Don’t make enemies of people your country needs

Why is the federal government spying on Cindy Blackstock? When does a lifelong advocate for aboriginal children become an enemy of the state?

Why is the federal government spying on Cindy Blackstock? When does a lifelong advocate for aboriginal children become an enemy of the state?

The answer, it would seem, is when you file a human rights complaint accusing your government of willfully underfunding child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves. Accusing your government, in other words, of racial discrimination.

That’s what Blackstock, as executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, did in 2007.

Since that time, federal officials attended 75 to 100 meetings at which she spoke, then reported back to their bosses.

They went on her Facebook page during work hours, then assigned a bureaucrat to sign on as himself after hours to check it again looking for testimony from the tribunal. On at least two occasions, they pulled her Status Indian file and its personal information, including data on her family.

As first reported by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, it’s all there in a mountain of documents, measuring more than six inches high, which she recently received after waiting a year and a half for them to be released under access to information legislation.

“I have never had a parking ticket, let alone a criminal record and I have never conducted myself in an unprofessional manner,’’ she told me from Edmonton this week.

Some of the emailed reports that went up the ladder at the former Indian and Northern Affairs openly mocked Blackstock.

In one report of her presentation to a New Brunswick symposium, there was a sarcastic summary of her “tour de force . . . which fired up a ready to be impressed audience.

“She rattled through some general statistics (or gave the impression of doing so) before being whisked off to the airport.’’

It’s hardly the first time the Conservative government has surreptitiously kept its eyes on aboriginals. Last month, it was revealed that the Canadian military had been keeping watch on activities of native organizations and had delivered at least eight reports over 18 months dealing with everything from a potential native backlash over Ontario’s introduction of the HST to potential demonstrations on the lawn of Parliament Hill.

In 2009, Blackstock was awarded the Atkinson Charitable Foundation’s Economic Justice fellowship, which provides $100,000 a year to community leaders to support their work. Among those who praised her then was former prime minister Paul Martin.

In April, she spoke at a two-day provincial summit organized by the Dalton McGuinty government to try to find common ground among those fighting to improve the lives of native kids.

So, while one level of government was seeking her expertise, another level was spying on her.

A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said the government “takes privacy concerns very seriously. The department routinely monitors and analyzes the public environment as it relates to the department’s policies, programs, services and initiatives. This is done to do a better job in service delivery and policy.’’

Blackstock decided to seek her own file after she was denied access to a 2009 meeting with departmental officials on behalf of Ontario chiefs. Instead, she was made to wait in an anteroom, watched by a burly security guard who towered above her.

“I have never said anything that the auditor general hasn’t said,’’ Blackstock says.

Indeed, in 2008, then-auditor general Sheila Fraser confirmed that substantial shortfalls in federal child-welfare funding on reserves are jeopardizing children’s safety.

Fraser also found First Nations children receive substantially less elementary and secondary school funding per capita than other Canadians enjoy.

“I’m a common-sense girl,’’ Blackstock says. “I say rather than spend the money following me around, spend it on the children.’’

This is a government that seems perpetually in need of enemies.

The irony is that there has been much speculation in this city of late that the plight of aboriginals will be a major preoccupation of Stephen Harper in the remaining years of his majority government. A first step would be to stop treating advocates for aboriginals as enemies, or people we should fear.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer for the Toronto Star.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Vaccine suppliers already testing new versions against variants

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools has a new public engagement website. (Contributed graphic)
Red Deer Catholic Schools are launching a new public engagement website

RDCRS Connects will provide feedback opportunities

Alberta is on pace to administer more than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week, according to the provincial government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
One million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Alberta

Alberta hit a milestone in the fight against COVID-19 this week. As… Continue reading

opinion
Opinion: Waiting 4 months between vaccine doses too long

“It’s not just a matter of potency, it’s a matter of the… Continue reading

Richie Laryea of Toronto FC, left, and Jean Meneses of Mexico's Leon battle for the ball during a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Leon, Mexico, in Leon, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Toronto FC hosts Club Leon in the second leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 tie holding a valuable away goal after a 1-1 draw last week in Mexico. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mario Armas
Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Winnipeg Jets' Dylan DeMelo (2) skates the puck around Ottawa Senators' Thomas Chabot (72) as he holds off Winnipeg Jets' Mason Appleton (22) during first-period NHL action in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (25) shoots over San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

John Furlong pitches a broader B.C. bid for 2030 Winter Games

John Furlong pitches a broader B.C. bid for 2030 Winter Games

New York Yankees starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Bichette hits 2nd homer in 9th, Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-4

Bichette hits 2nd homer in 9th, Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-4

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort (5) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Jarrell Brantley (5) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Salt Lake City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Rick Bowmer
Undrafted Montreal native Dort continues to smash “glass ceilings” in NBA

Undrafted Montreal native Dort continues to smash “glass ceilings” in NBA

A man wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks past banners for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, to mark 100 days before the start of the Summer Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Rings on the Horizon: Tokyo Summer Olympics hit 100 days out marker

Rings on the Horizon: Tokyo Summer Olympics hit 100 days out marker

Most Read