Mother found dead after sharing video about struggles with Manitoba's child welfare system, domestic violence
Anishinaabe woman pleaded with people to ‘listen to me’
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Family and friends of a woman who died by suicide are looking for answers after the woman posted a live video on social media saying she was a victim of domestic violence and sharing the frustration and trauma she felt trying to get her children back from Manitoba's child welfare system.
Family members identified the woman as Tara, a 32-year-old mother of four who was a member of a First Nation in southeastern Manitoba. She posted a live video on Facebook late last month shortly before she was found dead. CBC is not using her full name to protect the identities of her children.
"As an Aboriginal woman, please people, listen to me," Tara said in the video, which had been viewed more than 18,000 times as of Tuesday.
"My kids were taken from me. Child and Family Services came to my home."
The day before Tara posted the video, a man who family identified as her common-law partner was arrested and faces a charge of assaulting her, RCMP said.
Her two children under the age of 10 were removed from the home sometime after the assault and placed in CFS care but it's unclear where they're staying now.
"It is heartbreaking," Tara's mother Priscilla said. "I want her voice to be heard."
"Why did the CFS go there and take the (children) away from her?"
Tara also has two teenage girls who are in CFS care and have been for several years.
She took to the social media platform on Jan. 27 at 6:37 p.m, according to a post on Facebook.
The sound of children's programming and music could be heard in the background, as she fought through tears.
About an hour after the video was shared, St-Pierre Jolys RCMP got a call to check on someone in a southern Manitoba town. Officers went to a home southeast of Winnipeg and found Tara dead inside.
Tara, who is Anishinaabe, said in the video that she's been fighting to get her children back, saying she got an education, owns a home and "did everything I was supposed to right, but still, I'm the bad person."
"I have been dealing with a situation that's been very hurtful, not even to me, not even to my children but to my Aboriginal people," she said.
According to the latest annual report from Manitoba Families — the provincial department responsible for the delivery of CFS services — there were 9,196 children in care as of March 31, 2022, and 91 per cent were Indigenous.
The child welfare system wasn't Tara's only concern — she said she's also a victim of domestic violence.
One day before she was found dead, RCMP went to the same home at 6:45 p.m. for an assault call. Officers arrested a 37-year-old man who is facing a charge of assault.
He was released on conditions and has an upcoming court date, police said.
The RCMP said a 32-year-old woman who they identified as a victim had minor injuries but declined medical attention.
"I have been a victim … I just want people to see … like there's massive bruises all over … I can't even talk," Tara said in the video.
Tara also grew up in CFS care, she said in the video.
Cheryl Wozniak is the president of Preserving Families, a support group for families in child welfare systems in Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario and B.C. She said it's all too common for mothers who've grown up in the system to have their kids apprehended.
"I'm in shock," Wozniak said. "She was a mom who grew up in care. They should've provided her resources in regards to domestic violence."
'She really fought for her girls,' mother says
Priscilla, who lives in Norway House Cree Nation, said she spoke to her daughter about five hours before police found her dead.
She said Tara had been living in Cambridge, Ont., and was surprised to find out she was back in Manitoba. She suspects it was for a visit with her girls.
"She had a hard time trying to get her kids, she even emailed the CFS workers, she talked to CFS workers," said Priscilla. "She really fought for her girls. She really did."
"The thing is CFS, they never listened to her side of the story. The CFS were always throwing her past at her."
In an emailed response to questions from CBC about the woman's involvement with the child welfare system, the Manitoba government said "our deepest sympathies go out to the children, family and community as this is a tragic loss of a mother."
A spokesperson said "steps are being taken to look at this case" but no information can be released or shared because it must be kept confidential due to provisions in The Child and Family Services Act.
Deena Brock, provincial co-ordinator of the Manitoba Association of Women's Shelters, said in situations involving domestic violence women and children can be relocated to a family violence shelter.
"In a situation with family violence, sometimes the CFS priority is to look after the children so that is where they're going to go first, is how best to look after the children and hopefully they would include mom in that," Brock said.
It's not clear if any options to go to a shelter were provided to Tara.
- Better supports needed for children, youth who witness intimate partner violence, Manitoba advocate says
A report released by the province's Advocate for Children and Youth last year noted CFS is expected to be the main system to respond to domestic violence incidents.
The report, Every Two Hours: A Special Report on Children and Youth Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence in Manitoba, made seven recommendations, which include developing a response plan aimed at addressing gaps in service to better meet the needs of families and children affected by domestic violence.
Sherry Gott, Manitoba's Advocate for Children and Youth, said in an emailed statement the report highlights how deeply traumatic exposure to domestic violence can be for children.
"The well-being of children, youth, and young adults remains my top priority," Gott said. "We will continue to monitor this situation closely to determine how we can help those affected."
The report notes early intervention and support for both adult victims and children is critical to breaking the cycle of domestic violence.
More support, resources needed for families: advocate
Wozniak didn't know Tara but felt angry and sick to her stomach after hearing her story.
She said parents her group works with who try to get back custody of their kids often face major obstacles with little support.
"We have so many families that have lost their homes. They've done all the work, they've sold their homes to get lawyers and then they're homeless which leads to addiction, mental health and suicide," Wozniak said.
- How this woman says Manitoba's child welfare system broke her connection to her First Nation community
The report from the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth said adult victims of domestic violence are supposed to receive support from the Domestic Violence Support Service, which is a part of Manitoba Justice, while any charges proceed through the courts. However, it's unclear exactly what support, if any, Tara was receiving.
Wozniak said while it can be daunting, there is hope for family reunification in situations involving domestic violence.
"They need to know that there is help out there," Wozniak said. "Reach out to a family member, a friend. They need to know that they are not alone."
"There is lots of mental health resources out there, something that we didn't have years ago."
'She was a good mom,' friend says
Leona Brightnose, a close friend who's known Tara for 14 years, was messaging her the same day she died.
The woman wanted Brightnose to go see her but Brightnose didn't have a way to get there. She said Tara didn't respond to messages later in the day.
Two days later, Brightnose found out her friend was dead.
"I just wish that she was still here. I really miss her. She was a really good friend, she was a good mom, she was a good everything," Brightnose said. "My heart goes out to her family."
Like Tara's mother, Brightnose also didn't know her friend was back in Manitoba until Friday.
She's not aware of any specific help the woman was getting from CFS.
She wishes it wouldn't have come to this but now hopes Tara's death leads to changes, including more support for parents.
"It was jumping through hoops, through hoops — whatever they could throw at her. And look at her, she's not here anymore," Brightnose said. "I know she's been fighting for her kids for a long time, it's been over like 10 years she's been fighting for those girls and I don't see why they didn't give them back."
If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help:
Anyone needing help can contact the Hope for Wellness Help Line, which provides immediate, toll-free telephone and online-chat emotional support and crisis intervention to all Indigenous people in Canada.
It's available 24/7 in English and French, and upon request in Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut.
Call the toll-free Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or connect to the online chat at hopeforwellness.ca.
Other available resources include:
- Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text between 4 p.m. and midnight ET).
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling on the website.
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
- This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you're worried about.