Tribunal awards Cindy Blackstock $20,000 for suffering

Aboriginal child welfare advocate was barred from December 2009 gathering of chiefs

OTTAWA  — An aboriginal child welfare advocate says she has been vindicated by a recent ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which found a government official “retaliated” against her six years ago.

The tribunal sided with Cindy Blackstock, president of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. It ordered the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to pay Blackstock $20,000 for pain and suffering and the behaviour of David McArthur, former special assistant to then-minister Chuck Strahl.

McArthur is now chief of staff to Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford

The decision zeroed in on McArthur.

“There is no doubt that the respondent’s actions had a wilful and reckless nature,” the ruling said. “Dr. Blackstock was the only individual excluded from the meeting, which supports her contention that she was singled out.”

Blackstock said she plans to donate the money to children’s charities.

“I haven’t received anything as of yet, and of course, we have to see within 30 days if the federal government is going to appeal it or not.”

In the Commons on Monday, opposition parties asked if the government would apologize to Blackstock.

Mark Strahl, parliamentary secretary to the aboriginal affairs minister and son of Chuck Strahl, said the government is “reviewing the tribunal’s decision to determine next steps.”

The dispute centres on a December 2009 meeting at the ministerial headquarters in Gatineau, Que. Blackstock said she was the only person barred from a gathering with the chiefs of Ontario.

“It was shocking and it was embarrassing for me personally,” Blackstock said in an interview. “I cleared all the proper security clearances and everything else and was conducting myself in a professional manner when I was refused access to that meeting. In fact, the chiefs were told if I went in the room, the meeting would not go forward.”

Blackstock is a central figure in a long-standing battle with the federal government over aboriginal child welfare that began before the problematic meeting.

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society opened a human rights complaint in 2007, along with the Assembly of First Nations. Hearings on the issue began six years later.

Blackstock said a ruling could now “come any day.”

“The tribunal will determine if the federal government is racially discriminating against these 163,000 kids,” she said. “And far more importantly, if they are, they will order them to fix it so these kids have a fair chance at growing up in their families.”

In its sweeping recommendations, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian residential schools called on the federal government to enact child welfare legislation that “establishes national standards for aboriginal child apprehension and custody cases.”

The government is reviewing all 94 recommendations issued by the commission last week.

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