British Columbia

B.C. mother fights First Nation, province to keep children with non-Indigenous foster parents

A northern B.C. woman with five children in care claims her First Nation is using her sons and daughters to make a point about placing Indigenous children with Indigenous families. She is challenging the provincial government and the First Nation in court.

Mother of 5 claims her children's security and happiness being sacrificed to band's agenda

A B.C. mother is fighting the province and her First Nation to try and keep her children with non-Indigenous foster parents. (Shutterstock)

A northern B.C. woman with five children in care claims her First Nation is using her sons and daughters to make a point about placing Indigenous children with Indigenous families.

The woman — known as MCW to protect the identities of the children — is challenging the provincial government and her band, which she claims is bent on introducing her children to distant relatives at the expense of their happiness with non-Indigenous foster parents.

The court battle echoes a larger conflict playing out across B.C., as the woman claims that two of her nation's hereditary chiefs support her while her band council does not.

'I have personally lived the abuse'

"The band ... is carrying out its own agenda, at the expense of my children's security and happiness," the woman wrote in an affidavit filed last October.

"Their interference is now causing me a great deal of anxiety, because I have personally lived the abuse that happens on reserve, in Aboriginal homes."

MCW is awaiting a ruling on the province's bid to dismiss her challenge to B.C.'s Child, Family and Community Service Act on the grounds that the legislation violates rights guaranteed under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A judge redacted the name of her First Nation in an interim decision on visitation that was published in December.

The court battle is occurring in B.C. Supreme Court in Smithers. The province is trying to have the woman's application for a charter challenge dismissed. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

The woman claims parents should be given a voice in applications for transfer of permanent custody of their children.

She also wants her First Nation removed as a party to the proceedings "on the basis that it does not represent the hereditary chiefs and the clan system of that Nation and is a creation of the colonial oppression of Indigenous people."

MCW, who is 39, was raised in a village of about 100 people.

According to her affidavit, her mother attended a residential school, and there was a lot of violence in the family home.

MCW claims three of her parents' male acquaintances began sexually abusing her when she was six. The abuse continued until she was 11 because her mother refused to believe her.

MCW claims she started drinking alcohol at age 13. She suffered serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident when she was 18 and lost an infant to a heart defect when she was 29.

'They love my children'

MCW's children range in age from 15 to two.

The court proceedings concern the placement of the four youngest, who have been living with non-Indigenous foster parents — known as TK and CK — since they were removed from MCW in August 2015.

The child custody case echoes a conflict playing out across Canada as the woman at the heart of the dispute claims two of her First Nation's hereditary chiefs support her while her band council does not. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

MCW says she is happy with the arrangement.

"They understand where I have been, and we have worked out our own understanding of how and when the children can see me," she writes.

"I know that they love my children and have cared for them well. I know they have love for me as well, and they want me to recover."

The B.C. legislation was amended in 2018 to ensure the involvement of Indigenous families and communities in the upbringing and well-being of Indigenous children.

The law says the director of child, family and community services may include a First Nation as a party to any agreement involving a child of that group.

MCW's case came to a head in June 2019 when a meeting was held with social workers, a hereditary chief and representatives of her First Nation to discuss placing the four children in the permanent custody of TK and CK.

MCW agreed, then changed her mind, and then decided she wanted the permanent custody order after all.

But according to the court documents a representative of the First Nation told MCW and the court the band "opposes Indigenous children being placed in non-indigenous homes."

'Shipped off to a total stranger'

MCW claims social workers recently started sending the youngest child to stay with a half-sister she had never met, who is not related to MCW.

She claims CK — the non-Indigenous foster parent — became "physically ill" witnessing the child's terror at being taken away and "shipped off to a total stranger."

MCW claims B.C.'s child welfare law violates her charter right to life, liberty and security of the person by denying her the right as a parent to be part of an application on the permanent custody of her children.

She also argues the definition of First Nation in the law is flawed because it restricts participation in child welfare to band councils — precluding representation by the hereditary chiefs.

According to the interim ruling, a hereditary chief involved in the case said the chiefs encourage children who can't be with their immediate families to be placed with extended families in the community.

"He acknowledges this is not always possible, and sometimes the children are placed with non-Indigenous families, which can work well with appropriate cultural plans," the decision says.

The Crown wants to dismiss the charter challenge, arguing the children aren't the subject of the kind of permanent custody order under scrutiny.

They also claim the provincial court doesn't have the jurisdiction to uphold MCW's challenge.

In the meantime, a judge allowed the toddler's visits to the half-sister to continue.

"It is unfortunate the visits got off to a rocky start," the judge wrote, noting that the band representative had assured the court that "the transitions are now trouble-free, and those involved have learned from the experience."

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.