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Equality and freedom are not free: Blackstock

By Frank Flegel


REGINA — The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) is expected to release its decision on the human rights of indigenous children by April 2015. If the ruling goes against the federal government, Indigenous children will be entitled to the same rights, privileges and services available to non-Indigenous children.

Dr. Cindy Blackstock, a passionate defender of the rights of indigenous children, founder and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Care Society of Canada, brought the case to the CHRT in 2014. She was the Woodrow Lloyd lecturer Jan. 21 at the University of Regina and made her case again to the more than 300 who packed the Education auditorium.

Without notes but aided with slides projected onto three huge screens above the audience, she outlined how the federal government denies Indigenous children the same services available to non-Indigenous children and quoted several government reports to back up her argument.

“First Nations Children do not get the same basic services other Canadians take for granted,” she quoted the former Auditor General Sheila Fraser in a 2011 report.

She gave two examples of First Nations children who spent unnecessary years in hospital, “not because they were sick but because they were First Nations.” They required services and equipment readily available to non-Aboriginal children but denied to them, said Blackstock. One of them spent 2.5 years in hospital and died there at age five.

She quoted the World Health Organization, which said that for every dollar spent on a child, the government would save $7. “If you invest in a kid’s education, culture, language, recreation, you’re going to be raising a kid who isn’t going to be accessing the prison system, the health system and the social system. We’re doing ourselves a favour by investing in every baby that comes along,” she told the PM in an interview.

Blackstock said when you add up all the columns, indigenous children spent 66,000,000 nights or 180,000 years of childhood in foster care. Saskatchewan’s numbers alone made up 7,933,708 nights. She told the audience members that they have to stand up and do something about it. “When the government can’t do better, it’s up to us to make them do better.” Equality and freedom are not free, she said; you have to stand up for it.

In response to several questions, she said that when First Nations children feel they don’t belong, they join gangs.

“There is no excuse for any child in this country to go to food banks for food,” she said, and in another response she said when you lift from the bottom everyone rises.

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