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Canada Watches Advocate

November 16, 2011 permalink

Advocate for Canadian aboriginal children Cindy Blackstock has uncovered spying on her by the Aboriginal Affairs department. They sent several employees to write reports on meetings where she spoke, and monitored her Facebook page. Her suspicions were aroused when she had a personal guard assigned to her to prevent her from participating in a departmental meeting with Ontario chiefs.



Cindy Blackstock
Since 2007, federal officials have attended 75 to 100 meetings at which Cindy Blackstock spoke, then reported back to their bosses.
Pawel Dwulit/Toronto Star file photo

Source: Toronto Star

Federal Aboriginal Affairs department spying on advocate for First Nations children

The federal Aboriginal Affairs department has been spying on a high-profile campaigner for First Nations children, documents show.

The department has amassed a large file on Cindy Blackstock, who heads the First Nations Child and Family Caring society.

The file contains emails and notes about Blackstock’s personal information and critical briefings on her activities.

“They have found it necessary to not only put one employee onto tailing, but if you look at the records there are numerous employees on the government payroll who are being asked to comment on what I am doing or to violate my privacy by going on my personal Facebook pages,” said Blackstock.

Blackstock has for years been pushing for equity for First Nations children caught up in the welfare system.

In 2007, her organization filed a human rights complaint against the federal government claiming discrimination against First Nation children.

She says the lawsuit changed her relationship with the department. Soon after, Blackstock said she was barred from a departmental meeting she had attended with Ontario chiefs.

“They barred me from the room,” said Blackstock. “And had a security guard guard me during the time I was there.”

The incident led Blackstock to file an Access to Information request about herself, to see what information the department had on her.

It took a year and a half for her to receive the file and, to her surprise, they watched her every move.

“Not only had they been on my personal Facebook page, but they had a government employee go to their home at night and log in as an individual, not as the government of Canada…and go onto my Facebook page and take a snapshot of it and then have that in a government of Canada log,” she said.

Aboriginal Affairs staffers also monitored Blackstock as she made presentations about the state of First Nations child welfare across the country.

The file contains briefing notes with critical details of the topic and her speeches.

APTN National News contacted the department.

The department refused to comment on the Blackstock file and instead issued a statement saying Aboriginal Affairs “routinely monitors and analyses the public environment as it relates to the department’s policies programs, services and initiatives…social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are public forums, accessible to all.”

Source: Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

Cindy Blackstock urges more funding for First Nations services, including children's services, even though that funding is the root cause of most of the separation of Indian children from their parents.



Rights advocate speaks out against funding disparity

First Nations youth in Saskatchewan and across the country are being shortchanged, says a prominent child welfare advocate.

Chronic underfunding for education, housing and infrastructure has only served to push more children on reserve into the hands of child welfare services, which also suffer from a systemic funding shortfall, says children's rights advocate Cindy Blackstock.

This disparity in funding for child and family services between First Nations and non-aboriginals is the message Blackstock will bring when she visits Saskatoon on Tuesday.

Blackstock, who has a PhD in social work, says in her earlier years as a child protection worker, she "saw First Nations child after First Nations child removed from their parents, and often for reasons that were not in their control.

"We should not hold them accountable for things they cannot change."

Blackstock is currently the director of the Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, which launched a human rights complaint against the federal government in 2007 due to the well documented disparity in funding for child-welfare services between First Nations and non-aboriginal youth.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission sent the case to tribunal the following year, but last year it was rejected by the tribunal on the grounds you can't compare service quality between the federal government, which funds child welfare on-reserve, and the provinces, which run child welfare services off-reserve.

Blackstock is campaigning to appeal this decision.

In a country as wealthy as Canada, there is no reason First Nations children should not be able to receive the same quality of social services as other Canadians, let alone be without running water or adequate housing, she says.

"Should any Canadian go without proper water or sanitation in a country that can afford to buy new fighter jets?"

The recent scandal around the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, which declared a state of emergency more than three weeks ago due to an extreme housing shortage and this week received emergency aid from Ottawa and the Red Cross, just further demonstrates the failure of the federal government to care for First Nations people, says Blackstock.

"I've personally been to Attawapiskat. I remember walking into this home, and it was an emergency housing unit provided by the department of Indian affairs. I have a one-car garage at home in this little brownstone that I live in in Ottawa, and it was even smaller than that," she said.

"There was only about five feet of clearance between this wood stove and any of the walls, and she was eight months pregnant. She was worried about what she was going to do when this baby learns to crawl. How do you keep it away from the wood stove?"

