Cindy Blackstock

Cindy Blackstock

Updates

8 March 2016—In June 2015, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of Dr. Blackstock’s complaint, finding that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada had indeed retaliated against her in refusing to admit her into the Ontario Chiefs Meeting in the minister’s office. The tribunal awarded her $20,000 in damages. Dr. Blackstock said she felt “vindicated” by the ruling.

Further, in January 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal released its decision. After almost ten years of litigation and 72 days of hearings, the Tribunal decided that the federal government had failed to fund child and welfare services adequately, and further held that First Nations children do not have access to timely services. (The remedial orders were deferred as at the time of writing, pending the development of an appropriate framework by the federal, provincial/territorial and First Nations leaders.) 

In February 2016, the Minister of Justice indicated that she would not appeal the case. The FNCFCS has submitted a proposal outlining steps the federal government can take to address the lack of services for child welfare systems on reserves.

What Happened

After Blackstock’s organization filed a discrimination complaint against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, she was excluded from important meetings, and she claims that government employees systematically monitored her professional and personal life. Although the Privacy Commissioner found that the government’s surveillance of Blackstock violated the Privacy Act, the government refuses to make a legally binding undertaking to cease such activity.


In February 2007, Blackstock’s organization, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (the Society), 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 (AANDC).

The complaint alleged that AANDC 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.

Exclusion

Blackstock alleges that, between 2008 and 2009, AANDC officials barred her from meetings between AANDC 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 AANDC regarding child welfare funding in Ontario. Upon her arrival at the meeting, Blackstock alleges that an AANDC 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 with the working relationship she had with AANDC prior to submitting the human rights complaint.

In December 2009, the Society asked the Tribunal for permission to amend its complaint to include retaliation allegations. The Society argued that by excluding Blackstock from meetings, AANDC 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.  

Systematic monitoring

Having been barred from meetings and sensing animosity from AANDC, Blackstock was concerned that AANDC might retaliate against her in other ways in response to her organization’s human rights complaint against AANDC. 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. They indicate that AANDC was systematically monitoring both her professional and her private life. First, that AANDC allegedly collected personal information from Blackstock’s personal Facebook page and from her Status Indian file, which also includes information about her family. Second, that AANDC 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 with the objective of reporting on Blackstock’s activities.

According to Blackstock, the internal reports about her activities, produced by AANDC 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 AANDC in the Society’s discrimination complaint.

On national radio, Blackstock asked Canadians to question which policies and services have been improved by AANDC’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.

In May 2012, Blackstock submitted a complaint to the Privacy Commission of Canada based, in part on the monitoring of her personal Facebook page without her knowledge by AANDC officials. One year later, in May 2013, the Privacy Commission released its report of findings in which it concluded that the allegation of monitoring of her personal Facebook page was well founded and that it constituted a violation of the Privacy Act. The Report describes a pattern by which senior government officials were instructed to collect screen shots of Blackstock’s personal Facebook page and share this with AANDC and Department of Justice officials. The Privacy Commissioner recommended that both Department of Justice and AANDC cease and desist from monitoring Blackstock’s personal Facebook page unless the Departments could demonstrate a “…direct connection to legitimate government business.”

In July 2013, officials from AANDC and the Department of Justice testified before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). The evidence and arguments in the proceedings relating to the Society’s retaliation complaint were completed in August 2013. The final ruling will determine whether the monitoring of Blackstock and her personal Facebook page constitutes an action of retaliation contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act

Despite the May 2013 ruling of the Privacy Commissioner, in September 2013 the Department of Justice refused to provide an undertaking (a legally binding written commitment) that it would cease monitoring Blackstock’s Facebook page, stating that its actions were “appropriate.” Blackstock, whose organization is continuing to advance its complaint on behalf of First Nations children before the Tribunal, views the government’s response as a form of intimidation.   

Relevant Dates:

  • February 2007: Blackstock’s organization files a discrimination complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (AANDC).
  • October 2008: The Commission refers the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) for a hearing.
  • 2008-2009: Blackstock is barred from meetings she would have ordinarily been able to attend.
  • June 2011: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is officially renamed as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).
  • 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.
  • October 16, 2012: CHRT rules that Blackstock’s organization is permitted to amend its discrimination complaint to include allegations of retaliation including violation of her privacy rights through ongoing surveillance by AANDC.
  • May 28, 2013:  The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada releases its report of findings concluding that Blackstock’s privacy rights have been violated.
  • September 10, 2013: Department of Justice refuses to provide an undertaking to Blackstock that it will cease monitoring her Facebook page.

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: AANDC’s 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 Blackstock and other Canadians to fear to express opinions that are critical of government policies and decisions. The government’s refusal to make an undertaking to cease its surveillance of Blackstock exacerbates this sense of intimidation, fear and chill effect.
  • Democracy & Rule of Law: If true, the allegations of retaliation and reprisal by AANDC officials suggest that community members or organizations risk suffering adverse consequences if they challenge discriminatory government policies. Reprisal is against the law under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
  • Rule of Law: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found that the surveillance of Blackstock was a violation of her privacy rights and recommended that the government cease this surveillance. The government’s refusal to make an undertaking that it will follow this recommendation appears to directly circumvent rather than respect the Commissioners recommendations. This raises serious doubts about the government’s commitment to respecting the findings of the Privacy Commissioner, who is an Officer of Parliament.

Date published: 23 November 2011

Date updated: 1 November 2012

Date last updated: 19 February 2014

Video

Cindy Blackstock speaks out about dissent in Canada and about being placed under surveillance because she disagreed with the federal government on its treatment of First Nations children.

Sources