We can all remember the story of Jordan River Anderson, a Cree kid from Norway House First Nation in Manitoba. Jordan had a rare muscular disorder that required years of medical treatment. When doctors finally said he could live in a home, the provincial and federal governments fought over who had to pay for necessary home care.
After two years of unresolved court battles, five-year-old Jordan died in his sterile hospital room never having experienced the warmth of a real home.
The national outcry led to the creation of Jordan’s Principle, which mandates that both on- and off-reserve Indigenous children have a right to the same level of services enjoyed by all Canadian children. More specifically, children should not be denied services while governments fight over who should pay.
Of course, this was only expressed in a Private Member’s motion in the House of Commons. While it has moral power, it is not the same as a bill passed into law.
It was a bittersweet victory. But since then, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the Canadian government’s improper implementation of the principle resulted in discrimination in the substandard health and social services provided to Indigenous children.
Yet, there was hope in the beginning. Every people, culture, race, religion and human community value their children. Everyone recognizes that children are the most vulnerable members of any society. Thus, all Indigenous Peoples within Canada felt that a common ground was reached. Even while the children are voiceless other Indigenous people who cared for them could easily claim the same. They are not allowed participation in decision-making, and are judged as failures, while the actions of others, especially non-Indigenous people, cannot be questioned.
Jordan’s story affected me deeply. And when the story surfaced of a Quebec coroner who ruled that delays in Quebec’s health system “very likely” lead to the death from bacterial meningitis of a seven-month-old girl, the same emotions surfaced as well. The coroner said she might have survived if it hadn’t taken so long to get her to the hospital.
One must ask, what hospital did she mean? Coroner Géhane Kamel looked at the timeline from Manawan to a specialized pediatric centre in Montreal. The timeline really starts when the infant showed symptoms as early as March 31, when her parents were told to give their daughter Tylenol.
Three days later, a Manawan nurse called 911, saying the baby was suffering from breathing problems and was starting to convulse. The family waited more than an hour and 45 minutes for an ambulance. Doctors at their regional hospital decided to medevac the infant to Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital. She arrived more than eight-and-a-half hours after the initial call to 911.
Given the overcrowding and lack of housing it is not surprising that there are problems. In Nunavik, a coroner’s report looking into the death of a three-month-old infant in 2021 said overcrowding in the home was a factor and has called on the Quebec and federal governments to rapidly increase the supply of social housing there.
So, are these examples of Jordan’s Principle having no teeth, not being respected or implemented? Or simply examples of the poor quality of health care in Indigenous communities? We all know those fine principles will be used to pave a certain political road for our camera-loving leaders. But in the end, we also know that losing our precious children while politicians procrastinate on fulfilling their responsibilities shows they have precious little principle on matters of life and death.