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On a typical humid morning in Ottawa, Cindy Blackstock sits on the patio of a downtown coffee shop and talks about the day ahead.
“I have an interview with a reporter to talk about the child welfare system, and then I’ll be going through e-mails and documents getting ready for the upcoming hearing,” said Blackstock.
The hearing is Blackstock’s retaliation complaint filed against the federal government at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, along with the Assembly of First Nation are at the tribunal because they accuse Canada of spending less on First Nations child welfare than what provincial governments spend for off reserve children. The complaint was filed in 2007 and Blackstock said the retaliation against her started after.
She claims Canada has been spying on her.
Blackstock is not alone in believing that.
In May of this year, the office of the Privacy Commissioner found that officials in both the department of Aboriginal Affairs and the department of Justice began collecting personal information about Blackstock in February 2010.
“(The two departments) have repeatedly accessed, viewed, read, copied and recorded personal information from (Blackstock’s) personal Facebook page,” said the report.
The report also said they gathered information that was “unrelated to their ordinary operating activities.”
Along with asking Canada’s privacy watchdog to look into the matter, Blackstock filed a complaint with the human rights tribunal. Under section 14.1 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is a discriminatory practice for a person against whom a complaint has been filed to retaliate or threaten retaliation against the individual who filed the complaint.
Blackstock’s complaint at the tribunal is much like the one she filed with the privacy commissioner, which includes monitoring her agenda and taking screen shots of her personal Facebook page and accessing her Indian status registry.
“They accessed my Indian status registry, why would they do that?” said Blackstock.
She went on.
“In 2009, I was accompanying a number of chiefs to a meeting with Minister Chuck Strahl’s staff and I was barred from the meeting. I was guarded by a security guard while I sat in the reception area of the minister’s office waiting for the meeting to conclude,” she said. “I was seated on a couch with a coffee table in front of it. The rather large male security guard stood directly on the other side of the coffee table while I read the newspaper.”
The hearing into the retaliation complaint comes on the heels of a scathing report filed by the tribunal panel of Sophie Marchildon, Rejean Belanger and Edward Lustig Wednesday.
It found that the department of Aboriginal Affairs and the department of Justice withheld tens of thousands of documents relevant to the complaint filed against it. The panel has given the government until the end of August to disclose them.
In the meantime, the retaliation complaint will start July 15.
Blackstock will be calling two witnesses, former Grand Chief Randall Phillips and Mary Teegee from the British Columbia Aboriginal Child Care Society. The government is calling at least seven witnesses including David McArthur, former special assistant to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Monica Fujikschot, executive director of secure certificate of Indian status.
“I just want them to stop,” said Blackstock.
Blackstock said she doesn’t know if the department has stopped. She hasn’t heard from anyone at Aboriginal Affairs or Justice.
In May 2013, she wrote a letter to Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson asking for an update on whether the privacy commissioner’s recommendations, including the need to stop monitoring Blackstock and destroying the information that was collected, was being implemented.
So Blackstock sent a second letter in June asking the same question.
“I received a form letter,” said Blackstock. “Thank you for writing…”
She said it’s time Prime Minister Stephen Harper stepped in.
“This is a matter for the prime minister now,” said Blackstock, adding a number of reports and rulings have gone against the government regarding First Nations child welfare in Canada.
“There are two auditor general reports, two reports from the standing committee on public accounts, two reports from the United Nations, four failed federal court challenges brought by the government to stop the complaint at the tribunal, the privacy commissioner’s report and of course the documents that were withheld at the tribunal,” said Blackstock. “This should scare everyone. This is about the government of Canada.”
If found guilty, the government if facing the embarrassment of retaliating against a First Nations child advocate and the panel could award Blackstock and the Caring society a maximum of $20,000 each.
All rulings from the panel can be appealed at the federal court level.
“I’m nervous,” Blackstock said as she gets ready to head to work. “For two weeks bureaucrats will be testifying about me. About what, the cookie recipe on my Facebook page?”