Feds appeal judgment ordering Ottawa to pay for disabled native youth treatment

OTTAWA – The federal government is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a court ruling that would force it to pay the cost of caring for a severely disabled aboriginal teenager living at home.

The precedent-setting case involves an 18-year-old on the Pictou Landing reserve in Nova Scotia and his principal caregiver mother — who herself suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010.

Last month the Federal Court ruled that Ottawa was wrong to cover only a fraction of the cost of care for Jeremy Meawasige, who suffers from cerebral palsy and autism, among other disabilities.

The court found that the government is obliged to uphold “Jordan’s Principle” — a 2005 agreement that First Nations children should get the public assistance they need, regardless of jurisdictional fights between levels of government over who should pay.

The ruling was hailed at the time as a step toward ensuring aboriginal children get equal access to essential government services.

A brief notice of appeal filed by the federal Justice Department says the court erred in its interpretation and application of Jordan’s Principle — an appeal that defence lawyer Paul Champ calls “shameful.”

“I understand that the Pictou Landing case is a big precedent, but is it really one they should fight?” Champ, who represents Meawasige’s mother, Maurina Beadle, said in an email.

“I think it looks terrible for the government to be seen opposing Jordan’s Principle and equality for disabled First Nations children.”

Justice Leonard Mandamin found that Ottawa was wrong to cover only $2,200 a month toward Meawasige’s care, which costs the Pictou Landing band council about $8,200 a month.

“The only other option for Jeremy would be institutionalization and separation from his mother and his community,” said the judgment.

“Jordan’s Principle is not to be narrowly interpreted.”

Jordan’s Principle is named after Jordan River Anderson, a Manitoban who died in hospital in 2005 as governments argued over who should pay for home care services.

The House of Commons unanimously voted in favour of adopting the principle. The Federal Court noted that government departments publicly declared they would respect Jordan’s Principle in their policies.

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