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Jordan's Principle: Justice in Health Care

A First Nations baby who had difficulty breast-feeding was diagnosed with allergies that required special formula. The Canadian federal government would not cover the cost of the special formula, so the nutritionist begged the company for free samples. A non-aboriginal child in the same province would have received the formula through provincial health care. 

This case happened years after parliament unanimously adopted Jordan’s Principle in 2007 to stop such unfair practices. This case is one of many cited in a new report on the implementation of Jordan’s Principle, “Without Denial, Delay, or Disturbance: Ensuring First Nations Children’s Access to Equitable Services through Jordan’s Principle.”  

This is a disturbing report. Not only does it document continuing discrimination against First Nations children in health care, it also shows how justice can be thwarted in spite of progress made through successful advocacy work. Persistence is needed, including support for the recommendations in this report.  

Jordan’s Principle is named after Jordan River Anderson, a First Nations child who died in hospital, waiting for more than two years for resolution of a dispute between the federal and provincial government over who would pay for home care. He never made it home. Jordan’s Principle, endorsed by parliament, provides that, in cases like these, the child should receive the necessary medical treatment without delay and the funding issues would then go to dispute resolution. It puts the best interests of the child first, in keeping with Canada’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is also common sense. The evidence in Jordan’s case showed that the costs of hospital care were higher than the home care that should have been provided. If it makes sense, why is it not being implemented?

The new research report documents numerous cases in which Aboriginal children have not received services that non-aboriginal children would have received, because of jurisdictional disputes, long after Jordan’s Principle was hailed as a game-changer. In some cases, very narrow definitions of which cases fall under the principle erode the intent of Parliament. In other cases, complex processes are frustrating, particularly for Aboriginal families with limited resources. Beyond resolving the individual cases, the research report also calls for action to address the basic causes for inequitable access to health care for Aboriginal children.

As someone who advocated for Jordan’s Principle, this report is a reminder of the need for persistence in justice work. When Parliament unanimously adopted Jordan’s Principle, we thought one element of justice for First Nations children had been achieved. Now we will rally support again until we reach the goal of Jordan’s Principle: children’s health comes first. 

[Image: Flickr user Road Fun]

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