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Inuvialuit Regional Corporation defending child care law in Supreme Court today

Attorneys for the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and other Inuit and Indigenous governments are bringing their arguments before the Supreme Court today to uphold their right to jurisdiction over family services, with GNWT joining Quebec in intervening to challenge the law.

The Quebec government has filed a constitutional complaint against the An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families.

Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) President Duane Ningaqsiq Smith said IRC learned that the GNWT, which has regularly been involved in negotiations to implement the new law, joined Quebec as an intervener against the federal law in late September or early October . Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba are also part of the constitutional challenge to the 2019 legislation.

“It is unfortunate that GNWT decided to do a U-turn at 11am when the Prime Minister was initially praising and supporting us,” he said, adding he hoped GNWT would pull out. “That’s called not acting in good faith.”

The IRC’s first law – Inuvialuit Qitunrariit Inuuniarnikkun Maligaksat, or the “Inuvialuit Family Way of Living Law” – was passed just over a year ago and set the process for a year of negotiations with the federal government and GNWT to work out the details of implementation. The law then went into full effect on November 25, 2022 – exactly one year after it was passed.

In the next step, the federal government will start funding the framework. Funding is based on the number of Inuvialuit children registered with the IRC.

Over the past year, the IRC has been working to be ready for the transition, including recruiting staff and developing new child protection programmes.

However, if the Supreme Court of Canada does not recognize the rights of Indigenous governments to look after the welfare of their children, which is currently the case in the country’s Supreme Court, the legal basis for the IRC Act would be null and void.

Smith said he expects a decision from the Supreme Court early next year.

“We’ve had very strong support from our communities for this initiative,” he said. “All Inuit organizations including Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) are also interveners (on our side) and support us as well.

“I hope there is no problem and we can fix it.”

This week, IRC ran an open letter advertisement in the December 7 issues of Yellowknifer, the December 8 issues of Inuvik Drum and the Globe and Mail, chastising Prime Minister Caroline Cochrane for taking on the case Connected to Quebec. The public correspondence calls for Cochrane to withdraw intervener status from the GNWT.

The GNWT released a statement attributed to an unnamed communications officer and denied IRC’s version of events.

“GNWT is not challenging Inuvialuit Regional Corporation’s first law in the Supreme Court of Canada. The NWT Attorney General seeks clarity on how laws created under federal law may affect the legislative powers granted to our Legislative Assembly under the NWT Act,” the territorial government’s statement said. “The NWT Attorney General affirms the inherent right of Indigenous Peoples to self-government and their inherent jurisdiction in relation to child and family services under Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982. The Attorney General supports the right of Indigenous Peoples to administer and enforce laws that issued under their own jurisdiction.

“The Attorney General is seeking clarity on how statutes created under federal law may affect the legislative power granted to our Legislative Assembly under the NWT Act. The Attorney General is focused on the structure of federal law and the constitutional implications for the GNWT.”

The unattributed spokesman for the GNWT insisted the government is not trying to strike down the law, noting that the filing lies before the Supreme Court of Canada because the federal government had appealed a ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeals that found two provisions of the law and endeavors to implement them again.

The GNWT spokesman also said there would be no hearing between GNWT and IRC before the Supreme Court.

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