Indigenous children’s rights champion Cindy Blackstock is calling on Canadians to watch and listen carefully during this week’s Federal Court hearings on First Nations children.
From June 14-18, the federal government will be in court fighting two orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, despite a motion — introduced by MP Jagmeet Singh and passed by parliamentarians 271-0 last week — calling on Canada to stop litigating against residential school survivors, First Nations children and their families.
“One of the things that’s occurring to me as I’m watching Canada’s arguments this week is the deception and the unwillingness to accept accountability,” Blackstock tells IndigiNews.
Blackstock, who is executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (the Caring Society), says the federal government’s arguments in Federal Court remind her of language used in documentation about residential schools — refusing to take accountability, distancing itself from taking responsibility and minimizing harms done to children.
Since first filing a human rights complaint alongside the Assembly of First Nations in 2007, Blackstock has been fighting the federal government — demanding it stop discriminating against First Nations children.
Nine years later, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued an order for Canada to “immediately cease its discriminatory conduct.”
Canada has failed to fall in line with the orders of the CHRT rulings, ignoring 19 subsequent non-compliance and procedural orders, according to the Caring Society.
This week’s hearings are the product of the federal government filing for judicial review of two of the CHRT’s orders — one on compensation for eligible victims of the child-welfare system, and one which defines the criteria for Jordan’s Principle. APTN is livestreaming the hearings, so the public can follow along in real time.
Canadians are asking questions, seeking the truth
For too long, Canada has been saying, “Everything’s going to be okay,” and “We love First Nations kids,” says Blackstock.
“Canadians are taking a second look at those statements and they’re testing those statements and what they’re finding is that they just don’t hold up,” she says. “What the vote last week showed is that Canadians do not agree with what the government is doing.”
On June 7, MPs voted unanimously in favour of the motion put forward by Jagmeet Singh, who is the leader of the New Democratic Party. Notably, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, and Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller abstained from voting, alongside other Liberal cabinet members.
“[It] was so inspiring to see the groundswell of people on social media and people getting a hold of their MPs to say, ‘Do not litigate against residential school survivors or First Nations kids in my name,’” says Blackstock.
Following the first day of federal hearings, Blackstock says she witnessed from the government a lack of “serious remorse.”
“I think one of the most disturbing lines I heard from the federal government’s lawyer came very early on in his presentation where he was trying to argue that not all children should be entitled to the $40,000 [in compensation] who were removed from their families because some kids were hurt more,” says Blackstock.
“In trying to make this argument, the federal government’s lawyer said, ‘Well, you know, some kids spent three quiet afternoons, away from home,’” Blackstock says. “That’s how he described a court-ordered removal of a child. That shows me they have zero understanding of the trauma that they’ve inflicted on children, or their families, and very little compassion.”
IndigiNews reached out to Robert Frater, the lawyer acting as chief general counsel for the federal government in this case, and did not receive a response by deadline.
In Ottawa, Miller told reporters that “Canadians do need answers.
“These are all deeply painful and profound issues that have characterized and scarred our country,” he says.
He says the issue of compensation as issued by the CHRT “does not respect basic principles of proportionality.”
“We’ll let the proceedings play out in court, but we’ll make sure at all times that we’re being respectful in our representations,” he says.
For Blackstock, it always goes back to the children.
“We must stand with them and we must stand in the winds of discrimination so that they can live their childhood that their Ancestors dreamed for them.”
What comes next?
Blackstock says she’s committed to doing her part for First Nations kids and points to resources on the Caring Society’s website for others to do the same, including seven free ways to make a difference.
People can also plant a heart garden in memory of children who were victims of the residential school system, Blackstock says.
There’ s also a federal election coming up, she adds.
“Print off a copy of the tribunal’s orders and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and ask every candidate coming to your door what they’re going to do about those things,” she suggests.
Last week’s motion also called for a report on progress in implementing the TRC’s calls to action. The federal government is expected to give a progress report on Thursday.