensure Indigenous children are no longer left behind.

To submit a request for services through Jordan's Principle, call the 24-hour line at 1-855-JP-CHILD (1-855-572-4453) or visit If you have any difficulties accessing services through Jordan's Principle, contact your provincial child advocate or ombudsperson.

Joyce Jonathan Crone is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter. She is Mohawk, born on the Six Nations Reserve. A retired teacher, she now makes Huntsville her home.

Joyce Jonathan Crone, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star