The inability to name a child’s bands and First Nations, Inuit or Métis communities does not negate the initial determination that a child is a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child.
Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre
The Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto [“Society”] has brought a protection application for SF, an 8-month-old child. The child is in need of protection pursuant to the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 [“the Act”]. At first the child was described as not a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child but the Court was not satisfied that it had sufficient evidence and adjourned the case for the Society to further explore the issue. After the matter returned to court, it was held that the child should be identified as a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child. The court is not precluded from finding that a child is a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child just because the child does not have any bands or First Nations, Inuit or Métis communities.
The child was brought to a place of safety due to concerns surrounding the parent’s mental health and capacity. The court endorsed that the Society must immediately investigate whether the child is a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child, based on information received from the mother. She stated that her mother had told her that she is of Métis background, but also that her mother had lied to her about many things, so she does not know if she is being truthful or not. The Society had not been able to connect with the grandmother, despite multiple efforts. Neither Indigenous Services Canada or any of the Métis organizations that were contacted had been able to confirm the family’s identity. The society did contact the great-grandmother, who confirmed that the family is Métis and that her mother was Indigenous, but that was all the information they had.
Once the court determines that a child is a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child, the second part of the statutory finding that must be made is to identify the child’s Indigenous bands or communities. There may be more than one band or community (Children’s Aid Society of Algoma v CA, 2018 ONCJ 592 [“CAS of Algoma v CA”]). The Act sets out that its paramount purpose is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children. First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples should be entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and all services to such eligible individuals should be provided in a manner that recognizes their cultures, heritages, traditions, connection to their communities, and the concept of the extended family.
The court must apply the definition of First Nations, Inuit or Métis child set out in the Ontario Regulation 155/18 for the purpose of identification under the Act and the criteria is exhaustive. The court should take a broad view in interpreting if the child has a connection to an Indigenous band or community under the regulation. This seems to be in accordance with the spirit of the Act which tends to be more inclusive when it deals with Indigenous peoples. Subparagraph 1(c) of the Ontario Regulation 155/18 uses the words “there is information that demonstrates that”, which sounds like a clear invitation to the person making the s 90(2)(b) determination of identity to rely on information that is not necessarily “evidence”. It says nothing about the standard of such information (CAS of Algoma v CA).
However, to just say that anyone can put forth a claim and have it accepted without question would be an open invitation to abuse the administration of justice. It could cause considerable harm to children by delaying decisions affecting them and would be disrespectful to the First Nations, Inuit and Métis persons the Act is intended to include. While the inability of a person to name specific Indigenous bands or communities might be a factor in assessing the identification issue, it should not be determinative. The reality is that due to the Sixties Scoop, many Indigenous persons now have fractured memories of their Indigenous connections and it is likely that many will not be able to name specific bands or communities. Evidence or information will often come from memories of discussions with relatives and will often lack detail. Many will not be registered with any First Nations band or belong to any First Nations, Inuit or Métis organization. In many cases, neither will their parents. This does not necessarily preclude the court from making a finding that the child is a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child. The new legislative provisions are an opportunity for these children to reignite lost connections with their culture and heritage.
The court should take a broad view in interpreting if a child is a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child (CAS of Algoma v CA). This is an approach that is consistent with the statements made in both the preamble and purposes section of the Act. It is this court’s view that only a low threshold of reliable and credible evidence or information should be sufficient to make a finding that a child is a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child. The Act and regulations set out considerable rights and additional considerations for these children that recognizes their cultures, heritages, traditions, connection to their communities, and the concept of the extended family. It would be contrary to the purposes of the Act to disenfranchise these children. If a child’s Indigenous bands or communities cannot be identified, it is the rights that are set out in the Act that are not activated. However, many other additional considerations still apply to First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in the Act and its regulations that should not be extinguished just because the child’s Indigenous bands or communities cannot be named. The same best interests test applies on an adoption application.
The court received information from the great-grandmother that she identifies as a First Nations, Inuk or Métis person. However, a great-grandmother is not a relative as defined in the Act. The legislature put a limit on how far back the investigation about a child’s family’s First Nations, Inuit or Métis connections would go to two generations before the child. However, the grandmother is a relative, and despite her lack of cooperation with the Society, she provided specific information to the mother that she identified as Métis. The problem the court initially faced was that the mother claimed that the grandmother was not truthful. This is where the subsequent information provided by the great-grandmother became important. Essentially, the great-grandmother corroborated the information provided by the grandmother to the mother, by stating to the Society that the family is Métis and that her mother was Indigenous. The court finds that this evidence and information is sufficient to meet the low threshold required to find that the child is a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child.