By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
An internal Aboriginal Affairs investigation cleared federal officials of breaching the privacy of a First Nations children’s advocate who accused the department of spying.
Former Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan also forwarded the internal investigation’s findings to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner which determined it did not need to launch its own probe, according to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office.
First Nations Child and Family Caring Society executive director Cindy Blackstock alleged that department officials spied on her by monitoring her speaking events and social media presence along with perusing her Indian status file held by the department.
Duncan told the House of Commons in November 2011 that he had tasked Michael Wernick, the department’s deputy minister, with launching an internal probe into Blackstock’s allegation.
Valcourt’s office said Thursday that the department’s Access to Information and Privacy Directorate “conducted an internal investigation and determined that no privacy breach had occurred.”
Valcourt’s office said that former minister Duncan then wrote the Privacy Commissioner saying that the investigation had come up empty and opened the door for the independent body to conduct its own probe.
The Privacy Commissioner’s office wrote to Wernick informing him that it felt no need to conduct its own probe, according to Valcourt’s office.
Blackstock said the department kept her in the dark about the investigation and the outcome and to this day has never contacted her about the matter.
“It speaks loudly that I have personally never been informed by the department that htey undertook the investigation or the results. It is my privacy that is at issue,” said Blackstock.
Blackstock said she never trusted the impartiality of the investigation because it was handed by Duncan to Wernick, who she said was copied on some of the documents she has seen related to the case.
“I wasn’t confident the investigation would be done in an independent and thorough matter,” she said.
Blackstock said department officials monitoring her Facebook page took screen grabs of her posts about baking and pulled the web addresses of people who commented on her posts.
“Maybe Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants some of my recipes,” said Blackstock.
Blackstock’s organization, along with the Assembly of First Nations, launched a human rights complaint in 2007 against Ottawa alleging the federal government underfunded of child and family services on First Nations reserves. The complaint was successfully amended to include allegations of “retaliation” by the department against Blackstock over her human rights complaint.
The issue around the spying allegations surfaced this week during ongoing hearings before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Blackstock’s lawyer Paul Champ said the department had failed to provide any files related to its investigation into the spying allegations through the disclosure process.
Blackstock filed her own complaint with the Privacy Commissioner last March. Blackstock says she expects the commissioner’s report to be out soon.
“My hope is that this investigation from the Privacy Commissioner is going to make recommendations about the government’s access to Facebook,” she said.