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Former Justice Department lawyer and whistleblower Edgar Schmidt is suing his old employer. Photo by Dennis Gruending

Precious democracy

Voices-Voix confronts Conservatives on stifling Canadians' fundamental right

By Dennis Gruending

Edgar Schmidt and Cindy Blackstock have both blown whistles on the Canadian government and received harsh treatment for daring to do so. Theirs are among more than 100 case studies compiled by a coalition called Voices-Voix, which documents how organizations and individuals have been harassed and bullied by the Conservative regime. Defending the right of individuals and groups to dissent and participate fully in public debates, Voices-Voix maintains that the government must create democratic space for civil society organizations and stop spying on Canadians and breaching their privacy rights.

Schmidt was a senior Justice Department lawyer, but this week, he's in Federal Court taking legal action against his former employer. He says that Canadian law requires the department to screen proposed legislation for compatibility with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to inform the minister of justice regarding that analysis. But that hasn't been happening, Schmidt says, and the consequences are fairly serious. That's because when laws are passed that offend the Charter, it's often left to citizens to challenge them in court.

Schmidt raised the matter internally for years without success, so in December 2012, he took his department to court. The next day, he was barred from his office, suspended without pay and had contributions to his pension plan halted. In response, Schmidt hired a lawyer and six months later agreed to take early retirement in return for having his back pay and pension contributions reinstated. The Federal Court is just now hearing his case about how the Justice Department performs its duties regarding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Back in 2006, Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, went to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). She alleged that federal funding of welfare and other social services for Aboriginal children on reserves is less than that provided by provinces for other, off-reserve children. That made Blackstock an unpopular person with the government: federal departments collected personal information and spied on her, even sending employees to listen in on as many as 100 meetings at which she was a participant, according to Blackstock. Bureaucrats also monitored her Facebook page, both during and after their work hours. What's more, her Status Indian file was accessed along with its personal information, including data on her family.

So in 2012, Blackstock submitted a complaint to the Privacy Commission of Canada. The commission concluded that her allegations were well founded and constituted a violation of the Privacy Act. Blackstock then launched a second complaint with the CHRT — this one regarding her treatment by government officials. In June 2015, the tribunal ordered the Aboriginal Affairs department to pay her $20,000 for the pain and suffering that they caused her. Still, it has yet to rule on Blackstock’s earlier allegation that the government underfunds services to Aboriginal children.

These events have solidified Voices-Voix's claim that democratic rights are indeed precious and that Canadians, in particular, should demand that they be protected.

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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