What is Bill C-92?
Bill C-92 came into force as federal law on January 1, 2020 as An Act respecting First Nations Metis and Inuit children, youth and families (still at times referred to as Bill C-92).
Bill C-92 established national standards for Indigenous children in child welfare and it also established a path for Indigenous governing bodies to enact their own laws with respect to child and family services.
Fisher River retained our law firm, Cochrane Saxberg, in March 2021 to assist in the development of a Fisher River Child and Family Law further to Bill C-92.
What has Fisher River Cree Nation accomplished to date?
Notice of Intention
On September 30, 2020, Fisher River formally passed a resolution to:
- be recognized as the “Indigenous governing body” (as defined in Bill C-92) for Fisher River Cree Nation members;
- develop and implement a Child and Family Law based on Cree law;
- undertake the responsibilities over prevention services, early intervention services, and child protection services for Fisher River Cree Nation.
On the same date, September 30, 2020, Fisher River sent correspondence to Canada and Manitoba pursuant to subsection 20(1) of Bill C-92 giving notice of Fisher River’s intention to exercise legislative authority in relation to child and family services and enclosed the resolution mentioned above.
The correspondence to Canada included a workplan and budget for both the community and legal to begin the work on developing the law, this is now known as a “capacity-building” proposal.
Fisher River received capacity building funding from Canada in the amount of $550,000 for the fiscal year of 2020-21 and again for the fiscal year of 2021-22.
On June 16, 2023, Canada sent Fisher River correspondence that the request of an additional $345,182 for capacity building funding for the 2023-24 fiscal year will be funded.
Law Development Process
In the Spring of 2021, a Working Group was convened to guide the law drafting process. The Working Group was made up of Elders, ICFS Board Members, the Executive Director of ICFS, the Community Justice Coordinator, health workers, etc.
The Working Group met bi-weekly from March 2021 to August 2022 to discuss a wide range of topics on child and family services, including:
- Traditions, laws and ceremonies that apply to families and children;
- How children were cared for prior to colonization;
- Key definitions such as “family”, “customary care” and “customary adoption”;
- The shortcomings of the provincial child and family services system;
- The concept of “need of protection” and apprehensions in the provincial system;
- Prevention and early intervention methods;
- Development of circles of care for families to convene and reach family-driven resolutions;
- Wholistic approach to child welfare through the creation of a Child Care Committee;
- What the scope of the Fisher River Child and Family Law will be;
- Dispute resolution mechanisms, such as creating a Fisher River Tribunal to hear all matters relating to child and family services;
- Requirements of agency employees;
- How children’s views and preferences will be considered;
In the fall of 2022, a smaller Technical Working Group was convened to review the first draft of the Fisher River Cree Nation Child and Family Law that had been drafted based on the Working Group discussions. The group included the Elders Executive, ICFS Board Members, and the Executive Director of ICFS plus a designate.
We have met with the Technical Working Group through September 2022 to July 2023. The group has received and reviewed three drafts of the Fisher River Cree Nation Child and Family Law and has discussed next steps in the Bill C-92 process.
Community consultations in community and in Winnipeg have also taken place to provide updates and receive feedback on the draft law.
Coordination Agreement Preparation
Our team met with the ICFS senior staff in March and April 2023 to discuss their current service delivery and transitional matters that will be discussed at the coordination agreement table.
Examples of matters that will come up, particularly with Manitoba, are the following: intake and emergency services, abuse investigations, placement resources, records, information sharing, etc.
Fisher River entered into a Collaborative Research Agreement with the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD) in August 2022.
The overall expectation of the agreement is to build a funding approach for the delivery of child and family services. The expected outcomes of the project is to receive budgets, capital needs assessment, assessment of organizational models to deliver services, test indicators to measure well-being, and to support the reform and transition of First Nations child and family services.
We understand that draft budgets have been provided to date but are only focused on Fisher River Cree Nation, and does not include off reserve members.
Request to Enter into Coordination Agreement Discussions
On July 27, 2023, Fisher River sent correspondence to Canada and Manitoba pursuant to subsection 20(2) of Bill C-92 to formally request to enter into a coordination agreement.
The correspondence to Canada and Manitoba included a brief overview of the Fisher River child and family services model stating that it will be focused on core values, prevention services, family decision making, and keeping children connected to families and the community. It also stated Fisher River’s intention to exercise jurisdiction recognized in section 18(2) of Bill C-92 with respect to dispute resolution processes by creating a Tribunal.
What are the next steps?
Coordination Agreement Discussions
The Coordination Agreement stage is where Fisher River will sit down with Canada and Manitoba to discuss transitional issues and other issues such as funding and implementation of the Fisher River system. The intention of the table is to enter into a Coordination Agreement between all three parties.
Pursuant to sections 21-22 of Bill C-92, an Indigenous governing body’s law will have the force and effect as federal law and prevail in the event of a conflict with provincial laws if reasonable efforts are made to enter into a coordination agreement for one year after the request is made or an agreement is entered into.
Now that Fisher River is in the coordination stage of the Bill C-92 process, we need to develop a coordination agreement budget. There is no formal request for proposals for these budgets or limit, however, Canada has stated that funding will be provided for matters that can be connected to the work at the table. Examples are participation at the table, IT support, engaging experts for fiscal negotiations, etc.
For the fiscal negotiations, we need to ensure that we have the proper expertise and analysis done on all aspects of funding the Fisher River child welfare system. The work that is being done by IFSD will need to be reviewed to determine if additional fiscal expertise is needed to support the discussions at the coordination agreement table.
Please let us know if you have any questions or if you would like a full presentation on Bill C-92.
 These sections were challenged by the province of Quebec and the case went before the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2022. We are anticipating the decision of the court will be available this fall.
- Reconciliation Project: [email protected]
- Lorne Cochrane, 204-799-3484, [email protected]
- Tanya Cochrane, 204-645-4505, [email protected]