A Métis toddler living on Vancouver Island is caught up in a bitter legal fight between her foster parents and B.C.'s child protective services over her future — and the future of other foster children like her.
The Métis foster couple are fighting to adopt the 27-month-old girl they have raised since infancy.
But the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) plans to remove the child and settle her in Ontario with a non-Métis couple that is already raising her two siblings, who she has never met.
"A child's best interest must be the first and foremost consideration in permanency planning," the ministry said in a press release Monday, but could make no further comment on the specific case for privacy reasons.
Foster parents 'legal strangers'
The couple's lawyer argued in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday to allow the girl to stay with her Métis foster family until the court considers a constitutional challenge revolving around the rights of foster children.
"The province is arguing that they are legal strangers. They are only paid caregivers. That is actually nonsense. These are de facto parents," said Jack Hittrich, who represents the couple.
They are launching the legal challenge because they believe this child's "best interests" should be determined in an open court by a judge, not by MCFD in closed-door meeting, said Hittrich.
"This little girl wakes up every morning and says 'Hi Mommy! Hi Daddy!' to the foster parents. These are the foster parents that she has bonded with all her life," said Hittrich.
"[This is] a situation where foster children are deprived of their fundamental constitutional rights to have their best interests considered ... and that's a travesty," he added.
'She feels like our daughter'
The Métis foster couple who actually raised the girl — referred to as S.S — cannot be identified under court order.
But they told CBC News they are devastated that the ministry charged with protecting children is removing the girl from a loving home willing to adopt her.
"It's horrible. It's really really horrible ... because we fear for her so much," said the tearful foster mother.
The child has a strong bond to her foster family, they say.
"She feels like our daughter. We've raised her since she was born," the foster mother told CBC.
The father explained, "If she gets taken away she's going to wonder where is mom and dad."
They say they can not understand why social workers seem to be ignoring the advice of medical experts and as well want to place the child with a non-Métis family after letting her live with them for two years.
They argue that a court should determine the toddler's future after considering her best interests and weighing expert advice about her emotional needs against the fact she has two siblings living in Ontario.
The foster mother said if the girl stays in their family, they are well-placed to preserve her relationship with her B.C.-based biological parents, who have expressed their support for this in a letter.
"The foster parents here have fallen in love with our daughter, and we've fallen in love with them," the parents told CBC.
The foster mother also planned to take the toddler to meet and connect with her siblings in Ontario, as the family often travels there.
MCFD makes final call
The ministry responsible for child protection urged the parents not to speak to the media, as they are not allowed to talk about children in their care.
MCFD Minister Stephanie Cadieux was unavailable for comment.
"Removing of this young infant from a Métis family is absolutely absurd. " - Keith Henry, president of the B.C. Métis Federation
A statement released yesterday outlined its stance in this case, which was considered by an "exception committee" which is comprised of social workers, and a Métis delegate, according to the province.
In the end, while the foster parents' wishes are considered, the final call is made by an MCFD director, it said.
"Under the Child, Family and Community Service Act, a delegated director is responsible for planning and placement decisions for children and youth in care, all of which are subject to approval by the courts."
"While the ministry often seeks the views of foster parents, the director is legally responsible for making placement decisions that are in the best interest of the child or youth."
Métis advocates back foster parents
The B.C. Métis Federation is backing the foster parents in the fight, after reviewing the case.
"This is outrageous," said president Keith Henry.
"Removing of this young infant from a Métis family is absolutely absurd. You have a strong Métis family there willing to bring this child into a culturally-aware family and into her own community."
"The thought of removing this child to a non- Métis family provinces away is completely ridiculous.... The heart of this case is that the MCFD believes they know what is right for the Métis people," he added.
The case is being heard in B.C. Supreme Court until Wednesday, when a decision is expected.