The BC Green Party is calling for reforms and transparency when removing children from the care of parents in the wake of a baby being apprehended in Victoria this week.
Party leader Sonia Furstenau and Saanich North and Islands MLA Adam Olsen met with media today (April 19) to discuss the practise of removing children from the care of parents after Campbell River residents Sonja and Philip Hathaway committed to camping outside of the B.C. legislature following the apprehension of their newborn Amella, born at Victoria General Hospital.
In the press conference, Furstenau cited a list of announcements made by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) that address how the ministry plans to address child welfare.
“There are two pages of announcements and policy and legislative changes from this government that indicate that it is going to not be business as usual,” Furstenau said, addressing the long-standing issue of over representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system. “Then we see, from what I can tell, business as usual.”
Mitzi Dean, the minister in charge, told Black Press Media she is unable to comment on the case, or even acknowledge if the ministry has been involved with the Hathaway family, but stressed the importance of keeping families together.
“While I’m not able to comment on the particular circumstance of a particular family, what we do know … is Indigenous children have been over-represented in the child welfare system for far too long,” she said. “We know that a connection has been made between the existing child welfare, the ‘60s Scoop and so-called residential schools and it’s been harmful and it has caused inter-generational trauma.”
Furstenau also expressed frustration in the lack of transparency on behalf of MCFD and what she said is the discrediting of parents’ experiences.
“The pattern is very clear and very well-established and very predictable that MCFD is going to spend time undermining her [the mother], as opposed to reflecting on if they’re following all of their principles and all of their announcements and policy and legislation,” she said. “Have they done that? The question that needs to be asked is: Was every measure taken to keep this mother and her infant together?”
Furstenau said the Hathaways’ case is just one in a “generations of child welfare policy oriented towards systemic racism against Indigenous people.”
Sonja, a member of the Dene First Nation, told Black Press Media she was concerned about her baby losing access to their native language and culture in the time she spends away from her.
“You have policies, laws and commitments,” Furstenau said. “This is what they need to be held accountable to.”
Olsen remarked on the facts of the case as presented to him by the couple, who said there were several months during which they were working with MCFD to establish a birth plan for when Amella was born, but those agreements were not honoured.
“The real hazard here in calling MCFD is the most dangerous thing you can do in this province,” Olsen said. “That is the message this sends. It says: Don’t reach out to this government for support because the thing is, they will lull you into believing that they are working with you and then you’ll step out for a minute and come back and have no idea where your baby is at.”
Both Olsen and Furstenau indicated that above the couple’s ability to care for the child, the measures taken by MCFD reflect a systemic effort to weaken Indigenous communities through removing children from their parents.
“There is a long-standing and systemic history of undermining Indigenous women as parents and it is deliberate and we’re all supposed to be questioning it because the reality is if they can break the mother and baby bond then you can destroy it,” Olsen said.
Furstenau also cited The Representative for Children and Youth (RCY) Act report, which was released April 18 and found a lack of progress on the RCY’s recommendations to improve the effectiveness of ministries like MCFD. The report found one-third of recommendations, which include an increased collaboration and engagement with Indigenous communities, had no progress.
Furstenau said that in an upcoming meeting with MCFD staff scheduled for April 20, she will inquire about the work being done to reunite the family.
“This is what this minister and this deputy minister [of MCFD] and this ministry writ large has not grappled with effectively, that you can make all of these policies, you can make announcements every single month, you can say all these nice words but if the implementation of your policies and your acts results in what we’re seeing: you’re failing,” Furstenau said.
–With files from Wolfgang Depner