Derek Nepinak to address damaging delays of child protection hearings

The grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will have a say in how court delays in child protection hearings hurt First Nations families.

'Reducing wait times in child protection hearings will give hope to the families,' says advocate

Derek Nepinak, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, wants to ensure First Nations experiences are part of a court appeal on delays in child protection hearings. (CBC)

The grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will have a say in how court delays in child protection hearings hurt First Nations families.

Derek Nepinak has been granted intervener status in an upcoming Court of Appeal case by the province's Child and Family Services agency (CFS).

The case has to do with a non-Indigenous couple who waited up to a year without a hearing to have their baby returned and whether the baby was, in fact, in need of protection by CFS.

When the case finally reached court, a judge determined the wait time was too long and the baby was not in need of protection in the first place. The agency has appealed the decision but no date has been set for when that will happen.

Although the case does not involved an Indigenous family, Nepinak wants to be part of the appeal in order to ensure the experiences of First Nations families in the child welfare system are highlighted when it comes to delays in child protection hearings.

There is an over-representation of First Nations children in CFS care, so the issue is of great importance to the AMC, the association says.

The prevalence of Indigenous children in the system has "damaging and irreversible impacts on First Nations families," states a news release from the AMC.

The AMC will provide a submission at the appeal regarding those consequences, felt both by First Nations children and parents while waiting for a hearing.

"The submission offered will illustrate the need for an expedited process while offering supporting evidence of the damage and ongoing damage the longer children are away from home," said AMC spokesman Dwayne Bird.

"It will also speak to the connection to the historical issues in residential school and the Sixties Scoop and the effects of generations of family life."

Cora Morgan, the AMC's First Nations family advocate, who will present the submission at the appeal hearing, said she is heartened by a statement made earlier this month by Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal.

At a child protection conference, Joyal told the crowd that changes are coming within Manitoba's court system to shorten the length of time it takes for child protection matters to get to court.

"The current delays are intolerable and unacceptable," Joyal said in outlining a new scheduling model that aims to have cases heard within weeks rather than months.

Two judges from the general court division will be assigned to the family division each week and their sole responsibility will be child protection hearings.

That means "delays of up to 12–14 months in the Court of Queen's Bench for trial dates will be no more," Joyal said.

Upon implementation of the new model, the expectation will be that matters will be completed within six weeks, he said.

"It is encouraging to see that Chief Justice Glenn Joyal acknowledges the delays and is committed to urgent changes," Morgan said.

"Changes in the delay will give hope to the families and will ensure family reunification."

There is no word on when the changes will be made.