First Nations child advocate wins 1st battle with Ottawa on services
Blackstock, a long-time advocate for aboriginal
children in Canada, won a major victory on April 18 when the Federal
Court ruled that further scrutiny is needed to determine whether Ottawa
is discriminating against First Nations children on reserves by
underfunding child welfare services.
The court ordered the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which dismissed the original discrimination complaint in 2011, to hold a new hearing on the case before a newly constituted panel of adjudicators.
Blackstock, who serves as the executive director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society (FNFCS), filed the complaint against Ottawa with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in February 2007, together with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). FNFCS and AFN argued that the services on reserve should be on par with those off reserve, which are funded by the province, but, in fact, are much worse.
The commission referred the case to the tribunal,
which rejected it without hearing any arguments on the grounds that to
establish discrimination one needed to compare the provision of the same
service to two different groups but that in this case, it was not valid
to compare services provided by the federal government with those
provided by provincial governments.
The commission, FNFCS and AFN all requested a judicial review of the tribunal's decision in Federal Court.
Blackstock, 48, says that throughout the process, Crown lawyers tried to slow down hearings with repeated objections on technical matters. At one point last year, she discovered that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada had her under surveillance and was sharing information about her with the Department of Justice. She took her story to the media, and it made national headlines.
The federal government is responsible for funding child and family services on reserves, and Blackstock's complaint contends that it has long neglected that responsibility, but she and her fellow complainants never had a chance to argue that case before the tribunal. In its decision, the Federal Court ordered the tribunal to review the evidence it had initially refused to hear.
The landmark decision could open the door to similar challenges and have a wide-ranging impact on other services that, on reserves, fall under federal jurisdiction, such as education, health and housing.
Blackstock, who is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation in northern B.C., is respected among many aboriginal activists and lawyers for her long campaign to attract national attention to the appalling living conditions of many children on native reserves. Her advocacy work began during her college years, when she worked with aboriginal kids in a group home and started wondering why so many of them were in foster care and looking into the conditions that put them there.
19 April 2012
See full interview at this address: