Closing arguments begin in case of feds paying less for aboriginal kids in care
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, October 20, 2014 8:47AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, October 20, 2014 7:58PM EDT
OTTAWA -- The First Nations advocate who has been fighting the federal government for nearly a decade over how much money it spends on child welfare says she hopes her experience serves as example.
This week marks the final round of Cindy Blackstock's long battle at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to get aboriginal children the same funding from the federal government as non-aboriginal kids get from the provinces.
She and the Assembly of First Nations say funding levels for First Nations child welfare agencies are 22 per cent lower than provincial agencies, despite First Nations carrying a far higher case load of child welfare files.
Though the government has been aware of the discrepancy, a lack of action on their part prompted Blackstock and the AFN to file a human rights complaint in 2007 alleging the federal government is discriminating against First Nations children on the basis of their race.
Closing arguments are underway this week with a decision expected next year.
In the course of the fight, Blackstock's personal Facebook profile was mined by the federal government, which led the privacy commissioner to find her rights had been violated.
That issue is also before the human rights tribunal which could find that she was retaliated against for speaking out and award her damages.
She said she'd donate any money.
"This is not about money, this is about every Canadian having the right to speak out when they see something that's wrong in ways that are respectful and in ways that are in keeping with our democracy," Blackstock said at a news conference Monday.
"I'm hoping that people get inspired by my story to not remain silent when they see something that's wrong and needs to change because I'm not going to remain silent no matter what they do."
The same year the complaint was filed, the government did change its funding model, promising better outcomes. The Conservatives also say they've increased funding by 25 per cent.
Blackstock, who is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said while there has been some improvement, there needs to be much much more.
"What we're asking for is the government to implement the solutions it's already identified," Blackstock said, pointing to a 2000 joint review carried out by the AFN and the federal government.
"It's about doing the right thing for the children and stop using racial discrimination against children as a fiscal restraint measure. I think that goes against everything the country stands for."
Statistics Canada estimates that about half of children in foster care in Canada are aboriginal, with nearly four per cent of aboriginal children in care.
The Conservatives had at first successfully argued the tribunal shouldn't hear the complaint because it's unfair to compare federal and provincial programs.
But the Federal Court disagreed and ordered the tribunal to proceed.
Their ruling next year could affect not just aboriginal children but also open the door for discrimination cases on issues such as aboriginal policing and health.