The damages are the second-highest court award awarded in British Columbia, due to the “unprecedented and systemic nature” of the discrimination by the indigenous-led child protection agency.
An Indian mother whose four children were taken from her for nearly three years has been awarded $150,000 in damages after the BC Human Rights Court ruled she was discriminated against by an Indian-run child protection agency.
It is the second highest court award in BC. The court found that the discrimination against the single mother was of an “unprecedented and systemic nature.”
The woman’s children were seized in 2016 by the Vancouver Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society, the first urban Aboriginal agency in Canada to assume full child protection responsibilities.
The society was founded by First Nations leaders in the 1990s to “stop the flow of Aboriginal children entering government care” and had the goal of removing the discriminatory impacts of the colonial child welfare system, according to the decision of the court written by Devyn Cousineau. The Society is bound by Provincial Child Welfare Legislation.
“As an organization rooted in the urban indigenous community, it is acutely aware of the discriminatory impacts of colonial child welfare on indigenous families and intentionally acts not to replicate those impacts,” Cousineau wrote.
Despite the objectives, the court found that the social workers involved in the case “were tainted by preconceived notions and opinions about (the mother) inherited from other social workers.”
The society told the court that it did not discriminate against the mother and made decisions in the best interest of the children.
In a statement Wednesday night, VACFSS Executive Director Bernadette Spence and Board Chair Linda Stiller said: “We are now reviewing the Court’s decision in detail, but note that the focus of the decision was on the rights of the mother, whereas from the VACFSS perspective, the rights of parents must be balanced against the welfare of the children and our responsibility to care for them. and honor each child as a “sacred package.”
The mother, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, told the court that the society based its decisions about her ability to be a mother on stereotypes about indigenous single mothers and assumptions about their mental health and addictions.
The mother is of both indigenous and African ancestry and is an intergenerational residential school survivor with traumatic disabilities. She is the mother of five children, three with complex needs and one of whom died at five months.
Aleem Bharmal, a lawyer with the Community Legal Aid Society who helped the mother, said that while the agency was set up to be more sensitive to issues of bias against indigenous families, “they were still working under the old system.” , which the experts described as one. of “command and control”.
The case, he said, sheds light on a system that is still against indigenous families and communities.
Bharmal said her client had some problems with her teenage daughter, which led to the daughter reporting her to the child welfare agency.
“Instead of providing advice or support to help deal with this relationship, (society) took the drastic step of taking all of her children, including a baby she was breastfeeding,” Bharmal told Postmedia News.
The partnership retained custody of the children for almost three years, and the mother was separated from them almost completely for seven months.
Social workers treated the mother with the lingering suspicion that she was responsible for the death of her five-month-old baby, Cousineau wrote. This was despite a BC coroner’s report finding that the child died of the virus and the mother repeatedly sought medical help.
Cousineau also found that social workers looked for trouble when the children were with their mother, but ignored serious problems with the children’s foster homes.
In 2017, one of her eight-year-old daughters attempted suicide in her foster home. “She told her foster father and her doctor that she thought he would bring her back to her mother faster,” Cousineau wrote.
The children are now back with their mother, Bharmal said.
In October, the government proposed changes to the child welfare system to allow indigenous communities control over their own child and family welfare services. The changes would also establish a new indigenous child welfare director at the Children’s Ministry.
Approximately 68 percent of the children in the child welfare system are Indian even though they make up less than 10 percent of the BC population.
When asked about the implications of an indigenous-run child protection agency engaging in the very discrimination it was supposed to prevent, BC Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who is a member of the Tsartlip First Nation He said, “I don’t know that. there is a really clear and quick answer to this.”
“It’s hard to answer because I don’t think that under the current structures that we have right now, the child welfare system in this province is one that we can be proud of,” he said.
Olsen said the proposed bill makes it clear that poverty is not a reason to abduct a child.
Mitzi Dean, the minister for child and family development, said she could not comment on the specific case, but said the government is committed to keeping indigenous families together.