The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) is suing the federal and Manitoba governments over what they say are far-reaching and damaging effects of the child welfare system.
“Manitoba and Canada received consistent advice and warnings, including from their own experts, that they were failing First Nations children who lived off reserve,” said the statement of claim filed on Oct. 6. “Again and again, they were told that their funding was inadequate, their operational procedures were ill-conceived, and their servants and agents were failing to properly implement their directions.”
Cora Morgan, the First Nations family advocate for the AMC, said the federal and provincial policies caused a lot of damage.
“There’s so much damage that has been done that we cannot undo,” said Morgan. “You know, the outcomes for our children in care have been… homelessness, incarceration, mental health issues, you know, all the negative aspects that most Canadians are not faced with.”
In the statement of claim, the AMC and other plaintiffs are seeking “an immediate stop to the discriminatory practices that result in the apprehension of so many First Nations children; properly funded services for First Nations children now; $1 billion dollars in compensation to First Nations children, families and First Nations for the damage caused by the child welfare system since 1992; and recognition that the wellbeing of First Nation children must be entrenched in First Nations laws relating to the wellbeing of First Nations children and families.”
The federal government reached a $40 billion agreement in principle earlier this year to compensate children who were taken from their families on reserve.
The new lawsuit is aimed at First Nations children seized off reserve in the Manitoba child welfare system.
There are three communities that are lead plaintiffs in the class action: Black River First Nation, Pimicikamak Cree Nation and Misipawistik Cree Nation.
“The child and family services system failed me,” said Amber Laplante, 33, one of three individual plaintiffs in the suit.
She was apprehended when she was 14 years old and in the claim said she experienced, “a significant instability, moving between various foster homes, group homes, congregate care institutions, mental health facilities, youth penitentiary, and hotels.”
At the news conference Thursday, Laplante said the system failed her.
“When I was in care, I was exposed to violence and trauma. I was always treated as a problem and never as a person. I never received the support I needed to heal,” she said.
Another plaintiff, Roberta Godin, 42, said she had her children and grandchildren taken away.
According to the statement of claim, “Ms. Godin has direct experience as both a child in CFS [child and family services] and as a parent and grandparent of children in CFS in Manitoba. Three of her four children… were apprehended and spent large portions of their childhoods in the system.”
She says she was eventually successful in reuniting with them, but the separation caused great harm.
“I’m bringing this case because I believe that no child should grow up away from the love and care of their family,” Godin said. “Instead of supporting us in our time of need, the system just simply took my children and my grandchildren.”
Roughly 80 per cent of children in care in Manitoba are First Nations children.
First Nations leaders say that makes them more likely to face poverty, homelessness, mental health issues and involvement in the criminal justice system.
“Today in our child welfare system, there are thousands of children who’ve been taken from their parents. And, you know, there has to be better ways,” Morgan said.
The statement of claim contains allegations that have not been proven in court. There was no immediate response from the federal and Manitoba governments.
“First Nations children are taken from their homes at disproportionate rates, leaving half of them homeless later in life and making them 24 times more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system,” said Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief Heidi Cook.
“When our children are removed, our nation is robbed of its future leaders and advocates and these connections may never be restored.”
The province didn’t have a comment when contacted by APTN.
Neither Manitoba nor the federal government have filed a statement of defence.