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December 2, 2012

The Enemy Within?

Reuel S. Amdur

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Back in 1971, President Richard Nixon's special counsel Charles Colson compiled an enemies list, a list of people Nixon did not like. John Dean, another Nixon counsel, explained the purpose of the list-"how we can use available federal machinery to screw our political enemies." Well, it appears that the Harper government has its own enemies list, with Cindy Blackstock having a strong presence on the list. Why might that be?

Blackstock is the daughter of a white father and a Gitxsan mother.  She is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, and in 2007 she brought charges before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, claiming that the government was discriminating against First Nations children in failing to fund children’s protective services on reserves adequately, in comparison to how services to other children off reserve were funded.  After that, she was put under surveillance.

She notes that the spying began at least as early as 2009, and “I have no indication that it has stopped.”  She filed a complaint with the Privacy Commission, and they told her that they are in the final stages of their investigation.

Over the years, “There have been literally hundreds of bureaucrats going to public talks I’m at, or if not in attendance, they are asking others to comment about what was said or asked for copies of presentations.”  She asked if she had ever been asked directly for such information.  “Never.”  Would she have provided the information if the government had asked?  “Yes.”

In November, 2011, the CBC and the Toronto Star revealed that the government was conducting surveillance on Blackfoot.  “I have never been notified that there was an investigation and have never even been contacted by anyone in government about it.  I found out about it on CBC’s ‘The Current.’” 

Brown envelope types in Indian Affairs and Northern Development friendly to native interests shared some internal e-mails with her.  Still in November, 2011: “The request to access Facebook from LMRB (Litigation Management Review Branch) was made Feb. 18, 2010.  It ran for approx. 6 months. . . and was not reviewed because DOJ (Department of Justice) was also monitoring.”

In another e-mail, “Justice has been looking at her twitter and facebook accounts for some time for purposes of noting any developments on the CFS (Child and Family Services) file.”

When she made a freedom of information request to see what was in her file, she got a six inch file back.  Included were her Indian Status information, her family history, and the names (blacked out) of relatives.  The status information was requested more than once, and some of the documents in the files were copied up the line to the Deputy Minister.

After the news broke about the spying, NDP MP Linda Duncan asked in the House, “When’s an advocate for aboriginal children considered an enemy of the state? 

. . . Why is the government spying on Cindy Blackstock?” 

John Duncan, then Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (IAND), responded, “Mr. Speaker, we take Canadians’ privacy very seriously.  I’ve asked my Deputy Minister to report on whether privacy rules were respected in this case.”  Blackstock has not been contacted in connection with the investigation he ordered.  In any case, she commented, “I would have preferred a more independent person to do the review, rather than someone actually copied on the monitored documents.” 

Tim Powers, an Indian Affairs employee in the 1990’s , a vice-president of Summa Communications, and a Tory strategist, was interviewed on CBC about the Blackstock case.  “Clearly she is and has been monitored.  That is not unusual. . . from my years at Indian Affairs, I know it’s important to monitor all people with all views on key aboriginal areas and policy issues, but is somebody being overzealous here?”

The Tory government has directly retaliated against her for bringing the case to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.  On one occasion an official with DNIA refused to meet with Ontario Chiefs if she were present.  She received the same treatment in British Columbia when the British Columbia Children and Family Services Association was meeting with INAC.  She is a social worker with a Ph.D. and a professor at the University of Alberta, and thus INAC was preventing the Ontario Chiefs from having professional expertise present in their dealing with INAC around child welfare issues. 

Let’s turn back to the Nixon enemies list.  John Dean gave as an example of one of the ways in which enemies could be harassed--tax audits.  Says Blackstock, “I’ve been audited extremely.”  And returning to Canada from overseas, on a couple occasions her bags were held up.  In one of these times, she was told that Customs was looking at them.

“I don’t live a scandalous life,” she said, “but I’m sure that they are doing these things to other people.”  Powers told CBC as much.  “It’s a question of what kind of Canada we are living in.” 

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