Indigenous groups are calling out the government over a bill buried in Manitoba’s latest budget that would cut the legs out from under two lawsuits seeking nearly $300 million in ‘baby bonus’ cash the lawsuits say, was illegally taken from foster children.
The Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) and northern and southern chiefs organizations say it’s underhanded for the province to try to legislate itself out of a lawsuit, especially trying to sneak the legislation in at a time when everyone is distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuits were launched in by six child welfare agencies in 2018.
Since 2010, the province of Manitoba has clawed-back 20 per cent of the monthly federal child tax credit that goes to child welfare agencies for kids in their care.
The lawsuits say that needs to go back to the agencies to disperse to children who were in care from 2019 to April 2019 when the government stopped the practice.
“Really what they are doing here is taking away the rights of these children to challenge in court these actions of the government,” says Shawn Scarcello, one of the lawyers for the lawsuit.
“There are huge charter rights at stake here.”
He suspects Manitoba knows it did wrong in taking this money, which the federal government stipulates is to go to specific children.
“There is federal law that says this money goes to specific children, and we can name the child. Each child says you get this money Jimmy, Johnny and Suzie, you get his money, The province is trying to use a provincial law to go over the top of a federal law and say, no that money is really ours. To use to build roads and to pay our staff and to do what ever we want to do with it. So obviously that is a huge constitutional issue there
The former NDP government started the practice in 2010 and the then-opposition Conservatives called it “stealing from the most vulnerable children.”
Yet when they got into office in 2016 they continued it for another three years.
Now they’re trying to wiggle out of accountability, says MMF President David Chartrand.
“They should be ashamed of themselves for trying to do this during a pandemic,” he said.
The Bill remains before the legislature which is in limbo due to the ongoing pandemic.
The now-Opposition NDP have said they won’t support the bill that would nullify the lawsuit but the PCs hold a majority.