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The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal awarded a First Nations child advocate $20,000 after determining an official in the office of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs “retaliated” against her over a human rights complaint against the department.
The tribunal released its decision in the case of Cindy Blackstock on Friday.
Blackstock is the president of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society which, along 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.
Blackstock added the retaliation complaint to the original discrimination complaint on Dec. 22, 2009. The tribunal has not yet ruled on the discrimination complaint.
The tribunal ruled that Aboriginal Affairs should pay $10,000 to Blackstock for pain and suffering and $10,000 for the “wilful and reckless conduct” of David McArthur, the senior special assistant to Chuck Strahl, who was the minister of Aboriginal Affairs at the time.
McArthur is currently chief of staff to Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford.
McArthur blocked Blackstock from entering a meeting on Dec. 9, 2009, at the Aboriginal Affairs department building in Gatineau, Que., because she had filed a human rights complaint against the department, the tribunal found.
“There is no doubt that the respondent’s actions had a wilful 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 was asked to be part of the hastily arranged Chiefs of Ontario meeting to discuss child welfare policy and funding by Allied Iroquois and Allied Indians Grand Chief Randall Phillips to act as a technical aide.
The group of 10 to 14 people went through security, up the elevator to minister’s office floor for the meeting with McArthur. As the group filed into the meeting room, McArthur stopped Blackstock at the door and asked her identify herself. When she did, McArthur blocked the door and told her, “We’ll see you at another time….”
When Phillips tried to intervene, McArthur told him it was either Blackstock or the meeting.
Blackstock was told to sit and wait outside the door. A building security guard stood nearby, keeping an eye on her. She waited for about 15 minutes before leaving.
During his testimony, McArthur said Blackstock wasn’t on the list of invitees. Tribunal testimony revealed, however, that most of the people in the meeting weren’t on any list.
“McArthur testified that he only learned of Dr. Blackstock’s planned attendance shortly before the meeting and that, while he was aware of the Complaint, his reason for excluding her was because he needed to be properly briefed before meeting with someone of Dr. Blackstock’s stature,” said the tribunal ruling. “Mr. McArthur expressed that he was concerned that a wide range of other issues, including the (human rights) complaint, could arise during the meeting and that he was not in a position to address them at this time.”
The tribunal found that the posting of the guard by the waiting area while Blackstock sat outside the meeting stemmed from a security incident triggered by the Chiefs of Ontario delegation.
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.
The tribunal, however, ruled against Blackstock on four other allegations in her retaliation complaint.
Blackstock alleged that she faced retaliation from the department in 2008 after she was passed-over on a job to be part of a British Columbia working group on reforming First Nations child welfare in the province. Blackstock also alleged the department retaliated against her by spying on her public appearances and Facebook activities along with accessing her Indian status file.
The tribunal found that the federal department’s manager of the child and family welfare program in the B.C. region had grounds to reject Blackstock’s candidacy. Blackstock had been openly critical of the Alberta model the working group wanted to use as a basis for reform in B.C. Blackstock’s name was put forward by Mary Teegee, with the Carrier Sekani Family Services.
The tribunal determined the separate allegations that department officials spied on her public appearances and kept track of her Facebook postings in retaliation for the human rights complaint also weren’t founded. The tribunal says both those activities were related to the ongoing litigation.
The tribunal also found that Blackstock’s Indian status record was accessed twice to deal with her requests under the Access to Information and Privacy Act and not as the result of retaliation.
Blackstock’s spying and Indian status record allegations were also the subject of a Privacy Commissioner’s ruling. More information can be found here.
Aboriginal Affairs can appeal the ruling before the Federal Court.