Human rights decision finds Manitoba government discriminated against First Nations child with disabilities
WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba Human Rights Adjudication Panel has determined the Manitoba government discriminated against a First Nations child with disabilities.
The case focused on a young man named Alfred "Dewey" Pruden, who lives with his family in Pinaymootang First Nation. According to a news release from the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Dewey has a variety of intellectual, cognitive, and physical disabilities.
Harriet Sumner-Pruden, Dewey’s mother, filed a human rights complaint, alleging the province discriminated against the boy and his family based on his ancestry and disability. The complaint alleged the discrimination included delays, denials, and disruptions in terms of Dewey’s access to disability-related services.
The complaint also said the lack of equitable services doesn’t just discriminate against Dewey, but also other First Nations kids with disabilities.
The plaintiffs were seeking $200,000, along with a "just and reasonable amount" to cover the future cost of care.
Dewey’s family also filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. This complaint alleged the Government of Canada also discriminated against Dewey and other kids with disabilities.
At the hearing, the complainant, represented by the Public Interest Law Centre, and the Manitoba Human Rights Commission successfully proved the province discriminated against Dewey.
In his decision, adjudicator Robert Dawson said the government and its officials didn’t intend to treat the complainants differently due to their ancestry as Anishinaabe people. He said this discrimination was rather the effect of policies, practices and, laws that try to determine the concurrent jurisdictions of federal and provincial governments in terms of health for First Nations people and those living in First Nations communities.
“Those intergovernmental arrangements caused health care and related services to be denied, delayed, or intermittently interrupted for the complainants,” Dawson’s decision said.
“The same problems did not afflict neighbouring non-First Nations communities, and those residents enjoyed health care and related services without denial, delay, or interruption”
At the hearing, the Government of Manitoba brought up the issue of jurisdiction as a reason for the lack of service provided to Dewey, but Dawson said the Canadian constitutional framework doesn’t provide a reasonable justification for the discriminatory behavior.
Dawson’s decision found there was no justification for the discriminatory behavior that Dewey and his family experienced. This decision also recognized Dewey’s right to access healthcare on an equal level to other Manitobans.
Dawson did find there was insufficient evidence to prove other First Nations children experienced discrimination.
“While we are pleased that this decision recognizes the discrimination experienced by Dewey and his family, the Commission is deeply concerned that the Adjudicator ignored the compelling evidence from multiple witnesses, as well as legal precedent, which we believe set out a clear basis for a finding of systemic discrimination,” said Karen Sharma, executive director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
The commission said it maintains that all First Nations children should have equitable access to disability-related services.
The Public Interest Law Centre provided a statement on behalf of Sumner-Pruden, saying they are relieved the wait for the decision is over and appreciate that the board of adjudication recognized the discrimination against Dewey and their family.
“However, we are saddened that the discrimination against other First Nation children with disabilities was not acknowledged,” the statement said.
The Government of Manitoba has been ordered to pay the family $42,500 in damages within 45 days of the decision.
In a statement, a spokesperson from the province said: “We thank the Manitoba Human Rights Commission for their careful consideration of this issue. The province will be closely reviewing this decision to determine our next steps, including discussions within our departments, the federal government and Indigenous leadership.”
- With files from The Canadian Press.