Canada subsidizes aid to countries in Africa where people live in similar conditions, she says.

Blackstock speaks at the Neatby-Timlin Theatre in the University of Saskatchewan at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. For more information on her work, visit

Source: Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Addendum: In a CBC interview Cindy Blackstock speaks like a social worker, because she is a former social worker. But she has found the one true means of really helping children: doing so without government funding. Audio of Cindy Blackstock (mp3).



In the second half of the show, Don talks with Cindy Blackstock, the head of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and a member of Gitksan First Nation. She filed suit against the government before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2007, charging that First Nations children were discriminated against by inequitable child welfare services on reserves.

Cindy has been surveilled by Canada's own government. Her crime? Caring for First Nations children.

It's made her unpopular with government, but a crusader amongst First Nations child advocates hoping to close the gap between money for Aboriginal children and non-Aboriginal.

Source: CBC, Trailbreakers, January 12, 2012

Addendum: A year and a half later, the privacy commissioner agrees that two government departments gathered personal information from Blackstock's Facebook page.



Aboriginal Affairs, Justice Canada gathered personal information on First Nations child advocate: privacy watchdog

Aboriginal Affairs, Justice Canada gathered personal information on First Nations child advocate: privacy watchdog

The federal Aboriginal Affairs department and Justice Canada gathered personal information about a First Nations children’s advocate who launched a human rights complaint against Ottawa, the privacy watchdog has found.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner found that officials in both departments began collecting personal information about Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, in February 2010.

“(The two departments) have repeatedly accessed, viewed, read, copied and recorded personal information from (Blackstock’s) personal Facebook page,” said the report.

The report said the gathered information was “unrelated to to their ordinary operating activities.”

Blackstock filed her complaint last March after discovering, through an Access to Information request, that federal officials had accessed her personal Facebook page. Aboriginal Affairs also launched its own internal probe, but found its officials had not breached her privacy.

The privacy investigation found that officials took “multiple screen shots” of Blackstock’s Facebook page along with excerpts. There was no evidence, however, that any federal officials tried to “friend” Blackstock to obtain information.

In its report, the privacy watchdog told both departments to destroy any personal information “to the extent permitted by law” about Blackstock and any other individual officials gathered in the course of their snooping.

It also recommended that the departments “cease and desist from accessing and viewing personal information posted to (Blackstock’s) personal Facebook page.”

The report also recommended the departments create internal policies and guidelines governing the collection of personal information on social media sites by federal officials.

The report said both departments “have accepted our recommendations in full.”

Blackstock said she hoped the federal government would follow through with the recommendations.

“It is both a relief and also shock,” said Blackstock. “In some ways you are a naive person in this country, you kind of hope that what you are seeing isn’t true and it clearly is true.”

Blackstock, along with the Assembly of First Nations, launched a human rights complaint against Ottawa over alleged underfunding of child welfare services on First Nations reserve. The human rights complaint was amended to include allegations that the federal government retaliated against Blackstock over the complaint by spying on her activities.

The complaint is currently before the Human Rights Tribunal. It recently emerged that Aboriginal Affairs failed to disclose 50,000 documents related to the case during the discovery process.

The federal watchdog also investigated two other complaints leveled by Blackstock, but found no other privacy breaches.

Blackstock alleged that Aboriginal Affairs and Justice Canada officials were also monitoring her speaking engagements and sharing detailed reports within the departments.

The watchdog found that the departments “were collecting and sharing that information in direct relation to the operating programs or activities of (Aboriginal Affairs) and in relations to ongoing litigation.”

Blackstock also alleged that Aboriginal Affairs officials accessed her Indian status registry which contains information about her family.

The report said that investigators with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner could find no evidence Aboriginal Affairs officials accessed her Indian status file because the department keeps no record of people who access the registry. Both departments also denied accessing the file in relation to the ongoing litigation before the Human Rights Tribunal.

Blackstock discovered that her Indian status registry had been accessed on Nov. 4, 2010 and Nov. 17, 2011.

“In the absence of an audit trail or log documenting instances of access to the complainant’s (status record) it was impossible to determine whether or not that record had been used or accessed inappropriately,” said the report. “Nor did we find evidence to support the allegation that the complainant’s records were being used as part of a larger effort to uncover ulterior motives that the Caring Society is deemed to have had when it filed a human rights complaint against the government of Canada.”

The report recommended that Aboriginal Affairs create audit logs to track when officials access the Indian status registry.

The department accepted the recommendation.

Source: Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

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