Indigenous group renews calls for Saskatchewan to end 'birth alerts'

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations is calling for the Saskatchewan government to do away with birth alerts which some say discriminate against Indigenous woman.

The province reported it issued 157 birth alerts in 2018.

Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said he's not sure Saskatchewan should be removing the practice of birth alerts at this time. (CBC)

REGINA — The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan is urging the province to follow British Columbia's lead by ending the practice of "birth alerts."

Such alerts inform government officials or child-welfare agencies when an infant is born to potentially high-risk parents, which can result in an investigation and a child being seized.

The federation is renewing its call to end the alerts following B.C.'s announcement earlier this week that it is stopping the practice, which has been heavily criticized for discriminating against Indigenous mothers.

"We applaud the B.C. government for moving towards a system that will help families and focus on preventative measures that offer prenatal supports and services to mothers who need or want it," federation vice-chief Morley Watson said in a release Wednesday.

Morley Watson, vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, wants the province to offer more supports to families, instead of separating a family from their newborn baby. (Submitted by Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations)

"We need this same system and shift in focus in Saskatchewan. We need to work together to give these parents the skills and support they need, instead of tearing apart a bond that begins to develop from birth."

The province's social services minister, Paul Merriman, said some organizations are in favour of the interventions.

"I'm not quite convinced that that's what we need to be doing in Saskatchewan," he said.

The province is looking at ways to improve how the alerts are used, he said, and that includes watching what's happening in other jurisdictions.

 A meeting with community organizations and officials is scheduled for next month.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations emblem.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations is calling on the Saskatchewan government to follow the lead set by B.C. and do away with birth alerts in the province. (FSIN)

Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the province should signal that it wants to end birth alerts, which he called punitive, rather than keep the status quo.

"We heard loud and clear from the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry that birth alerts have been part of the problem in increasing the number of kids in care," he said.

"We know that we have women in Saskatchewan who choose to deliver away from hospital in less than safe conditions because of the risk of birth alerts."

Merriman said Saskatchewan won't consider ending the alerts without a viable alternative in place.

"Right now, we don't have a plan on what it is that you would do in place of birth alerts," he said. "If there is a mom that has been identified as a high-risk, we haven't seen anything that's come out of any other programs that says, 'OK, what would you do to identify that individual as needing some support?"

The province said it issued 157 birth alerts in 2018. They resulted in 45 children being taken into care within 30 days of their birth.

The Social Services Ministry said that means 70 per cent of those babies were able to stay with their families because they were connected with proper services.

Merriman said almost half of the province's birth alerts originate from health professionals.