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First Nations urged to sue for fair medical treatment

Governments deserve to be sued in what the Canadian Medical Association Journal calls, “the most winnable test case that First Nations’…

Governments deserve to be sued in what the Canadian Medical Association Journal calls, “the most winnable test case that First Nations’ advocates can manage.”

The August 14 editorial in the journal introduced Jordan’s Principle, named after a four-year-old boy who died while the federal and Manitoba governments argued over who would pay his medical bills.

Jordan’s Principle calls upon all federal, provincial and territorial governments to adopt a child-first principle when caring for First Nations children.

This would ensure that governments pay for all the bills, a benefit available to other Canadian children.

Once the child has received proper care, then bureaucrats can squabble, according to the journal.

“If they want to ignore the fact that how they’re treating the aboriginal people is wrong, then of course they’ll be sued,” said University of Ottawa Law professor Amir Attaran, co-author of the editorial.

“It’s totally unacceptable that a child could die like that. I don’t have words for it,” Attaran said in an interview from Ottawa.

“Jordan” was a child from the Norway House Cree Nation reserve in northern Manitoba.

Born in 1999 with a rare neuromuscular disorder, the boy had complex medical needs that could not be met at home.

He was moved to Winnipeg where his illness worsened. He became wheelchair-bound, ventilator dependent and unable to speak.

After two years, family and doctors decided that a specialized foster home near his home reserve would be the best thing for Jordan.

But who would pay for it?

The federal and Manitoba governments could not agree on who was financially responsible and began two years of bureaucratic bickering.

The two governments argued over everything, from high costs such as transportation and foster care, to petty items such as a showerhead.

Shortly after his fourth birthday, Jordan died in hospital.

“This came to our attention pretty recently — embarrassingly late actually,” said Attaran, who is surprised that his editorial was received as shocking.

“It’s actually not a radical statement if you look at the history of how the aboriginal people have been treated in the past.”

Land claims are one example of many where the government has been humiliated by the courts into action, he said.

“Do they seriously want to wait until they’re taken to court over this?”

The editorial calls attention to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which forbids discrimination.

And to the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that the best interests of the child should be the primary concern.

The issue has yet to be tested in court, but the proponents of Jordan’s Principle are eager to let the courts decide if the status quo continues.

It was a CMA Journal editorial, and therefore doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the CMA, said Attaran.