Manitoba First Nations child advocate says province is muzzling her
Manitoba Tories say NDP government 'casts aspersions' on Cora Morgan's work
Cora Morgan was joined by Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives on Thursday to discuss how Child and Family Services (CFS) officials have responded to her criticisms of the system.
"It always ends up that this information that we're bringing forward is just discounted, and so in that sense, it's muzzling the message. They discount the severity of these issues," she told reporters in Winnipeg.
"Why are you afraid of us if you are working transparently?"
Tory family services critic Ian Wishart said the province has not been listening to Morgan, who was appointed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs earlier this year to respond to mounting concerns about the number of aboriginal children in the care of CFS.
"I would really doubt that [the government has] taken [Morgan's criticisms] seriously. They seem to be going out of their way to cast aspersions on what she's had to say," Wishart said.
"She's certainly been doing a good job in regards to standing up on behalf of the First Nation families and we think that it's important that that be noted."
'I was kicked out of a meeting,' says Morgan
Earlier this week, Morgan publicly voiced her support for a Winnipeg mother who was fighting to regain custody of her children, while CFS sought to make the children permanent wards of the province.
"So I was kicked out of a meeting, and the whole agency had instructions that they were not to involve the First Nations family advocate office or communicate with us in any way," she said.
Morgan added that she's worried that other CFS agencies may also try to bar her from meetings with families.
Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross later told reporters that Morgan, as an advocate appointed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, is contacted by families to help them.
"Families ask that she attends meetings. It will be up to the professionals on the front lines on how they decide what happens at that meeting. I think what we need to talk about is that she is doing that important work for families," Irvin-Ross said.
The minister added that it's up to First Nations CFS officials — and, by extension, First Nations leaders — to decide whether Morgan can accompany families to CFS meetings.
"We have to understand and respect that our system is devolved.… First Nations leadership are part of our development of our system and the implementation. The agencies are run by First Nations executive directors, hired by First Nations board of directors," Irvin-Ross said.
"They have this balancing act that they have to do around the protection of the child and supporting the families, and it is a tough balancing act. But again, I welcome her involvement."
Animikii Ozoson is the agency that sought legal advice on whether Morgan should be permitted to attend agency meetings with families. Bobbi Pompana, CEO of the Southern First Nations Network of Care that oversees the agency and nine others said the agency wanted to make sure it was on solid legal ground.
"We don't want to break the law by giving information that we're legally not able to," she said.
Pompana says SFNCC has been working cooperatively with Morgan to find out how she can play a role for families without breaking any rules.
"Her position is not legislated and not on the list of a person that we can share information with," she said.
Pompana says Morgan would be able to sit it in on meetings if she got a court order for each particular case she handled.
High case load
First Nations children's advocate Cora Morgan said the workload she's faced with is very high.
She said she had 35 cases to deal with on Tuesday alone, and there are only two people — herself and her assistant — working in the First Nations advocate office.
"We can't manage all the families that are coming in," she said.
The province needs to give a stronger response to the issue of so many aboriginal children in care, rather than simply saying that apprehending children is done as a last resort, she said.
Wishart said the Tories are looking for "some transparency, for some of the truth to come out, because there's certainly been a lot of innuendo tossed back and forth between the department and Cora."
Wishart acknowledged there may be a risk for Morgan to align herself with a political party instead of remaining neutral.
Morgan said while she is trying to keep politics out of her job, she'll team up with anyone to get the message out.
"We are in a situation where things have gotten out of control," she said.
"Change needs to happen, and it's urgent change that is needed, and our office is looking for allies and supporters in any way that we can."