Manitoba

Woman in fetus rights case speaks out

A Manitoba mother whose addiction battle sparked a Supreme Court challenge over the rights of the unborn is speaking out for the first time about how the case changed her life, saying after "a miracle" she is free from drugs.

A Manitoba mother whose addiction battle sparked a Supreme Court challenge over the rights of the unborn is speaking out for the first time about how the case changed her life, saying after "a miracle" she is free from drugs.

The story of the woman known as Ms. G — illustrated by images of a pregnant aboriginal woman who could barely walk — made headlines in 1996 when Manitoba Child and Family Services (CFS) took her to court, asking a judge to force her into treatment.

The judge did order the 23-year-old woman into treatment because she was pregnant with her fourth child and sniffing glue.

Two of her previous children were born permanently disabled due to her addictions.

The ruling by the judge didn't last long, after the Manitoba Court of Appeal struck down that lower court ruling, prompting child welfare authorities to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

That sparked a national debate concerning the rights of a fetus against the rights of a woman.

Canada's highest court ultimately refused to recognize an unborn child as a person with legal rights and struck down the government's challenge to force Ms. G to get clean.

Voluntarily sought treatment

While the legal wrangling was going on, Ms. G said she voluntarily went into addictions treatment.

A national debate concerning the rights of a fetus against the rights of a woman was sparked by a court case surrounding a woman identified only as Ms. G. ((Regis Duvignau/Reuters))

Today, she describes herself as a busy mom, doing her best to care for her five kids and get them ready for Christmas while living on social assistance.

She told CBC News in a recent interview that after the first night at a treatment facility, her life changed forever.

"I prayed, I fell asleep, I slept all night, I woke up the next morning and it was just like a makeover," she told the CBC's Sheila North-Wilson.

"I felt clean. When I woke up I had no cravings. I was changed overnight. It was a miracle," Ms. G said.

Years of hard knocks

The transformation came after years of hard knocks, she suggests.

The youngest of eight sisters, Ms. G's family moved to Winnipeg in the 1980s when she was 13. Her mother had died and her father surrendered his kids to Child and Family Services.

Living in the city, the sister she lived with would take her to the Bell Hotel in the city's north, where glue sniffers became her friends — and sniffing became her refuge.

Not long after, she said, she was living on the street and working in the sex trade.

"Very low," is how Ms. G describes her emotional state at the time. "I thought I was going to die. I wanted to die."

She says she felt victimized by CFS, the media and even her own family.

Now, she says, she recognizes how important the issue was, not to mention the benefit of the treatment.

And she is thankful she gave birth to a baby boy — who turns 14 this week, and whom she credits with saving her life.

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