British Columbia

B.C.'s child representative 'appalled' after ministry's apprehension of Indigenous baby

An Indigenous nation on Vancouver Island has declared a public health emergency over the rising number of its children being taken into provincial care.

Huu-ay-aht Nation declares public health emergency over high number of children in provincial care

Bernard Richard, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, has criticized the apprehension of a newborn baby from the Huu-ay-aht First Nations.

The chief councillor of the Huu-ay-aht Nation on Vancouver Island says the number of children in his nation being taken into provincial care has reached a crisis level.

Last week, the Huu-ay-aht leadership declared a public health emergency over the issue. The declaration comes after B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development took a three-day-old baby into care in January.

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

The case sparked acrimony and a court battle between the Huu-ay-aht Nation and the province.

"The colonial practice of removing children from their families is continuing and continues in a higher number, so that is alarming to me," Chief Councillor Robert Dennis said.

The Huu-ay-aht Nation is comprised of 800 people, including 220 children. Forty-seven of those children — more than 20 per cent  — are in ministry care, according to Chief Robert Dennis. Thirty-six of those children are in non-Indigenous homes.

Went to court

Last month, the Huu-ay-aht Nation went to B.C. Supreme Court arguing that mother did not have sufficient time to bond with her infant and breastfeed before the baby's apprehension.

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

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

Huu-ay-aht First Nations Chief Councillor Robert Dennis said he is alarmed at the number of Indigenous children apprehended by authorities. ( Huu-ay-aht First Nation)

Bernard Richard, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, said he was shocked about the circumstances of the apprehension and the ministry's legal bid to reduce the amount of time the mother could spend with her baby.

"I was appalled," Richard said. "They didn't go to court diligently. They didn't provide reasons. They had extremely restrictive conditions around breastfeeding. That's inane as far as I'm concerned."

In a sworn affadavit, the mother said she was only permitted two hours a day with her infant and was not permitted to nurse on the weekends.

"I am quite dumbfounded about how MCFD handled this particular case," Richard added.

A publication ban is in place that protects the identities of the mother, father, child and other family members.

Maegen Giltrow, lawyer for the infant's mother, said she doesn't know why the baby was placed in care. Giltrow said 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.

Giltrow said the pediatrician also noted she was a "loving mom who was bonding well with her baby."

Ministry 'making progress'

Minister of Child and Family Development Katrine Conroy said ministry officials are meeting with Huu-ay-aht officials next week.

Conroy said the government is making progress on reducing the number of Indigenous children in care in B.C., noting it's dropped by nearly 100 over the last year.

Richard says that's not good enough.

"The ministry is saying great things, but on the ground, on the front lines, there are just so very many significant issues to be addressed but that are not being addressed," Richard said.

Roberts says the Huu-ay-aht funded a project to prevent apprehensions but the provincial government has not said whether it will help fund it.

The ministry said the government will bring legislation forward this spring to support earlier involvement and planning with Indigenous communities to keep their children out of care.


Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from 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. Have a story idea?