Amnesty International was represented in this case by Justin Safayeni and Kathrin Furniss.
WHAT IS THIS CASE ABOUT?
Jeremy Meawasige was, at the time of the case, a First Nations teenager living on the Pictou Landing Indian Reserve in Nova Scotia. He has a number of severe disabilities that require round-the-clock care for his every need. His mother, Maurina Beadle, was his primary caregiver until she suffered a stroke in May 2010. The Pictou Landing Band Council stepped in to provide 24-hour home care services to Jeremy since Ms. Beadle was no longer able to. Within eight months, the costs of taking care Jeremy had grown to almost 80% of the Pictou Landing Band Council’s budget for personal and home care services funded by the federal government. The Pictou Landing Band Council approached the federal government to request additional funds to be able to cover Jeremy’s needs, arguing that Jeremy’s case met the definition of Jordan’s Principle.
Jordan’s Principle was established following the tragic case of a severely disabled First Nations child who was kept in a hospital and deprived of a family environment for over two years because the federal and provincial governments could not resolve a dispute over which level of government was responsible for paying for the child’s home care in his First Nations community. Sadly, the child died before the dispute could be resolved. In response to his death, Jordan’s Principle was developed so that jurisdictional disputes would not bar children from accessing necessary services in the future. The principle requires that the government that is first contacted for a readily available service off-reserve must pay for it and resolve the payment of expenses with the other level of government at a later date.
The federal government denied Pictou Landing Band Council’s request for additional funding to care for the Beadle family. The government denied that that Mr. Beadle’s circumstances met the definition Jordan’s Principle because there was no jurisdictional dispute since the provincial and federal governments both agreed that the amount requested was above what would by provided to any child on or off reserve.
The Pictou Landing Band and Ms. Beadle challenged the denial of funding before the Federal Court of Canada. The Federal Court stated that under Jordan’s principle, the Pictou Landing Band Council had a right to turn to the federal government to request additional funding for home care services for Jeremy. The only other option for Jeremy would be institutionalization and separation from his mother and community, precisely what Jordan’s principle seeks to avoid. Consequently, the Federal Court ordered the federal government to reimburse the additional costs incurred by the Pictou Landing Band Council for Jeremy’s care.
The government appealed the decision to the Federal Court of Appeal, arguing that the Federal Court had incorrectly interpreted and applied Jordan’s Principle in Jeremy’s case.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S INTERVENTION
Amnesty International was granted leave to intervene before the Federal Court of Appeal in the Pictou Landing case. In our submissions, Amnesty International argued that international human rights law requires Canada to consider the best interests of the child, provide for child health care, protect a child’s family environment, and allow a child to maintain his/her cultural connections – all without discrimination of any kind. Children cannot be afforded a lesser degree of rights protection because they belong to a First Nation and live on reserve; in fact, international law stresses that Indigenous children need additional protection given their unique circumstances. The stark inconsistency between the result in Jeremy’s case and Canada’s commitments under international law supports the conclusion that the decision to deny funding was unreasonable.
STATUS OF THE CASE
Before the case could be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal, but after spending nearly $200,000 fighting the Federal Court’s decision, in July 2014 the federal government dropped its appeal. As a result, the federal government must comply with the Federal Court’s order to fund the costs of Jeremy’s care, and the court’s interpretation and application of Jordan’s Principle stands.