Relief granted for an amendment to the identification findings of a First Nation child and his band.
The Children’s Aid Society of Algoma (“the Society”) brought a motion seeking a determination under s.90(2)(b) and s.2(4) of the recent Child, Youth and Family Services Act (“CYFSA”) of whether L.A., who is one years old, is a First Nation child, and if so, that the Batchewana First Nation be added as a party Respondent in this child protection proceeding. Also sought in the relief was a determination that the Batchewana band is the child’s band. Although unusual to make such determinations through a formal motion claim, there is merit to this becoming common practice. The original identification motion did not identify L.A. as a First Nation, Inuit or Métis child based on the evidence in the file at the time. In this re-opened motion, there was additional evidence filed by the Society that included an affidavit of a band representative of Batchewana First Nation that was sworn almost 25 years ago. It was for a protection proceeding in which C.P., the biological father of L.A. in this present case, was the subject child. She stated that “[t]he child C.P. is eligible for registration with [the] Batchewana First Nation”. The Society served the band representative with its motion seeking identification findings. No evidence was filed by the band representative, nor were any submissions made by her on the issue of the identification of the child.
Identification findings under the previous Child and Family Services Act (“CFSA”) were rarely, if ever, done by way of a motion. Often, the findings, especially on Status were done summarily, with no sworn, or very thin, evidence. If no band representative was named as a party in the application, the band representative would have no standing to make any comment. Such a finding, if done by motion, would at least have some standards of evidence and might afford any band an opportunity to be heard prior to a finding being made. While there are now many possible ways by which a child protection court can determine whether a child is a First Nation child, under s.1 of O. Reg. 155/18 this is not the end of the Court’s duty. If the Court determines the child to be a First Nation child, it must then move on to determine the child’s “bands”. The plural is used because it is possible that the child may have more than one band with different membership criterion. To end the determination process once only one band has been identified may be a mistake as there might be benefits from having several bands, including more options in the child protection proceeding with several band representatives.
The first determination is whether a court can ascertain the views of the child on which band(s) the child identifies itself. If the child’s views cannot be ascertained, it is still a matter of whatever band(s) a parent of the child indicates the child identifies with. This information from a parent would likely be ‘hearsay’ that the court is directed by s.21 of O. Reg. 156/18 to accept without question. However, in any child protection case, a child may have multiple ‘statutory’ parents, including some not related by blood, and each of them is entitled to indicate one or more bands with which the child identifies. This rule of interpreting the child’s band does not seem to require a parent to justify his or her indication with any evidence or information. All that is required is that person’s indication of the band(s) with which the child identifies. On the other hand, a parent may fail to make any indication at all, which is not uncommon, as in the present case. Courts normally act on evidence but none seems to be required on this issue.
Another significant provision that is relevant to this motion is s.79(1) of the CYFSA which deals with who are statutory parties in a proceeding. This is important because it adds the child’s bands as formal respondent parties in the child protection, or Status review, application before the court, where an identification finding is made that a child is a First Nation child. From a band point of view, it provides all of the rights that any party has in the application and it permits the child’s band(s) to make an important contribution. It also enables the band representative to advocate its own interests in the proceeding which may or may not coincide with those of the child or another party. The band representative, however, is a party from the outset only if named as a party by the applicant in the application, which is usually a society. This requires a society to anticipate which band(s) should be named as parties. The recent CYFSA has introduced a much more complex process for identifying a First Nation child and its band(s). In this case, the Society has brought a motion seeking judicial identification of the child not only as a First Nation child, but also a determination of the child’s band if so identified. No band representative is named as a party in this child protection case. If this is going to become the status quo procedurally, then a band will have no say in whether a child is a First Nation child, or which is the child’s band. In the Court’s view, it would be better by far to have a band or bands involved in the identification determination under s.90(2) CYFSA. This is easily done by a motion.
As for the determination of whether L.A. is a First Nation child, the Court has to look for any information that a relative of L.A. identifies as a First Nation person. There is such information. The Society affidavit provides the information that the father’s father, that is the child L.A.’s paternal grandfather, was not only a Status Indian and had an Indian Status card, but was also a member of the Batchewana band. Indian Status and Batchewana band membership of the child’s relative is sufficient to find under O. Reg 155/18 s.1(c)(i) that L.A. is a First Nation child and his band is the Batchewana First Nation band. A band representative shall be added as a party Respondent in the child protection application. In the event that this finding is incorrect, the Court has recourse to subclause (ii) of O. Reg 155/18 s.1. which directs the Court to look for any information that demonstrates a “connection” between a child and a band. The characteristics of the connection are not described, therefore the Court has chosen a broader approach that seems to be more in accordance with the spirit of the recent CYFSA. The band or the First Nation still has the option of not participating actively in the case or with the child.