‘He’s so beautiful’: Parents have first visit with son in nearly a year

‘He didn’t make strange with us, we had a wonderful visit.’

It was a moment they’ve been waiting 10 months for – to see their son’s smiling face in person.

As a judge in a child protection hearing considers his ruling after a week long trial, a Brandon, Man., couple got to visit their 13-month-old son.

It’s the first time they got to hold and play with him since last August when they refused to carry on with supervised visits, arguing the child never should have been apprehended in the first place because they pose no danger to the baby who was taken by Michif CFS from hospital after he was born.

“We were anxious, not knowing how it would go,” said the boy’s mother. “We were excited as we haven’t seen and held him since last August. Heart-warming because we’ve missed him so much and heart-breaking at the same time because we can’t just bring him home now.

“He’s so beautiful and getting so big. It was hard to not bawl my eyes out,” said the boy’s dad.

The visit took place at a Brandon park this morning more than a week after a judge ordered the visits to resume while he deliberates.

“He didn’t make strange with us, we had a wonderful visit,” they said.

The couple hopes their 13-month long fight with child welfare is close to being over and their son will be returned.

Since he was taken, they’ve kept a pile of new clothes every month, waiting and hoping he’s be returned.

As each month went by, the clothes and diapers he would have outgrown were given away and replaced by another, hopeful pile.

The case shines light on what many critics of Canada’s child welfare system say is a power-hungry machine that operates in secrecy behind privacy laws, apprehending children who aren’t in danger and doing all of this with no recourse.

No one involved as a witness or a party in the matter can be identified under the Child and Family Services Act.

The hearing pitted the parents, who are asking for their infant back, against a Manitoba child welfare agency that questions their fitness to parent.

APTN InFocus broke the story about the couple’s battle last fall.

Michif CFS said the baby was taken shortly after birth because the mother is on the child abuse registry after pleading guilty six years ago, to failing to protect her infant daughter while in a relationship with a man who was convicted of abusing her.

Michif CFS argued that, the lasting effects of that abuse — anxiety, depression and PTSD — were grounds to apprehend the baby. A counsellor testified the mother was recovering nicely from the abuse but hit a rough patch when CFS took her children away. She’s since made great strides growing mentally and emotionally despite all this, court heard.

As for keeping the infant, they said the parents being rude to caseworkers and the dad’s marijuana use were grounds for concern.

As well Michif CFS argued the father had been investigated 16 years previous when he and a former partner had care of an infant who had sustained injuries. The investigation determined those injuries occurred before they cared for him for a friend.

The dad was never charged with any wrongdoing.

Michif CFS told the court the mother and father of the newborn son who was taken, were hostile and uncooperative with child welfare workers.

One testified they called her names and were rude. When she wasn’t welcomed to their hospital room she returned with an apprehension letter and the baby was seized.

Supervised visits were rife with tension and ultimately canceled last summer.

The parents argue there were no grounds for the apprehension or supervised visits as the baby wasn’t at risk of serious injury or death. The couple is helping to raise the dad’s children from previous relationships including a young daughter whose mother testified that they’re good parents and role models.

A mother whose daughter spends time at their house testified she too has no concerns and described  them as good people capable of raising children.

A former pediatrician and high profile Indigenous man both testified on behalf of the parents and spoke of their concerns about a child welfare system that’s too geared towards unnecessary apprehensions of Indigenous children.

Both parents have begrudgingly taken parenting courses prior to court, hoping it would appease authorities and say they’re desperate to have CFS out of their lives for good.

In all of this, their visits with the mother’s daughter – who has been in care for nearly seven years since she was injured and before the mom left the abusive relationship – were canceled.

The parents testified it was in the works to have that girl returned to their care and they want that process resumed. They’ve had no contact with her since their fight over their son began.

In December 2018, when the couple was expecting,  they contacted child welfare authorities to advise of the pregnancy to have the agency work with them to see that they’re capable of caring for the boy. They had two home visits and said they were surprised that more wasn’t done in the months leading up to his birth.

Court heard they weren’t pleased when a case worker showed up on a birth alert to the hospital.

Birth alerts are controversial practices of flagging a mother’s health file when she has a baby, triggering involvement from child welfare. Often they lead to apprehensions of newborns. Something cited by the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as a trauma that affects disproportionately, Indigenous mothers and babies.

Manitoba has since said they’re ending birth alerts although that’s been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The case is being closely followed by critics of the child welfare system who say this happens all too often, that children are taken without serious concern for their health and safety and that child welfare agencies create barriers and hoops for parents to frustrate them, then deem the parents hostile and uncooperative as further reason to keep children in care.

The father has called them child traffickers, arguing the system is more about jobs than it is for family wellbeing.

Neither of the caseworkers involved in this matter are employed by the agency any more. The couple have a new worker they hope will be keen to reuniting the family after she listened to testimony last week.

The judge in the matter gave no timeline for this judgement.

Host/Producer - Winnipeg

Melissa is a proud Red River Metis and award-winning journalist who has spent more 14 years covering crime, courts, politics, business and entertainment for newspapers in four provinces.
She then joined APTN Investigates in 2009 and APTN National News in 2018 and in that time has garnered numerous awards and nominations including from the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network (2013), Canadian Association of Journalists (2016, 2019) and Canadian Screen Awards (2018, 2019).