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Interview: Indigenous activist wins human rights case against federal government

By: 
Valerie Lannon

June 9, 2015

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, together with the Assembly of First Nations, launched a human rights complaint in 2007 alleging the federal Aboriginal Affairs department discriminates against First Nations children on the basis of race and national ethnic origin by underfunding child welfare services on reserves. But the Society’s Executive Director, Cindy Blackstock, added a further complaint December 22, 2009, as a result of finding the government had been actively monitoring her and trying to retaliate against her work advocating for children through the original human rights complaint.

While the human rights tribunal has not yet ruled on the child services discrimination complaint, on June 5, the tribunal ruled that Aboriginal Affairs should pay $10,000 to Blackstock for pain and suffering and $10,000 for the “willful and reckless conduct” of David McArthur, the senior special assistant to Chuck Strahl, who was the minister of Aboriginal Affairs at the time.

According to APTN, McArthur blocked Blackstock from entering a meeting on December 9, 2009, at the Aboriginal Affairs department building in Gatineau, Quebec, because she had filed a human rights complaint against the department.

“There is no doubt that the respondent’s actions had a willful and reckless nature. Dr. Blackstock was the only individual excluded from the meeting, which supports her contention that she was singled out,” said the tribunal. “Not only did Mr. McArthur admit that he was aware of the complaint, but he expressed that he was afraid that it would be discussed during the meeting…His testimony revealed a desire to exclude her because she had a filed a human rights complaint and a disregard for the rights protected in the Act.”

Blackstock said she filed the complaint to help protect the rights of the public from facing retaliation from the government over human rights complaints. “This ruling is a black mark on Canada’s human rights record and Parliament should respond by taking strong measure to protect the public from government retaliation,” said Blackstock, in a statement.

Cindy Blackstock gave an exclusive interview to Socialist.ca.

Why do you think you were targeted for surveillance?

Internal government documents show they placed me under surveillance in hopes of finding "other motives" for filing the child welfare discrimination case. Ultimately they hoped some adverse information would surface so they could get the case dismissed on frivolous or vexatious grounds. They were unsuccessful. ‎

What parts of your argument did you win? not win?

The Tribunal found that the federal government blocking me from attending a meeting between the Chiefs of Ontario and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was "willful and reckless" retaliation and awarded me $20,000 in damages. I will donate the funds to children's charities as this case was never about money—it has always been about freedom of speech and freedom from oppression. 

Although the Privacy Commissioner previously found the collection of personal information about me to be unlawful, the Tribunal felt it did not meet the test for retaliation.

Your victory shows you can fight the state and win.  Any comments about Bill C-51 and how it can be opposed?

I am against bill C-51. My view is when the government wants to know more about the people than the people know about government, democracy is in danger. If they suspect criminal behaviour they should apply for a warrant before placing anyone under surveillance.  

Any next steps for this particular complaint?

The federal government has 30 days to appeal the decision. We have to wait to see what they do. So far they have officially broken the law three times in relation to the First Nations child welfare discrimination case. It has been baffling and disturbing to see the lengths they will go to in order to fight a case about treating children fairly.

Looking ahead to the Human Rights tribunal decision about funding for child and family services on reserve, once the decision is issued, what would you ‎ask non-Indigenous supporters to do?‎

You can learn about the case and sign up to witness it at www.fnwitness.ca and make clear to all elected officials that you expect all governments to ensure First Nations children receive equitable services.  

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