That’s What She Said: Why Cindy Blackstock is a hero
- Dawn Dumont | April 09, 2018
I’d like to tell you about Dr. Cindy Blackstock; she’s a hero of mine who will never get the due and recognition that she deserves, mostly because the Government of Canada is not likely to give you an Order of Canada after you sue it multiple times – and win. I’m sure they will someday, after the embarrassment has worn off from losing to a First Nations person and a woman, no less.
Blackstock, a member of the Gitskan First Nation, is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada which filed a human rights complaint against the government for discriminatory funding. We all suspect that Canada funds First Nations people at a lower rate than other Canadians, but she found a way to force this information out into the open.
Blackstock filed her claim of discrimination with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on February 23, 2007. Almost ten years later, after many legal and political shenanigans on the part of Canada which are set out on the Caring Society’s website (you can actually read the transcript of Blackstock’s cross-examination by INAC’s lawyer – you will be cheering by the end), that body ruled that Canada has racially discriminated against 165,000 First Nations children.
So, you know when people say, “Oh Canada isn’t racist, that’s all in your head,” you can tell them that their own Human Rights tribunal says differently. Hell yes they are discriminating against First Nations people and have been for decades. First Nations kids are underfunded in education, health, water, child welfare and other areas.
The end result is that more Indigenous kids end up in care because of poverty and neglect – and this the really gross part, there are indications that the agencies that watch over First Nations children have a greater incentive to take them away than to provide preventative services. That’s because agencies get their costs reimbursed when they put children in foster care but do not receive much funding for intervention and support services. I’ve heard this before but its such a hard thing to believe that it never fully sinks into my big head.
The results of this selective underfunding are that Indigenous children make up about seven per cent of all Canadian kids under the age of 15, but they account for more than half the number of children in foster care. In some provinces, like Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Indigenous kids make up almost 90 per cent of the kids in care.
While the case was making its way through the Human Rights Tribunal, Canada spied on Blackstock’s personal and public social media accounts. Why? Was she giving valuable intel to the Russians? Was she selling guns to terrorists? Was she hiring sex workers to pee on Obama’s hotel bed? Nope, she was just standing up for Indigenous peoples and in Canada that makes you a suspected enemy of the state. Also, during this time, when Blackstock would show up to a meeting with INAC to support a First Nation or a child welfare agency, INAC officials would either walk out of the room or demand that Blackstock leave. Dang, Canada, bitter much?
After Blackstock’s herculean battle against Canada, you’d think that she’d get some downtime. But in fact, winning against Canada was only the first step. Since the ruling in 2016, the federal court has issued five (five!) non-compliance orders against Canada because Canada is like a stubborn teenager who refuses to do their chores and has to be prodded through the entire process.
We are seeing some forward motion. The Human Rights ruling and the five non-compliance orders seem to be having the desired effect. Last month the federal budget was released with $5 billion in new spending for First Nation, Métis and Inuit people, with funding for First Nations child welfare rising to about $1.1 billion a year over the next five years. Those numbers sound like a lot but the shortfall is so great that it will take a long time to see a difference. As well, the federal government has been known to play a shell game of five card monty with money. It will be on all of us to ensure that this money reaches the intended source – First Nations children.
As for Blackstock, she’ll continue to fight. Just recently she was quoted as saying:
"I don't want to spend my entire life litigating against Canada. But if that's what's required to get these kids a proper childhood across all services, then that's what's required.”