Trial between Manitoba and child welfare agencies pushes for child welfare payments

Indigenous agencies could see hundreds of millions from government if successful.

Lawyers for Indigenous child welfare agencies in Manitoba are in court today as part of an ongoing lawsuit accusing the provincial government of misappropriating more than $250 million meant for Indigenous children in care.

The lawsuit claims the province began clawing back money from agencies in 2006 while the NDP was in power.

The money was part of the federally run Children’s Special Allowance Act, which allows agencies to apply for a monthly payment from the federal government for children in care.

The practice of getting agencies to remit the funds continued when the Progressive Conservatives formed the government in 2016.

It eventually stopped in 2019, but last year a bill was passed under section 231 of the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment (BITSA), which denies the right to legally challenge the provincial clawbacks.

The court proceedings are expected to take four days.

Parties speaking on the case include lawyers for a former Child and Family Services executive, who is proposing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of children in care, and lawyers for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which says the province is abusing its power with BITSA.

At the end of the week, a judge may be able to force the government to repay the funds.

Lawyers for the child welfare agencies say the case is a dispute between Indigenous peoples and the province.

“We are dealing with the rights of Indigenous people in this case. The rights of Indigenous children,” said Kris Saxberg.

“Anything to do with child welfare, anything to do with the taking of the Children’s Special Allowance affects Indigenous people.”

Money from the funds can be used to pay for food, recreation, or shelter. They are equal to the maximum federal child benefit.

With files from the Canadian Press