After Blackstock’s organization filed a discrimination complaint against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, she was excluded from important meetings, and claims that government employees systematically monitored her professional and personal life.
In February 2007, Blackstock’s organization filed a discrimination complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) - now called Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
The complaint alleged that INAC funding for Aboriginal family services at the federal level is significantly less than funding for off-reserve children who receive the same services from provincial governments. In October 2008, the Commission referred this complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing.
Blackstock alleges that, between 2008 and 2009, INAC barred her from meetings between INAC and other Aboriginal leaders. She believes that this exclusion occurred as a form of retaliation in response to the Society’s human rights complaint.
For example, in December 2009, Blackstock was invited by the Chiefs of Ontario as a technical aid to attend a meeting at INAC regarding child welfare funding in Ontario. Upon her arrival at the meeting, Blackstock alleges that an INAC official refused to meet with the Chiefs of Ontario if Blackstock was present. She also alleges that the official stated that he was aware that she had some “issues” regarding child welfare, including a human rights complaint. Blackstock was made to wait outside of the meeting. Blackstock further alleges that another similar incident of exclusion occurred in 2008 and that this adverse treatment contrasts the working relationship she had with INAC prior to submitting the human rights complaint.
In December 2009, the Society asked the Tribunal for permission to amend its complaint to include its retaliation allegations. The Society argued that by excluding Blackstock from meetings, INAC had treated it in an adverse and prejudicial manner, and that this treatment constituted an act of retaliation against the Society. In October 2012, the Tribunal agreed to include the allegations of retaliation with the Society’s original discrimination complaint. As a result, the Tribunal will consider both complaints together at the same time. The Tribunal has not made a final decision regarding either complaint.
Having been barred from meetings and sensing animosity from INAC, Blackstock was concerned that INAC might retaliate against her in other ways in response to her organization’s human rights complaint against INAC. As a result, she filed an Access to Information request to see what information the government had gathered about her between June 2009 and June 2011.
Blackstock received the requested documents in November 2011. She says they indicate that INAC was systematically monitoring both her professional and her private life.
INAC allegedly collected personal information from Blackstock’s personal Facebook page and from her Status Indian file, which also includes information about her family.
INAC also allegedly assigned several federal officials to follow Blackstock in her professional activities. Officials attended 75 to 100 of her public speaking engagements on the state of Aboriginal children’s rights in Canada.
According to Blackstock, the internal reports about her activities, produced by INAC officials and circulated within the Department, sometimes employed a mocking tone.
Blackstock also alleges that the products of these surveillance activities were shared with the Department of Justice legal team, charged with defending INAC in the Society’s discrimination complaint.
INAC has refused to comment specifically on Blackstock’s Access to Information documents except to say that it “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’’ and that “social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are public forums, accessible to all.”
On national radio, Blackstock asked Canadians to question which policies and services have been improved by INAC’s systematic monitoring of her public and private activities, and why such a large investment of resources was dedicated to monitoring a citizen with no criminal record, whose single goal is to help secure the fair treatment of Aboriginal children.
- February 2007: Blackstock’s organization files a discrimination complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
- October 2008: The Commission refers the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing.
- 2008-2009: Blackstock is barred from meetings she would previously have been able to attend.
- November 2011: Blackstock receives the Access to Information documents about her. They are more than six inches thick, and show close surveillance of Blackstock's private and professional life by government employees.
Note: For more detailed information on the legal case itself, click here.
Role or Position
Cindy Blackstock is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (the Society), a national non-profit organization that provides services to First Nations child welfare organizations. She is also an associate professor at the University of Alberta.
Implications and Consequences
- Free Speech: INAC’s alleged surveillance of Blackstock in her personal and professional life raises serious concerns about intimidation, breach of privacy and personal attacks on individuals who are critical of government policy. This type of scrutiny can make individuals vulnerable to government retaliation simply on the basis of their political opinions. It can also create a “chill effect” that causes other Canadians to fear to express opinions that are critical of government policies and decisions.
- Democracy: If true, the allegations of retaliation and reprisal by INAC officials suggest that community members/organizations risk suffering adverse consequences if they challenge discriminatory government policies. Reprisal is against the law under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Date updated: 1 November 2012