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Human Rights Tribunal finds Ottawa retaliated against First Nations Child Rights Worker

    June 08, 2015

    Joint release with First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and KAIROS

    In a landmark ruling Friday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal concluded that the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada retaliated against Dr. Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada because of a discrimination complaint filed by that organization.

    According to Dr. Blackstock, “Although I welcome the Tribunal’s confirmation that the federal government’s conduct was unlawful, my real hope is that Parliament passes stronger measures to ensure that people who stand up for children and other vulnerable Canadians won’t be persecuted.” 

    The government’s actions were in response to a human rights complaint filed by the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nation alleging that the federal government’s flawed and inequitable provision of First Nations child and family services to 163,000 First Nations children is discriminatory.

    The Tribunal found that the government had retaliated against Dr. Blackstock by blocking her participation in a 2009 meeting between the Department of Indian Affairs and the Chiefs of Ontario which had asked her to attend as their child welfare expert advisor.  The Tribunal described the conduct of a senior AANDC official as "wilful and reckless."
    The Tribunal also noted that the federal government’s collection of personal information about Dr. Blackstock was inappropriate, but concluded that the collection of information did not meet the retaliation test in the Canadian Human Rights Act. 

    The Tribunal ordered Ottawa to pay $20,000 in damages for its actions. Dr. Blackstock intends on donating the financial award related to this case to children’s charities noting “this case is about freedom and democracy – not about money.”

    Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Alex Neve says “The case that the Caring Society has brought before the Human Rights Tribunal deals with issues that should concern all Canadians. The fact that Dr. Blackstock was subject to retaliation and surveillance for pursuing justice in such an important case is, sadly, consistent with a deeply troubling pattern of intimidating, punishing and ultimately seeking to silence individuals and organizations who oppose or question government policies.”

    KAIROS Executive Director Jennifer Henry applauds the decision as a hopeful sign for human rights defenders. "People who stand up for human rights shouldn't be afraid that the government will respond in a way that limits or undermines their own rights," Henry said. "This decision, while not perfect, is an important positive step to more protections for human rights defenders." KAIROS is eleven churches and religious organizations working together for human rights and ecological justice.

    The Privacy Commissioner of Canada previously found the federal government’s collection of personal information about Dr. Blackstock to be unlawful. This case has also captured the attention of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Association, the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Human Rights Defenders.

    About:  The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (Caring Society) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to the well being of First Nations children and their families.

    For more information and a copy of the ruling see: www.fnwitness.ca  

    Contacts:
    Cindy Blackstock, PhD. Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Associate Professor, University of Alberta
    Phone: (613) 230 5885  Email: cblackst@fncaringsociety.com Twitter: @Caringsociety #Witness4FirstNationsKids

    Jennifer Henry, Executive Director, KAIROS Canada
    Phone:  (416) 463-5316 ext. 236  Email: Jhenry@kairoscanada.org

    Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations (Toronto), Amnesty International Canada
    Phone: (416) 363-9933 ext 332  Email: BBerton-Hunter@amnesty.ca

    BACKGROUND:

    In February of 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (Caring Society) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) filed a human rights complaint alleging that the Government of Canada’s provision of child and family services on reserves and in the Yukon is discriminatory on the basis of race and national ethnic origin.  The Canadian Government spent over 6 years and 3 million dollars in its unsuccessful attempts to derail the hearings on legal technicalities before the facts could be heard.  In the fall of 2012, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal amended the child and family services complaint to include allegations that the Government of Canada retaliated against the Caring Society and its Executive Director Dr. Cindy Blackstock for filing a human rights complaint contrary to Section 14.1 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

    The retaliation allegations are largely based on government documents showing that officials from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) blocked the Caring Society from carrying out its mandate providing expert advice to First Nations on child and family services. Further, it is alleged that the Federal Government retaliated against Dr. Blackstock personally when officials from AANDC and the Department of Justice conducted systemic monitoring of her movements and activities and collected personal information about her when federal employees, logging in using their personal accounts, accessed her personal Facebook page.  

    The Privacy Commissioner of Canada reviewed Canada’s conduct in 2013 and found Canada’s collection of personal information on Dr. Blackstock’s personal Facebook page to be contrary to the Privacy Act.

    In 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Freedom of Association and Human Rights Defenders collectively wrote to the Canadian Government inquiring about the federal government’s conduct in light of Canada’s international law obligations.

    Why did the Caring Society and Dr. Blackstock file the retaliation case?

    In a free and democratic society, it is vital that members of the public or organizations are free to file legitimate human rights complaints against the Government or debate public policy that is contrary to Government opinion without fear of retaliation.   This is particularly true regarding allegations of discrimination affecting children and other vulnerable groups in society. The goal is to ensure that First Nations and other Canadians are not subject to retaliation by the Federal Government for taking steps to improve the lives of First Nations and other children.

    What Remedy did the Caring Society and Dr. Blackstock ask the Tribunal for?

    Both the Caring Society and Dr. Blackstock want the Government of Canada to cease any retaliatory conduct and take measures to protect other individuals and organizations from federal government retaliation.   The Caring Society has asked for a financial settlement to be allocated to the organization and Dr. Blackstock wants any financial awards related to her to be allocated to children’s charities of her choice.