Jordan River Anderson and his mother. (Image: National Film Board).

Jordan River Anderson was born on October 22, 1999. Jordan had Carey Fineman Ziter syndrome, a rare muscular disorder that required both a ventilator and constant care.

Two-year-old Jordan should have been able to leave the Winnipeg Children’s hospital when his condition stabilized. Instead, Jordan died on February 2, 2005 without ever leaving the hospital or seeing his home on Norway House Cree Nation Reserve where his family lived.

Jordan was prevented from living with his family because the federal and Manitoba governments were in dispute over who should cover the cost of his care. The only reason this happened was because Jordan was a First Nations child living on reserve.

Health care is supposed to be universal across Canada. However, the Canadian government continues to single out First Nations children for exemption despite treaty rights guaranteeing access to health care. Instead, the federal government is responsible for the costs of child services on reserve while provincial governments fund services off reserve. This is political cruelty at its finest.

NDP MP Jean Crowder, introduced a private members motion to remedy this situation. On December 12, 2007 Jordan’s Principle unanimously passed into law in the House of Commons.

Putting the child’s best interest ahead of intergovernmental disputes, the law states that the level of government with first contact will assume all costs of child services and continue paying them until a settlement is reached regarding jurisdictional disputes. That should have been the happy ending to this story.

Instead, Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, was force to battle the Harper government for nine years after Canada failed to implement Jordan’s Principle.

During that time, Harper’s government made multiple attempts to have the complaint dismissed. The Canadian government also withheld over 90,000 documents that were central to the case. Harper even had Blackstock covertly investigated.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal heard 72 days of testimony before wrapping up on October 24, 2015. On January 26, 2016, the tribunal released its decision. It found that the federal government had historically discriminated against First Nations children living on reserve.

During the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau swore that if elected Prime Minister he would not challenge the Tribunal’s decision. He lied.

In April 2016, the Tribunal filed a non-compliance order against the federal government followed by another in September 2016. In March 2017, all parties were brought to the Tribunal to hear issues of non-compliance.

It was shown that a lack additional funding built into the 2016 budget meant it was impossible to implement Jordan’s Principle. In fact, cases meeting all four criteria for Jordan’s Principle were denied funding.

In May 2017, the federal government received notice that the Tribunal had ordered substantial funding increases to administer Jordan’s Principle. In excess of 15 additional orders have been issued against Canada by the Tribunal to date.

Then, Trudeau’s government filed for judicial review of the Tribunal’s orders on eligibility for Jordan’s Principle. This is the equivalent of launching an appeal against a decision you don’t like.

From June 14 to 18, 2021, the Federal Court heard from both sides. Ultimately, on September 29, 2021 the court found in favour of First Nations children and upheld their human rights. Trudeau then had 30 days to decide whether to file yet another judicial review, aka appeal, or not.

During the fall 2021 election Trudeau claimed that he was not in fact taking First Nation’s children back to court. If that is indeed the case, then National Truth and Reconciliation Day was the perfect opportunity to make that announcement. Instead, Trudeau felt compelled to join his own children on their Tofino vacation.

So, here we are, Trudeau adamantly declaring he is not taking First Nations children back to court intersecting with Jordan River Anderson’s birthday. Once and for all Trudeau must do the right thing — honour Jordan River Anderson’s life and the lives of all First Nations children, by honouring Jordan’s Principle.

For more information about Jordan’s Principle, watch Jordan River Anderson: The Messenger. (2019)

For more information about Dr. Cindy Blackstock’s initial journey to see Jordan’s Principle implemented, watch We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice. (2016)