On Human Rights Day, Canada must do better
By Sam Hammond, CTF/FCE President
“Canada is the best country in the world” is a statement I imagine many people often hear. It seems a pre-requisite line that any current or potential politician must proclaim, and it makes for great flag waving on national holidays. Unfortunately, there is a huge hole in that statement.
The COVID pandemic has exposed long-standing inequities that have been band-aided for far too long, and among them is child poverty. When school buildings closed abruptly last year, the poverty we had continually swept under the rug across Canada was on display for all to see.
Recently, Campaign 2000 released its Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Canada and sadly reminded us that nearly 1 in 5 children live in poverty – in a country as rich as Canada this is unconscionable. Even more sobering is the fact that, according to a 2019 Upstream paper on Indigenous child poverty, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children have poverty rates at least twice as high as their non-Indigenous counterparts. For status First Nations children this number is 3.8 times higher. All children in Canada deserve better – no child should live in poverty.
I can’t help but ask how we can confidently say that Canada is “the best country in the world” when we are failing our youngest and how we could be taking reconciliation seriously when we see the hardships Indigenous children face.
As the United Nations’ Human Rights Day approaches, I want to bring attention to the role that teachers and education play in this year’s theme of “EQUALITY – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights” and how the teaching profession can address child poverty and Indigenous reconciliation.
Education, as a social determinant of health and key to bringing more prosperity to a community, needs to be prioritized if we are to close the gap in the quality of life that Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada experience.
When it comes to issues of reconciliation, we need to invite Indigenous leadership, Elders, and their communities to share the best paths forward, and we must listen and act on what we learn.
While I have yet to formally meet with Indigenous leadership in my role as president, our team at the CTF/FCE is incorporating Indigenous priorities into our work. One notable priority that I want to focus on, taken from a recent Assembly of First Nations publication, is the push for increased investment in schools and teachers.
Even in the best of scenarios, recruiting new teachers and encouraging them to remain in the profession long term is challenging. In remote Indigenous communities, it’s even more so. One year in a community might look good on a resume but ultimately the revolving teaching door can do more harm than good. That’s why we need to be able to attract teachers to remote and rural communities and work to keep them there.
Housing, another human right, and a major contributor to health, must also be prioritized. Overcrowding and dwellings in need of major repairs in Indigenous communities are both at crisis levels. It is no wonder that teacher-specific housing is also a major concern. Teacherages, or places where teachers live in remote Indigenous communities, need to be an infrastructure priority. In providing ample housing for teachers in areas that need it most, communities will be better equipped to attract, and more importantly, keep teachers.
There are several ways we could address teacher shortages in Indigenous communities, from supporting more Indigenous post-secondary students to pursue teaching careers in their communities, or by incentivizing those from outside Indigenous communities to relocate with tax credits for long-term placements. But what’s most important is to seek local solutions, which is why communities must be empowered to lead on initiatives and be supported by the federal government, which is where the CTF/FCE plays a leading role.
Our campaign to start a National Conversation aims to create a national education advisory table to strengthen publicly funded public education across Canada. The table, comprised of the teaching profession, academics, civil society, and Indigenous leadership should they choose to, will work with the federal government, provinces and territories to address social challenges such as ensuring every child in Canada can safely attend school in person and receive a quality publicly funded public education, along with coordinating national programs aimed at poverty alleviation, anti-racism, and truth and reconciliation.
Ultimately, as I reflect on the work ahead, the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day, and how much farther Canada needs to go in pursuit of meaningful reconciliation, I see a critical role for teachers, teacher organizations, and public education. While we do our best to ensure that teachers are learning about reconciliation, being mindful of it, and doing their due diligence in all classrooms, we also need to ensure that classrooms in Indigenous communities get the attention they deserve as well.
Canada must do better, and together we can take the steps to make it so. To learn more about the CTF/FCE’s campaign’s priorities and more, and to find out how you can encourage your provincial and territorial governments to take action, please visit www.voteeducation.ca.
Photo: Taufiq Klinkenborg
The Canadian Teachers’ Federation
Founded in 1920, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation is the national voice for the teaching profession. As the national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations, the CTF/FCE represents over 365,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.
Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE)