British Columbia

Métis toddler taken from B.C. family despite ongoing court battle

A Métis toddler—the focus of an emotional custody fight between her Métis foster parents and the province—has now been removed from the care of couple and is scheduled to be flown to a non-Métis family in Ontario that has adopted her siblings.

Ministry of Children and Family Services takes 3 year old before court challenges complete

"S.S" plays with her foster mother in happier times. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The Métis foster parents of a toddler embroiled in an emotional custody fight with the province have now lost the Métis child—and have been told the three-year-old will be flown to live with a non-Métis family in Ontario on Friday.

It could be the end of a long and bitter battle waged on several fronts in the courts—but the foster couple is still vowing to try a last minute bid to stop the move.

All involved can't be named under a court-ordered publication ban.

The child, who can only be identified as "S.S.", has lived with her foster parents since birth. They're the only parents she's ever known.

The toddler at the heart of the custody controversy, before being removed from the home of Métis foster parents. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"S.S." is Métis, as is her foster mother. The foster father has embraced Métis culture and customs.

The toddler's Métis biological parents support the foster parent's desire to adopt "S.S" and gave them custody of the child under traditional Aboriginal custom.

But in B.C., the province's director of adoption is considered the sole personal guardian of a child under the continuing custody provisions of the Child, Family and Community Services act– and is the only one who can place a child for adoption.

'It's like a punch in the gut'

CBC News has learned that on Sunday, the foster parents were forced to turn the child over to the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Services, after weeks of "transitioning", in which they would hand over the child to Ministry staff for a few hours each day.

"It's like a punch in the gut because you miss her so incredibly much," says the foster mother through tears.

Her husband chokes up as well.

"You worry about her. [You think] that's her favourite toy, she'd want to be riding her bike.

"I can't even imagine how she's going to feel. She's going to wonder what's going on. It's so unfair to use a child in this way, it's just so unfair. She's three years old."

The foster parents of "S.S"- who can't be identified by court order-- vow to fight on to gain custody of the three year old. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The province had held off removing the child while a series of court challenges were heard.

But on Sept. 13, the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected a bid by the foster parents to find a gap in B.C.'s Adoption Act that would have allowed them to officially adopt the child.

Five days later, the Ministry took control of "S.S".

The Ministry now plans to put the toddler on a flight Friday and place her with the Ontario family that has already adopted the child's two siblings.

The Ontario couple is being flown to B.C. to accompany "S.S".

'This is not a goodbye but a chance to wish her well', said ministry 

An email from the Ministry of Children and Family Services obtained by the CBC, entitled "Transition Plan Update for S", outlines the itinerary for the transition, offering the foster parents a final "face to face with S" the day before the flight.

"Thursday: This is not goodbye but instead a chance to wish her well on her flight" reads the email. 

"Time for play and snacks and fun. Seeing her foster mother and adoptive mother together is a very powerful message of safety & support for a child."

"Friday: S flies home with (adoptive mother)…to continue S's transition in Ontario."

Her foster mother can barely contain her anger.

"You move a child from a secure attachment when they're three years old and they are set up for life long trauma and attachment difficulties. So for them to just be glossing this over like it's a big party and we're all going to be happy about it, we can't accept that. Because we know it's not going to be good for her."

Keith Henry, president of the B.C. Métis Federation, says "we're losing Métis children. I can't believe what's happening today." (CBC)

The case has generated controversy over which is more important for a Métis child — being raised by Indigenous foster parents in B.C., or living with siblings adopted by a non-Indigenous family in another province.

The BC Métis Federation has remained vehemently opposed to the child's removal.

"We are losing another Métis child. No one is going to tell us that we're not," says B.C. Métis Federation president Keith Henry.

"I can't believe what's happening today. This is the 60's scoop," he said, referring to the time when many Indigenous children were placed with mostly non-Indigenous families. 

"[It] carries on. It doesn't matter if you put nice lipstick on it, that's what it is."

In a statement emailed to CBC, the Ministry of Children and Family Development said they couldn't speak to the specifics of the case.

"However," they added, "a child's best interests are the guiding consideration in any planning activities."

The battle may not be over, as there is a challenge pending from the child's birth parents — and the foster mother of "S.S"' vows to do what she can to gain custody.

"It makes no sense," she said.

"We're still fighting, we won't stop fighting. She's our daughter."

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.