‘Morally inappropriate’: How the Trudeau government is trying to get rid of Cindy Blackstock
Cindy Blackstock recalls when a justice department lawyer reached out to her last April to see if she’d consider joining her human rights case with a new pending class action lawsuit against Canada, also involving First Nations children in care, on the matter of providing victims compensation.
Blackstock said she’d agree on the condition the Trudeau government did one thing: Don’t fight certification of the class-action case as a sign of good faith.
That meeting between Blackstock and Travis Henderson, general counsel in the civil litigation section, happened April 25, about two months after Xavier Moushoom filed a $3 billion class-action lawsuit March 5 in Federal court after having lived in 14 different foster homes in Quebec.
Blackstock never heard from Henderson again.
“When that Travis Henderson came over he had about a half an hour discussion with us and he said he would get back to us and he never did. That class action is still making its way through the process. Canada still hasn’t consented to certify it,” Blackstock told APTN News.
Had Trudeau agreed, Blackstock said he likely wouldn’t be in the situation he finds himself today, in another fight against the First Nations woman where he hasn’t won a single round since the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal first made its historic ruling on Jan. 26, 2016 ordering Canada to cease purposely underfunding on-reserve child welfare. The tribunal has had to make seven non-compliance orders since to force Canada to act.
That includes orders to properly fund Jordan’s Principle, a program that provides medical care funding for on-reserve children and an order to increase financial support for prevention-based services for on-reserve child welfare.
In each of the those cases, Canada has responded to a degree, but not without the tribunal issuing non-compliance orders.
It’s latest order, the tribunal said on Sept. 6 that every past, current and future First Nations child, or guardian, is entitled to $40,000 from Canada for being removed from their families and put in the child welfare system, with the exception of guardians who “were found responsible for sexual abuse, physical abuse or psychological abuse.”
The order continues to apply until the tribunal believes Canada has stopped its “willful and reckless” discriminatory underfunding of First Nations child welfare since its ruling. The longer Canada waits to act and fund child welfare properly the more the number increases as First Nations children continue to be removed from their homes at a higher rate across the country. Furthermore, there are still several orders outstanding, which are explained below.
Now Blackstock believes Trudeau is trying to cut her out of the picture by seeking to have the Federal court dismiss the tribunal’s compensation order.
“That’s been the pattern in this,” she said. “They retaliated against me in the past and everything else. I don’t think they like dealing with me because I hold them accountable.
“I don’t think they get yet what they have done to these kids. They are still very much in denial.”
Former prime minister Stephen Harper deployed similar tactics, and failed, to get rid of Blackstock in Federal court after she first filed her complaint at the human rights tribunal in 2007 through her organization, the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society, as long with the Assembly of First Nations.
The tribunal, and Canada’s privacy commissioner also found the Harper government guilty of employing bureaucrats to spy on her.
NDP MP Charlie Angus also believes appealing to the Federal court is a clear attempt by Trudeau to get rid of Blackstock.
“The government is going out of their way to try and marginalize Cindy Blackstock,” said Angus. “I think they are trying to shut down the tribunal… They are going make a big mistake and it’s going to blow up in their face.”
Court records filed by Canada suggest if it were to comply with the order as it stands Canada would have to pay out at least $5 billion by next year, with the number rising to approximately $8 billion by 2026 because of the rising number of apprehensions.
Instead, the Trudeau government is trying to shepherd in a settlement package like it negotiated with ’60s Scoop and residential Day School survivors during its first term. They mirror the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement that provided survivors with common experience payments and, depending on the severity of the abuse suffered, survivors could qualify for more money.
This means dealing directly with survivors and cutting out organizations says Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett according to a recorded conversation filed in Federal court last Friday by Blackstock as part of her affidavit opposing Canada’s request to have the compensation order dismissed.
The recording, in many ways, outlines Trudeau’s working theory on how it intends to try to eliminate Blackstock.
Bennett was questioned by Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod on Oct. 11 about the Liberal government’s efforts to quash the tribunal’s order.
A letter from McLeod to Blackstock dated Oct. 15, 2019 says the meeting also included Liberal federal election candidate for Parry Sound-Muskoka Trisha Cowie, who is a lawyer from Hiawatha First Nation, and other chiefs from the area.
McLeod didn’t have writing materials so he says he recorded the conversation, which Bennett was unaware.
Early on in the conversation, McLeod asks Bennett why she isn’t working with Blackstock’s organization and the AFN to meet the tribunal’s Dec. 10 deadline to come up with a plan to how children would get the $40,000.
“I think that the concern has been we, our responsibility is to all of the survivors. I, we are not, I think, comfortable letting them design a plan without the survivors and the people harmed at the table. This isn’t about a, organizations, this is actually about people,” Bennett says according to the transcript.
Bennett goes on to say she can’t accept a plan from Blackstock and that the tribunal is out of its depth with the compensation order.
“We do not believe that we could accept a plan unless, unless the people harmed actually are, are behind that plan, and agree that it’s fair. If, if something is assigned, and people don’t think it’s fair, they will be retraumatized for the rest of their life,” Bennett says. “This is not the way these things are, are done. This is not really the way the CHRT, the CHRT was really set up for individual cases and that’s why the $40,000 is the max they can give. This process was for individual cases. This is something that is a very large class of people who were harmed, but it’s only part of the people.”
She’s referring to the fact the tribunal order goes back to 2007, while there are more victims dating back to 1991, which is the cut off date for the ’60s Scoop survivors.
“What happens to all those people in between?” Bennett says, referring to the victims between 1991 to 2007.
While Blackstock was open to discussing joining human rights case with class-action she told APTN they are two different matters.
“The Canadian Human Rights Act doesn’t stop anybody from getting additional funds through the class-action if that is the way it worked out. It almost seems like Bennett wants to reduce the amount,” said Blackstock.