Discrimination and Seeking Equality in Manitoba’s Child and Family Services System

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On January 11, 2019, a shocking video surfaced showing Manitoba social workers and police seizing a newly born baby girl from the arms of her Indigenous mother. In the video, the mother appears shaken and has family members comforting her during the tragic incident. Despite the raw emotion and tear-jerking circumstances of the video, what’s most disturbing is the reason that the newborn was seized from her mother. Allegedly, the mother was the victim of a false accusation that she was intoxicated at the time she entered the hospital- which resulted in Child and Family services getting involved and seizing her baby girl.

Back in December, I wrote an article on the potential benefits of Manitoba’s newly amended Child and Family Services Act. The addition of Bill 223 sought to reduce the massive overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the care of Child and Family Services (CFS). Essentially Bill 223 was a genuine step in the right direction by the Manitoba government to ensure that parents aren’t the victims of class or economic discrimination. Consequently, Bill 223 allows children to stay with their parents and family members (and provides support) even if they struggle paycheque to paycheque.

Unfortunately, if anything has been made clear by the incident on January 11, it’s that Manitoba CFS is still struggling to discern which children are in need of protection and which children are not… and some of its decision makers are in need of a lesson or two on the equality rights (protecting all Canadians from racial, religious and other forms of discrimination) guaranteed to all Canadians under section 15 of the Charter.

I recognize it isn’t an easy task deciding which children need the protection and which do not. However, I take issue when stereotyping and racial biases are the way in which some decision makers at CFS operate- something which the mother in this incident is alleging.

So, the question then becomes: how do we fix CFS so it treats all Manitobans equally and prevents racial stereotyping in determining whether children need care outside of that given by their parents? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question.

While there are many different proposed solutions to this issue, I believe that there’s no single correct solution. Despite this broad statement, I think one of the most promising ways to fix the issue of systemic racism in Manitoba’s CFS is to put the control of Indigenous children requiring CFS services into the hands of Indigenous communities themselves. Fortunately, it appears that the federal government is already working on legislation which may take the form of something like this. 

While the exact form of such legislation is unclear, I’m hopeful that in conjunction with Bill 223, the steps the federal government is taking will help to prevent any more tragic situations like that which occurred on January 11 here in Manitoba. In a statement regarding the upcoming legislation, Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services provided an extremely positive and uplifting outlook which hopefully signals change to Manitoba’s CFS as it stands currently.


“Moving forward with federal legislation on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation child and family services is a vital step toward ensuring Indigenous children are never again forcibly taken from their homes without their parents’ consent. Every possible measure should be taken to prevent Indigenous child apprehension and to reunite children with their families. New federal legislation is a powerful tool to support these efforts.”


 

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