Woman Complains to Human Rights Commission That Feds Spend Less for Child Welfare Services on Reserves: Harper Government Responds by Spying On Her
One woman's battle for equal rights for on-reserve children
Cindy Blackstock says the federal government has reacted to her advocacy for aboriginal children by spying on her.
By Daphne Bramham; February 9, 2013 - Vancouver Sun
Cindy Blackstock doesn't look or act like a spy or a subversive. But that's the way the Canadian government treats her.
Why? Because in 2007, she filed a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against the federal government for spending considerably less for child welfare services on Indian reserves than the average province does for off-reserve aboriginal child welfare services.
Or as Blackstock succinctly sums up her complaint, "The Canadian government is on trial for racial discrimination of First Nations' kids."
Twice since Blackstock filed the complaint, Canada's auditor general has supported Blackstock's contention about under-funding.
Yet, the government has done little to change it, which is why at Idle No More demonstrations you hear the same concerns that Blackstock has detailed in her complaint.
More disturbingly, the results of that underfunding mean that aboriginal children on reserves are much more likely than any other Canadians to drop out of school, be victims of violence or end up in jail.
Yet rather than deal with the issue, the government has spent more than $3 million trying to derail the hearing, according to the Toronto Star.
The hearing is finally set to resume Feb. 25. But the government will be in the Federal Court of Appeal the following week, still trying to stop the hearing.
Blackstock's research indicates the federal government spends 22-percent less for on-reserve child welfare services than the average province does for off-reserve services.
Her concern was underscored by the auditor-general in 2008 and again in 2010.
In the first report, Sheila Fraser concluded the federal government had "insufficient assurance" that child welfare is delivered appropriately, meets relevant provincial legislation and standards or is monitored for either results or costs.
Two years later, Fraser sharpened her criticism.
"(C)onditions on reserves have not improved much in the last decade. We believe that structural problems have inhibited greater progress toward improving the lives and well-being of those living in First Nations reserves."
She went on to say: "The education gap has widened, the shortage of adequate housing on reserves has become more acute and administrative reporting requirements have become more onerous."
But instead of spending $3 million addressing the problems, the government used it to try to make Blackstock and her complaint go away. It monitored her Facebook account and even sent officials to her speeches as far away as Australia.
When Blackstock obtained a copy of her file through an access-to-information request, she found that at least 140 different officials, from deputy ministers down, have read her personal information. She also learned that when the Indian Affairs Department applied to monitor her Facebook account, officials learned that they didn't need to. The Justice Department was already doing it.
The spying shook the quiet-spoken Blackstock.
"I try to joke about it as much as I can, which takes away how scary it is," she says. "I'm grateful that I lead such a boring life ... Unfortunately for them, I put it all on the table."
What's frightening is that Blackstock has no criminal record. She's never hurt anyone or even stood on a blockade. In fact, she says, "The most radical thing I've done is send Valentines to the prime minister."
(As executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Blackstock initiated the Have a Heart campaign, at www.fncaringsociety.com/have-a-heart. Last year, 20,000 Canadians, mainly children, sent cards to Stephen Harper asking him to ensure that First Nations children have the same opportunity to grow up safely at home, be healthy, get a good education and be proud of their heritage.)
Also in her file was a lawyer's note saying the reason for "monitoring" Blackstock was to try to determine her motives for pursuing the child welfare case.
All this in Canada where free speech is guaranteed and so, supposedly, is the right to question the government and hold it accountable before independent bodies such as the human rights tribunal.
Blackstock was born and raised in northern B.C. by an aboriginal father and a non-aboriginal mother. She has a doctorate in social work from the University of B.C. and worked in child protection services for both the B.C. government and the Squamish nation.
"I remember feeling conflicted and shocked that I even had to do this," she said in a recent interview before being named Child and Youth Advocate of the Year by First Call, a coalition of human rights advocates and service providers.
"I grew up believing that governments were logical and moral. If we could prove inequality and develop evidence-based solutions particularly about children, I thought government would do what was required."
Led by Blackstock, the society did that, publishing two reports in 2005, both titled Wen: de. The first outlines the disparity; the second, offers evidence-based solutions. Both are available on the society's website.
What she and other aboriginal Canadians want is equality and opportunity.
"I grew up believing we will all be forgotten. But if I can do one thing that matters, it will be to clear ground so that all children can be successful and be happy ... And if I can do that, I will go to the land of the forgotten with a lot of peace in my heart."