UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
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.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image