OTTAWA – The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a landmark ruling on Tuesday, indicating the federal government has discriminated against First Nations children in its funding of child welfare services. Here are five things about the case:
1. The fight has been underway for nine years
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint in 2007 arguing the federal government failed to provide First Nations children the same level of welfare services that exist elsewhere, contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act. It said this was discrimination on racial grounds. Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the society, said many things have changed during the course of this fight but most importantly, “a whole generation grew up.”
2.The government spent millions fighting the complaint
Blackstock estimates the federal government has spent at least $5 million fighting this case. She wonders why it was necessary for the government to fight its discrimination of First Nations kids in court.
3. Blackstock was spied on during the feud
In 2013, then-privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart found two government departments had overstepped in monitoring Blackstock and her personal Facebook account. Stoddart said the Aboriginal Affairs and Justice departments violated the spirit, if not the intent, of the Privacy Act by compiling information from Blackstock’s personal social media page. Both departments agreed to cease the monitoring, destroy personal information not directly linked to federal policy and set up a new system to ensure such surveillance did not happen again.
4. The tribunal also found the government retaliated against Blackstock
Last June, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found a government official “retaliated” against Blackstock and awarded her $20,000 for pain and suffering. She donated the money to children’s charities. The dispute centred on a December 2009 meeting at the ministerial headquarters in Gatineau, Que., where Blackstock said she was the only person barred from a gathering with the chiefs of Ontario.
5. The challenge is not over
Blackstock and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde say they will push for the federal government to make concrete financial commitments to address child welfare in the upcoming budget. Blackstock estimates it will take at least $200 million a year to close the funding gap.