Global News investigation exposes ‘dark secret of Canada,’ veteran NDP MP says

A federal NDP member of Parliament is blasting the federal Liberal and Ontario Conservative governments following a Global News investigation that revealed allegations of targeting and mistreatment of Indigenous youth in the child-welfare system.

“This is the dark secret of Canada. The exploitation of Indigenous children, taking them away from their families,” said Charlie Angus, an author of two books on the cross-section of mining and Indigenous rights and the longtime NDP MP for Timmins—James Bay in northeastern Ontario.

“The federal and provincial governments are failing.”

The Global News investigation revealed how northern First Nations youths from remote communities are allegedly targeted by some for-profit group home companies because their owners can charge more for Indigenous children or because the kids provide a steady source of revenue, according to interviews with more than 50 former group home workers, former children’s aid employees and child-welfare experts.

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Click to play video: '‘These are lives. They’re not a commodity’: Indigenous kids in care allegedly targeted by for-profit companies'

‘These are lives. They’re not a commodity’: Indigenous kids in care allegedly targeted by for-profit companies

The results are horrendous experiences some liken to the abuse that took place during the residential schools era, according to some workers, child-welfare experts and youths.

The provincial government oversees the child welfare system in Ontario, while the federal government provides financial, governance and infrastructure support to First Nation communities through two agencies, Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.

Speaking in Sudbury, Ont., Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Global’s investigation highlighted the importance of supporting Indigenous kids from the North so they are not “getting lost in the system.”

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“This Global News investigation is highlighting that there is an increased urgency on making sure that kids who are at risk get the support of a community and of an identity and a culture in which they can ground themselves instead of getting lost in the system that doesn’t see them for everything they are,” the prime minister told reporters.

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In northern Ontario, Indigenous child-welfare agencies care for kids who have experienced family crises or abuse or have complex needs.

These agencies serve some of the most resource-starved communities located near the Manitoba border all the way up to Attawapiskat on James Bay, which can lack basic services like housing, running water, or mental health care.

Faced with few options, these Indigenous children’s agencies are often sent to group homes thousands of kilometres away in cities in southern Ontario — separating them from family, friends and culture.

Click to play video: 'Ontario proposes child welfare system changes'

Ontario proposes child welfare system changes

A Global News analysis of spending data by children’s aid societies (CAS) across Ontario revealed that northern Indigenous agencies are paying much higher daily fees than their non-Indigenous counterparts for care.

On average, northern Indigenous children’s aid societies paid 26 per cent more per day for a child to live in a group home, not run by a CAS, compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts between 2011 and 2021.

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This discrepancy meant Indigenous children’s agencies in northern Ontario spent nearly $28 million more over 10 years than if they’d been charged the average rate paid by non-Indigenous agencies across the province.

Angus said all levels of government need to ensure Indigenous communities are properly funded, so they can care for their own kids without sending them thousands of kilometres away after being forced to turn to group home operators he compared to “factory mills of exploitation.”

“The (Ontario) ministry simply doesn’t give them (First Nations) the funds to support the families, but yet they’ll pay enormous amounts of money to pull these children away from their culture, away from their family,” Angus said.

“The federal government needs to make sure that when money is going into child welfare, that it’s going into the communities and into supporting the families so they can have the same rights that non-Indigenous kids have.”

Click to play video: 'An Indigenous child welfare agency’s fight to restore culture and raise kids at home'

An Indigenous child welfare agency’s fight to restore culture and raise kids at home

The investigation also showed that some Indigenous youths receive little to no cultural services and the conditions of the homes were compared to a “prison” where staff frequently use physical force to restrain children, according to interviews with group home workers, youths and children’s aid employees.

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“(Indigenous youth) were legitimately a paycheque,” said one former group home worker, whom Global News is not identifying for fear of professional reprisals.

“It was never, ever about the youth. It was always about money.”

In Ontario, there are just over 300 group homes, with 135 run by for-profit companies that each negotiate a daily rate with the province. The remaining homes are run by non-profits, like children’s aid societies, Indigenous children’s agencies and independent or religious organizations.

Group home companies contacted by Global News rejected any comparison to residential schools and denied they are targeting Indigenous kids from northern communities for profit.

The companies said Indigenous youths are placed in their group homes and facilities by children’s aid workers from their home communities and that their care isn’t funded differently than services offered to other youth.

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