Manitoba

Mom drew swastika on girl to send message, says social worker

The mother of a girl at the centre of a custody hearing in Winnipeg allegedly told social workers she drew a swastika and other Nazi symbols on her daughter's skin to send a message to the school.

The mother of a girl at the centre of a custody hearing in Winnipeg allegedly told social workers she drew a swastika and other Nazi symbols on her daughter's skin to send a message to the school.

A Child and Family Services social worker told the hearing on Wednesday that she documented her first conference call with the girl's mother and stepfather last year after their children were taken away by the government agency.

The mother complained about discrimination against white people at her daughter's school, which prominently displayed posters boosting minority pride. The mother said the school failed to do the same for whites, according to the social worker.

The mother also said her daughter had been missing school because she didn't want to sit next to a non-white boy, the social worker testified.

The worker also said the couple named their son after a Nazi skinhead cultural icon. And when the children were taken by CFS, the parents used a photograph of them to create a poster titled: "Missing, Kids With White Pride," the worker testified.

The poster was never distributed in public, the parents told the worker.

The custody case, which started Monday, has garnered international attention and sparked debate over how far parents can go to instill beliefs in their children, and how far the government should go to protect children from those beliefs.

Parents accused of failing to provide adequate care

The parents, who are now separated, are also accused of failing to provide adequate care for their children. Lawyers and social workers have told court there were problems with the parents related to drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, criminal behaviour and mental health problems.

On Tuesday, another social worker testified the girl said she was missing school because her mom and stepfather didn't wake her up on time. She told the social worker that her stepfather made the rules in the house, that he was angry and would get drunk, and that he didn't make meals, or change her brother's diaper often enough.

The girl, now eight years old, went to school with white supremacist symbols drawn on her skin in March 2008. Her teacher scrubbed them off in the afternoon, but the girl showed up again the next day with another one, along with other white supremacist symbols drawn on her body.

CFS caseworkers were alerted and went to the family's apartment, where they found neo-Nazi symbols and flags, and took custody of the couple's two-year-old son. CFS officials picked up the daughter at her school.

The children have been in foster care since then.

Testimony from child welfare officials and lawyers will continue through the week. None can be identified in order to protect the identities of the children.

The hearing will adjourn but resume in June, when lawyers for the parents will make their arguments.

Girl's mother says social workers lying

The stepfather has filed a constitutional challenge, saying his right to freedom of expression, religion and association were violated when the children were apprehended.

The mother now lives outside Manitoba and isn't present at the hearing. She told CBC News that she hopes to tell her side of the story later and prove she's a good mother.

In an interview this week she expressed concern about how her children are doing in foster care.

"I wonder if they're eating properly, and if they're going to bed properly," she said.

She also told CBC News the social workers at the hearing who have testified her daughter spouted racist and hateful propaganda are lying.

On Monday, the hearing was told the girl spoke of this being a white man's world and provided graphic suggestions of how to kill people of colour, a social worker testified.

"My daughter would never say something like that. Ever," said the mother. "I think the social worker put a lot of ideas and words in her mouth and in her head."

But the mother does not deny drawing the swastika on her daughter's arm. The mother described it as an ancient pagan symbol for prosperity.

Richard Warman, an Ottawa-based lawyer active in human rights law, has been following the case since last year. In an interview with CBC News, he said the discussion about the parents' white-supremacist views are overshadowing legitimate concerns about the lack of quality care the children were receiving.

"I think this case is about the best interests of the children, and I think that's been lost a little bit. I think that's what the focus should be," he said.