UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. Photo by Richard Siemens, copyright 2014, University of Alberta

Good neighbours

Politicians will only do whatever Canadians support — and accept

By Dennis Gruending

Since the June release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s preliminary report on the history of Indian residential schools, there has been heightened talk about how non-Indigenous Canadians can become better neighbours to those who are indigenous. Well, a ruling issued by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) on Jan. 26 provides yet another illustration of the shared road ahead.

The CHRT was responding to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which — along with the Assembly of First Nations — initiated a complaint in 2007. Although the process was long and arduous, the tribunal eventually ruled that Ottawa's funding formulas provide between 22 and 34 percent less to child welfare services for First Nations people. That's compared to what provincial governments pay for similar services provided to other children. It’s a discriminatory practice that has gone on for as long as anyone can remember. 

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the Child and Family Caring Society, has been the most prominent advocate in the case. Blackstock says that the discrimination means services are fewer — and often of lesser quality — on reserves. And there’s another consequence of discriminatory funding models: it creates an incentive to place children in foster care. As a result, there are more First Nations children in foster care today than there were at the height of the residential school era, according to Blackstock. The excellent Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard writes, “[This] is a continuation of racist (and in some cases genocidal) policies like the Indian Act, residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.”

Blackstock estimates that the Harper government spent more than $5 million dollars fighting the technicalities of her group’s allegations before the tribunal. But it didn’t stop there. Government employees were ordered to collect personal information about her and spy on her. In response, Blackstock submitted a complaint to Canada’s privacy commissioner, who concluded that, indeed, her privacy had been invaded. She then launched a second complaint concerning the harassment by government officials. In 2015, the Aboriginal Affairs department was ordered to pay her $20,000 for the pain and suffering that they caused her. Blackstock gave the money to children’s charities.

Regarding the funding of child welfare services, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has the power to order Ottawa to end its discriminatory practices. But it has not yet done so. Meanwhile, the initial response from Liberal cabinet ministers to the ruling has been positive. During the federal election campaign last fall, the Liberals promised to work with First Nations to tackle their many challenges. They also promised to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Despite these expressions of goodwill, however, politicians will only do whatever Canadians support — and accept. And that’s where good neighbours can help.

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image