B.C. court rules against MCFD, permits Indigenous mother and child to return home with supports

A provincial court judge has overturned a Ministry of Child and Family Development sanctioned apprehension and ordered an Indigenous mother to be reunited with her baby.

Calling it a 'learning experience,' MCFD says it will be reviewing the case

Following the court ruling, Huu-ay-aht Coun. Sheila Charles said it 'helps establish a solid foundation for mom and baby to begin a happy and healthy life together, with support of family and community.' (Huu-ay-aht Nation)

A provincial court judge has overturned a Ministry of Child and Family Development sanctioned apprehension and ordered an Indigenous mother to be reunited with her baby.

Last month, the Huu-ay-aht Nation went to court, arguing the mother, who cannot be named due to a publication ban, did not have sufficient time to bond with her baby and breastfeed, before the baby's removal.

The court ruled the ministry must provide the mother with daily access to the baby.

Last week, lawyers with the ministry sought to reduce the amount of visitation time the Huu-ay-aht mother could spend with the baby.

Now, provincial court Judge Barbara Flewelling has ruled the baby must be returned to the mother no later than Saturday, March 17.

Both are now able to return home to Port Alberni. 

MCFD 'reviewing the case'

On Thursday,  Child and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy told reporters the case has been a learning experience.

"Like I used to say to my own kids, you don't call them mistakes, you call them learning situations, and there are situations that you need to learn from, including court cases," Conroy said.

She said her ministry will be reviewing the case.

In the decision, the court said the director of MCFD "must establish that it has been active and diligent in attempting to find other alternatives to removing a child before a final determination."

The court also pointed to evidence of the harm for newborns arising from disrupted attachment.

Support before apprehension

"This judgment provides strong recognition of the importance of the maternal and infant bond" said Maegen Giltrow, counsel for the mother and the Huu-ay-aht.

A provincial court has ordered the MCFD to allow a mother and her baby to return to her Huu-ay-aht community which has guaranteed to provide whatever supports are needed. (Huu-ay-aht Nation)

Giltrow added that it is MCFD's obligation to consider supports available "to keep mom and baby together,  rather than simply removing the infant from the mother."

Court documents said the mother was told the baby was taken into care because of her own mother's history with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Giltrow told CBC news that it's the woman's first child. She's been observed by a pediatrician who was present after the baby was delivered, and there are no issues with drugs or alcohol.

The mother and child will reside in Port Alberni with a Huu-ay-aht family and the First Nation will offer ongoing supervision and support. The mother will also participate in recommended programs and services, including Nuu-chahnulth and Huu-ay-aht specific programs.

Prevention first

Since the baby was apprehended, the mother has been living out of a motel room in Courtenay B.C., more than 100 kilometres away from her community in Port Alberni in order to have access to her baby.

 Huu-ay-aht Coun. Sheila Charles said the decision "helps establish a solid foundation for mom and baby to begin a happy and healthy life together, with the support of family and community."

Charles said the ruling also supports the First Nation's work to implement 30 recommendations laid out in an independent social services panel to bring children home and stop the cycle of breaking Huu-ay-aht families up into the foster care system.

The ministry said it agrees that there is a lot more work to do to keep Indigenous kids out of MCFD care. 

"We need to actually talk to First Nations communities before kids come into care," Conroy said. 

"We need to be looking at ways to ensure kids are not coming into care, and we put that preventative work up first," she said.  

About the Author

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitanmaax band of the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C.