Human rights tribunal concludes cross-examination of key witness in First Nations child welfare case.

Cindy Blackstock was met with applause from child advocates including students and young children as she stepped down from the witness stand at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal after five days of questioning.

(Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, at the hearing in Ottawa this week. APTN/Photo)

By Nancy Pine
APTN National News
OTTAWA–Cindy Blackstock was met with applause from child advocates, students and young children as she stepped down from the witness stand at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Friday after five days of questioning.

The long awaited tribunal, which is expected to last 14 weeks, is hearing a human rights complaint filed against the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (formerly Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) to determine if it discriminates against First Nations children in funding levels provided to child welfare agencies responsible for delivering services on-reserve.

Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, was the only witness called upon to provide testimony this week.

She recalled her experience as a social worker hired by the province of British Columbia in the 1980’s, before moving on as a childcare worker with the Squamish First Nation from1995-2000.

Today, she was questioned by Justice Canada lawyer Jonathon Tarlton representing the crown, in a cross examination. Tarlton attempted to water down several assertions provided by Blackstock, one of them concerning federal and provincial funding formulas and the argument that the two models cannot be used as a comparison to the funding of First Nations childcare agencies.

Friday’s hearing also explored a retaliation complaint that Blackstock has added against the federal government at this tribunal. The allegation includes spying on Blackstock’s online activities by Aboriginal Affairs officials posing as Facebook “friends” and by accessing her status card information on file with the department.

Blackstock said she was invited to accompany First Nation leaders as a technical advisor for a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs department officials, but was told she was not allowed to attend. Tarlton clarified agencies would not be directly involved in such tripartite discussions which is reserved for leadership officials. Blackstock says she was present to act as an advisor to the chiefs who were invited.

In a June 2011 status report, the Auditor General of Canada expressed concern “that there has yet to be a notable change in the number of First Nations in childcare.” Blackstock was then asked how she felt about progress made by the department.

“We’ve been trying to get children to a place of culturally based equity at least on the directive since my early involvement in 1997,” said Blackstock. “These children are now 16 years old. I think we can do much better for children.”

The Human Rights tribunal is expected to resume hearings in April where three witnesses are expected to testify, including Jonathon Thompson, health director of the Assembly of First Nations, Neco Trocme, a professor of social work at McGill University and a Darrell Dubois from Touchwood Child and Family Services in Saskatchewan.


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