‘Blind­sided:’ Man­i­toba of­fi­cials seize new­born from mother

The Sudbury Star - - NATIONAL 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 — an ap­pre­hen­sion that First 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.”

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