‘Blind­sided:’ Man­i­toba of­fi­cials seize new­born from mother in hospi­tal

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - ONTARIO NEWS - STEVE LAM­BERT

WIN­NIPEG — two so­cial me­dia videos show a new­born baby girl be­ing taken from the arms of her In­dige­nous mother by Man­i­toba so­cial work­ers and po­lice—anFirst na­tions lead­ers say is all too com­mon in a child-wel­fare sys­tem bi­ased against abo­rig­i­nals.

the videos, broad­cast live thurs­day on Face­book by the woman’s un­cle, show her sit­ting in a hospi­tal bed, cradling her baby and rock­ing back and forth as so­cial work­ers and po­lice ex­plain that the baby is be­ing taken into care.

the woman is cry­ing softly and be­ing hugged by rel­a­tives, one of whom is wail­ing in sor­row. even­tu­ally, po­lice place the new­born into a car seat and take her away. the mother is not told when she might see her baby again.

“the video it­self was dis­turb­ing and raised a num­ber of ques­tions, ob­vi­ously, for any­body who saw it,” In­dige­nous Ser­vices Min­is­ter Jane Philpott said in an in­ter­view Fri­day.

“It cer­tainly begs the ques­tion as to whether or not this fam­ily was treated in a way where the unity of the fam­ily and the bond be­tween par­ent and child was re­spected as some­thing that had to be taken into se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Statis­tics from the Man­i­toba govern­ment show new­born ap­pre­hen­sions oc­cur, on av­er­age, about once a day in the prov­ince. about 90 per cent of kids in care are In­dige­nous.

the video seg­ments, which had been viewed more than 400,000 times by Fri­day af­ter­noon, of­fered a rare glimpse into a nor­mally pri­vate mat­ter. they also dis­play a bi­ased child wel­fare sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to In­dige­nous lead­ers.

“the sys­tem that we’re sub­ject to is not a sys­tem for our peo­ple,” Grand Chief Gar­ri­son Set­tee, who rep­re­sents north­ern Man­i­toba First na­tions, said Fri­day at a news con­fer­ence with the mother, her fam­ily and other com­mu­nity lead­ers.

“we want to take back our ba­bies be­cause they be­long to us. they be­long ... in their own cul­ture, in their own so­ci­eties, among their own peo­ple.”

the woman, her baby, and other fam­ily mem­bers can­not be iden­ti­fied un­der Man­i­toba law.

the baby was taken away be­cause of a false ac­cu­sa­tion that the mother was drunk when she ar­rived at the hospi­tal to give birth, the woman’s aunt said.

the videos show fam­ily mem­bers telling so­cial work­ers the ac­cu­sa­tion was not true. they ask whether the baby could stay with one of them in­stead of be­ing taken away. the re­quest is de­nied.

all the while, the mother is sit­ting on her hospi­tal bed, cradling her baby. She re­called get­ting strength from her in­fant daugh­ter.

“I was blind­sided ... and it’s just as­ton­ish­ing how far this had to go,” she said. “when I was hold­ing my baby, she was ac­tu­ally the one who was keep­ing me con­tent and strong and fo­cused. and I’m still hold­ing on to that.”

Cora Mor­gan, a fam­ily ad­vo­cate for the assem­bly of Man­i­toba Chiefs, said the mother may have been tar­geted for a “birth alert” — a note to so­cial work­ers that an ex­pec­tant mother is high risk — be­cause she had an­other daugh­ter who was tem­po­rar­ily in care sev­eral years ago.

the woman had pre­vi­ously sought help for ad­dic­tions and with par­ent­ing from Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices, Mor­gan said, but was not in­tox­i­cated when she ar­rived at the hospi­tal to give birth.

the Gen­eral Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices au­thor­ity, which over­sees the so­cial work­ers in­volved, would not re­veal de­tails of the case Fri­day, but stood by its de­ci­sion.

“ap­pre­hend­ing a child is a very difficult de­ci­sion, and is done only as a last re­sort and when re­quired to en­sure chil­dren are kept safe,” au­thor­ity chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer deb­bie Be­sant said in a writ­ten state­ment. “I have per­son­ally re­viewed this file in de­tail and met with the agency staff in­volved, in­clud­ing the direc­tor of the agency. I am con­fi­dent in the de­ci­sions made.”

the fed­eral govern­ment has promised new legislation this year aimed at keep­ing more In­dige­nous fam­i­lies to­gether, and Philpott said con­sul­ta­tions to date have raised re­cur­ring themes.

“one of the spe­cific things that we heard from peo­ple is that the em­pha­sis has to be on preven­tion, and to look for ev­ery pos­si­ble way that we can sup­port fam­i­lies to be to­gether.”

the mother, mean­while, is op­ti­mistic she might be re­united with her daugh­ter shortly. the case file has been trans­ferred from win­nipeg to an agency in the woman’s home com­mu­nity.

“I’m very hope­ful things are go­ing to work out in a pos­i­tive way.”

JOHN WOODS/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Gar­ri­son Set­tee, Grand Chief of Man­i­toba Kee­wati­nowi Oki­makanak, speaks at a press con­fer­ence in sup­port of an uniden­ti­fied mother who’s new­born baby was seized from hospi­tal by Man­i­toba’s Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices (CFS) at First Na­tions Fam­ily Ad­vo­cate Of­fice in Win­nipeg on Fri­day.

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