Harper Conservatives should address needs of Attawapiskat rather than spy on child welfare advocate

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Governmnent surveillance of native youth advocate Cindy Blackstock
The Current – CBC Radio interview with Cindy Blackstock

The reckless actions of the Harper Tories in spying on Dr. Cindy Blackstock, child welfare advocate, the Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS), and a UFCW Canada national community partner, is disturbingly reminiscent of Senator Joseph McCarthy who terrorized Americans with the Red Scare during the 1950s, and utilized that fear to create a chilling effect on those who advocated for basic decency and human rights.  

Dr. Blackstock, a life-long advocate for the equal treatment for Aboriginal children, is seemingly on a federal government ‘Human Rights Advocates Watch List’. According to Blackstock, a few weeks ago she discovered that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs had been spying on her since 2007. The documents she was able to secure from Aboriginal Affairs contained emails, memos, surveillance records, personal information, critical briefing notes, and other pertinent documents that shed light on how federal government agents routinely monitored, attended and reported back on Blackstock’s events and speeches. These documents also revealed that one government bureaucrat had been visiting Blackstock’s Facebook page to take snapshots of Blackstock's page, and then entering the information into government logs.

Amid the federal government’s continuing efforts to covertly follow her, Blackstock stands firm with her commitment to continue the fight for the rights of the Aboriginal children.

“Canada's own internal documents confirm that the inadequate funding of First Nations child welfare contributes to unnecessary foster placements,” said Blackstock. “Canada should be doing everything in its power to ensure the wellbeing of children instead of wasting tax dollars by sending watchdogs to "monitor" those of us who speak out about legitimate child rights concerns. The tragic sexual abuse scandal at Penn State last month reminds all of us how important it is that adults speak out on behalf of vulnerable children,” Blackstock said.

In 2007, the Assembly of First Nations and FNCFCS took the historic step of holding Canada accountable before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for the government's distressing treatment of First Nations children. The complaint alleges that the Government of Canada had a longstanding pattern of providing less government funding for child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves than is provided to non-Aboriginal children.

"The Tories have hit a new low in the targeting of Cindy Blackstock.  The calculated and deliberate action of spying on a human rights advocate comes at a time when one in six aboriginal communities, such as Attawapiskat, live in desperation as a result of the continuing marginalization and colonization by successive federal governments," says Wayne Hanley, National President of UFCW Canada. "In a nation with such an abundance of wealth, it is clear to our members that the resources of the Canadian government are better spent on working collaboratively with aboriginal communities to fix the national epidemic of poverty on reserves rather than traipsing around the country following a Sister who is merely attempting to lend a hand to our most sacred legacy - our children."  

FNCFCS is a national community partner of UFCW Canada, Canada's largest private-sector union. UFCW Canada has committed to supporting FNCFCS and its initiatives: Jordan’s Principle, Shannen’s Dream, I am a Witness, and Touchstones of Hope. In April 2011, Dr. Blackstock met in Winnipeg with national delegates on the UFCW Canada National Council Human Rights, Equity & Diversity Committee to shed light on the treatment and lack of supports for aboriginal children across Canada. This meeting was then reported to UFCW Canada Local Union Presidents from across the country.

"The strategic message from the Harper government is clear — stand up for First Nations children and become a target the Canadian state. Meanwhile, Mr. Harper's government has wholeheartedly ignored the structural drivers of disadvantage for First Nations children, and sent out misleading releases regarding how much money was sent to Attawapiskat to detract from the government's own failures. Never once has the Tory government committed to working with advocates, such as Cindy Blackstock, to learn first-hand what steps it needs to take for children in places such as Attawapiskat," says Naveen Mehta, Director of Human Rights for UFCW Canada.

"The strategic 'Cold War' by successive Canadian governments against aboriginal peoples and their children is evidenced by the archaic monitoring of those like Dr. Blackstock who attempt to hold the government accountable for its actions. This is a fundamental assault on our democratic values and a grand misuse of taxpayers' dollars.  The Tory's abandonment of some of our countries most vulnerable children must end today."