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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Overcoming cynicism

BY Lyle Stewart Oct 11, 2019

“Willful and reckless.”

Those are the three words that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal used to describe the federal government’s approach to child welfare in Canada since 2007, as tens of thousands of Indigenous children continued to be apprehended – “abducted” would be a better word – from their families.

As the September 6 ruling demonstrated, those who may have believed that the Sixties Scoop ended in the 1960s would be wrong. By willfully and recklessly underfunding social services to on-reserve children – in health, social services and education – Ottawa intentionally created the conditions that led to these kids becoming wards of the state. With all the emotional and cultural trauma that entails.

Sadly, the maximum awards (which the commissioners acknowledged in no way compensate for the pain and loss of separation) “only” cover about 50,000 of the children taken since Cindy Blackstock launched the case back in 2007. Surely, we could count many times that number since the Sixties Scoop officially ended as government policy.

“Impossible to deny.”

These three words, from the September 30 address delivered by Justice Jacques Viens, who led the Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Quebec, ring loudly.

It’s impossible to deny, he said in delivering the commission’s final report, the systemic racism faced by Indigenous people in all spheres of public life here. Impossible to deny the ignorance and lack of knowledge the majority have toward these communities. Impossible to deny that the whole relationship with public institutions needs to be overhauled.

The Viens report (available in English and French at www.cerp.gouv.qc.ca) is a magnificent work, its conclusions culled from a thousand verbal and written testimonies to the commission that was created in the wake of the Val-d’Or policing crisis four years ago. Its calls to action are thoughtful, well-reasoned and comprehensive.

As Justice Viens wrote, “cynicism will have to be overcome” in order to make progress on this relationship in Quebec, and to implement at least some of his more far-reaching recommendations.

I admit that my cynicism will need to be overcome if I am to have hope that the xenophobic CAQ government of Premier François Legault will make much, if any, progress on this report. The wooden, I’m-only-doing-this-because-I-have-to tone of the apology that he delivered in the National Assembly (in French only) in response to the report left much to be desired.

I am equally cynical about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ability to take the Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling to heart. His government, like that of Conservative Stephen Harper before him, spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the Blackstock case that they could have better spent improving the lives of Indigenous children and keeping families together.

Only when facing an election in the final year of his mandate did Trudeau free up funds to bring some funding levels even with the services provided in off-reserve communities in Canada. It’s progress, sure, but why didn’t he – or previous prime ministers – do this many years, or decades, ago?

It’s impossible for me to deny the cynicism I feel toward our willfully reckless governments.

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Lyle Stewart has been working as a journalist for over 30 years. He believes that information is the ultimate check on the abuse of power and that independent media outlets such as the Nation are crucial to democratic governance.