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Canadian Government Keeps Close Tabs on Child Advocate Cindy Blackstock

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Child advocate Cindy Blackstock, long a champion of aboriginal children's rights, is on the federal government's radar, but not for her work improving the lives of children. Apparently the government's Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) ministry has seen fit to scrutinize her every move as if she were an enemy.

Blackstock has discovered, upon being inspired to request her file through Canada's Access to Information Act (the equivalent to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act), that the government has been monitoring her doings extensively, the Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN) reports. In fact, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AAND) sent personnel to no fewer than 75 meetings—perhaps as many as 100—that she was speaking at, then wrote up reports for her file.

The surveillance began after Blackstock, head of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and a member of Gitksan First Nation, filed suit against the government before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2007, charging that First Nations children were discriminated against by inequitable child welfare services on reserves. The case was unresolved as of early 2011, and Blackstock appealed to the courts earlier this year.

Soon afterward she was banned from a meeting between the Chiefs of Ontario and officials from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Moreover she was watched over by a security guard outside the meeting, she told APTN. This inspired her to seek her file. It took one and a half years to acquire, and what she found surprised her.

"Not only had they been on my personal Facebook page, but they had got a government employee to go to their home address, at night, to log in as them as an individual—not as the government of Canada but as the staff person—to go onto my Facebook page and take a snapshot of it and then have that in a government of Canada log,” Blackstock told APTN News.

This is the latest in a series of revelations about the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and its penchant for keeping tabs on its aboriginal citizens. Back in June, Mohawk Nation activist Russell Diabo, and Shiri Pasternak, a Toronto-based writer, researcher and organizer, brought to light similar surveillance that involved not only AAND (or INAC, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, as it was known at the time), but also the RCMP. That monitoring of aboriginal groups had begun with the advent of Harper's first government in 2005.

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And in October it came out the Canadian military was watching native organizations closely, with at least eight reports compiled over 18 months about various activities of Native groups.

Blackstock, a widely known Native-children's advocate, received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award this year for public service for her 20-plus hears working in child and family services. She was lauded in 2009 by the likes of former Prime Minister Peter Martin upon receiving the Atkinson Charitable Foundation’s Economic Justice fellowship, awarded to community leaders.

AAND wouldn't comment beyond a statement released to APTN saying that Facebook and other such sites are considered public. But the aboriginal community reacted to the news on Wednesday.

“The Canadian public needs to know how the federal government conducts itself when its accountability is called into question,” said Grand Chief Denise Stonefish of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI) in a statement. “We applaud the work Ms. Blackstock is doing for our communities and urge her to continue with her efforts, despite the questionable behaviors of the federal government. Our children deserve to have these tough questions posed to ensure they have the same future opportunities as other Canadian children.”

The money spent on delving into Blackstock's personal life—AAND even collected data on her family—could have been more wisely used, she said.

“I have never had a parking ticket, let alone a criminal record and I have never conducted myself in an unprofessional manner,’’ Blackstock told the Toronto Star. “I say rather than spend the money following me around, spend it on the children.’’