Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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I Challenge You

So I read this on CBC’s website today:

B.C. author challenges Canadians to sign up for TRC reading challenge
Jennifer Manuel wants 1,000 people to pledge by National Aboriginal Day

The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a commission “organized by the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement” and “was part of a holistic and comprehensive response to the charges of abuse and other ill effects for First Nations children that resulted from the Indian residential school legacy” (Source: Wikipedia).

Jennifer Manuel launched an online campaign to encourage people to read the Summary Report from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which is “nearly 400 pages long and documents the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system, which the report says is “best described as ‘cultural genocide””(Source: CBC).

I remember first hearing about residential schools shortly after I moved to BC – someone gave a presentation on it at UBC and I remember thinking “How did I get to be in my 20s, with two university degrees and I’m working on a PhD and I have never before heard about this horrible part of my country’s history?” Since then, I’ve learned more about residential schools, as well as Indian Hospitals and about racism experienced every day by Aboriginal people in Canada through having met and worked with a number of Aboriginal organizations (mostly in my previous job) as well as taking an indigenous cultural competency training. But I know that I have only scratched the surface and I have much to learn. So I’ve signed the pledge to read the TRC Report and I’m challenging each and every one of you to read it too.

Basic principles underlying this challenge

You care genuinely about the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

You believe that improving this relationship requires meaningful, respectful, mutual dialogue, and that you cannot contribute to this dialogue unless you have first listened to the truths expressed by First Nations people.

You prefer to read the TRC Report yourself, rather than letting others interpret it for you, especially since they may not have actually read it themselves. (Source: TRC Reading Challenge)

Jennifer Manuel’s goal was to have 1,000 people take the pledge by June 21st – Aboriginal Day in Canada. She has already surpassed this goal, but that shouldn’t stop you – the more people who read the TRC Report, the better.

To sign up for the challenge, go to http://trcreadingchallenge.com/ (and let me know if you signed up by leaving a comment!). On the website, she provides access to the document as a .pdf and as a series of audio files (which cover the History section of the Summary), in case you prefer to listen to the report.

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Blog Action Day #BAD2013 – Canadian Human Rights Tribunal

When I heard the theme for this year’s Blog Action Day was “Human Rights”, I knew immediately what I was going to write about: a case currently before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal brought against the federal government for discrimination against First Nations children living on reserve.

The Human Rights Case

“In 2007, the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint against the Federal government, alleging that Canada’s failure to provide equitable and culturally based child welfare services to First Nations children on-reserve amounts to discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin. After several unsuccessful efforts by the Federal government to have the case dismissed on legal technicalities, a hearing on the complaint began on February 25, 2013 at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and will continue throughout the summer.” (Source: First Nations Caring Society website).

I first heard about this case at a lecture by Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Caring Society, back in the spring and I have to say that I was astonished that I had not heard of this case until that point. I mean, the federal government being taken to the Human Rights Tribunal seems like it should be front page news, yet it’s been going on since 2007 and I, someone who pays attention to Canadian news and who has a particular interest in human rights and Aboriginal issues, didn’t hear about it until 2013. (To my Canadian readers: were you aware of this case prior to reading this blog posting?)

“The complaint alleges that the Government of Canada had a longstanding pattern of providing less government funding for child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves than is provided to non-Aboriginal children.” (Source: First Nations Caring Society website)

The inequalities include things such as less funding for education, housing, and other social supports for First Nations children living on reserve compared to non-Aboriginal children not living on reserve, which then results in more on reserve Aboriginal children entering the child welfare system, which is also inadequately supported.

To give you some perspective on the scope of this1:

  • The federal government spends 22% less per child for Aboriginal children on reserves than than the provinces spend per non-Aboriginal children (and it’s the federal government’s responsibility to provide for on-reserve children that which children not living on reserve get from provincial services).
  • Aboriginal children are 6-8x more likely than non-Aboriginal children to end up in the child welfare system.
  • 65% of kids in the child welfare system in Alberta are First Nations children, though overall less than 10% of the children in Alberta are First Nations
  • in BC and Alberta, there are approximately 11,000 First Nations children living in foster care
  • There are three times more First Nations children living in care now then there were in residential schools at the height of that era.

And it is important to note that there’s no indication that First Nations children are taken into care more than non-Aboriginal children for abuse; rather, the children are usually taken away for “neglect”, which can mean things like not having adequate housing or food (i.e., being in poverty). So inadequate responses to housing and poverty results in parents being deemed “neglectful” and their children being apprehended and taken into care.

Retribution by the Federal Government

And as if the tragic consequences of discrimination against Aboriginal children weren’t bad enough, would you believe that in the midst of this, the federal government started *spying* on Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of the First Nations Caring Society, one of the groups who brought this complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal?

As confirmed by a report by the Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart:

“…two government departments, justice and aboriginal affairs, accessed Blackstock’s personal Facebook page, even making a formal request with their IT departments to circumvent security and get on the page. […]

The government dug into Blackstock’s personal Facebook page along with two other public, organizational Facebook pages and monitored her other social media accounts, including her Twitter account, YouTube, BlogSpot and Google alerts on her.

Stoddart found that the government accessed information on Blackstock’s friends — including their opinions and personal plans — as well as the personal views, skills, interests and residency of Blackstock.
“That information, alone in combination with other information, reveals . . . who she is as a person, and not just information related to or attached to her professional responsibilities with the Caring Society,’’ Stoddart wrote.

In fact, Blackstock says, the information in government screen shots included her Mother’s Days greetings, her travel plans, an exchange about her cookie-baking skills, chats with friends from as far away as Australia and a posting from a 12-year-old.” (Source: Toronto Star)

So, in response to a human rights complaint against the federal government, the federal government’s answer was to violate her privacy.

What You Can Do

So now that you know a bit about this case, I’m sure you are wondering what you can do about it. There are a number of ways you can learn more and contribute:

Every child deserves a fair chance. The fact that this is not happening, with children right here in Canada being discriminated against based on their race is shameful. It’s time to hold the government accountable.

  1. Source of these data: Cindy Blackstock interview by CBC Doc Zone. []
  2. I can’t embed the video here or I would. Also, a longer video was posted on the CBC Doc Zone website when I first drafted this blog posting a few days ago, but it’s gone now. If I comes back, I’ll update this posting with a link to it. []