The children's advocate for Manitoba's First Nations says social workers are seizing an average of one newborn baby a day and "shoving them anywhere."
Cora Morgan told The Canadian Press that she was with a mother in hospital on Monday when Child and Family Services took the woman's three-day-old son. The only reason given was that the mother had been a ward of family services until she was 18, Morgan said.
"It was heart-wrenching," she said. "It just seemed so utterly heartless."
Manitoba is seizing a record number of newborns — as many as 40 a month from one downtown hospital — rather than supporting parents, Morgan said. The infants are being taken into care without any assessment of the parents or their ability to care for the child, she said.
"The taps of apprehension are on high and the bathtub was full five years ago, so they have kids spilling out all over the place. They're prepared to shove them anywhere."
Manitoba has one of the highest apprehension rates in Canada, said Morgan, who added the seizures are as damaging as Indian residential schools. The longer a child is in care, the more complex the child's needs become, she said.
"In this system, you are guilty until you can prove you're innocent. They're not going in and investigating to see if there is another side of the story. They're not going in there to say, 'How can we help you?' ... They just take the kids."
The province recently became the first in Canada to apologize for systematically apprehending aboriginal children starting in the 1960s and placing them with non-aboriginal families — a practice known as the '60s Scoop.
"They're still taking children. How can they not want to address what they're doing right now?"
Manitoba has more than 10,000 children in care. The system has been under scrutiny for years following several high-profile deaths and assaults.
Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross earlier this year promised to stop using hotels to house young wards after a girl was seriously assaulted. Both the victim and the youth charged were in government care at a downtown Winnipeg hotel.
Child welfare came under intense pressure a year ago when 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was killed after running away from a hotel where she was in government care. The teen's body was found wrapped in a bag in the Red River.
Premier Greg Selinger said the province is shifting towards prevention programs and, in some First Nations communities, they appear to be working. Caseloads this year have been virtually stagnant while the province looks at how to funnel more funding toward prevention, he said.
The aim is to keep kids out of care. If babies are apprehended, workers try to "get them back home as quickly as possible," the premier said.
Ian Wishart, a critic with the Opposition Conservatives, said it has become Manitoba's policy to apprehend babies first and ask questions about the parents' fitness later.
"Once a child is apprehended, it's at least three months until you get it back. It can be as long as six, even if you are in a position of strength," he said.
"That's a critical time for the attachment between a child and the mother. You are interfering with that attachment."