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Custody battle pits white-supremacist parents against state Add to ...

It wasn't so much the white supremacist phrases emblazoned upon her arms and legs that led social workers to remove a seven-year-old Winnipeg girl from her family, or the fact she had attended school two days in a row with a swastika inked upon her skin.

What alarmed social workers most about the little girl were her cold affirmations of racial violence, according to testimony in the first day of a heated custody hearing at Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench on Monday.

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The first social worker to interview the girl told court Monday she was alarmed to hear the child describe killing members of minorities in cold, matter-of-fact terms.

"She said you would whip black people with a ball and chain and they die," testified the social worker.

The case, which has garnered media attention around the globe, centres on the girl's white supremacist upbringing and whether social workers had the constitutional right to remove her and her toddler brother from their parents. It also offers troubling insights into the underground world of racist groups in Canada and how they indoctrinate children.

Manitoba Child and Family Services seized both children in March of last year after the girl attended school "painted up in permanent ink like a billboard," said a lawyer for CFS, which has applied for permanent custody of the siblings.

No parties involved in the case can be identified due to a judge's order.

In testimony Monday, the social worker said that, for 45 minutes, she grilled the girl about her home life and the ink covering her body. "She said the meaning of [the swastika]is that black people don't belong," the social worker said. "She told me that we have to protect white kids from, quote-unquote, niggers."

The girl went on to tell the social worker, "Black people just need to die. That's not scary. This is a white man's world."

The girl's mother has insisted she does not preach hatred, but rather pride in their European heritage. She did not appear in court Monday and was denied a request for adjournment.

The girl's stepfather, who sat silently in the court, has argued in court documents that their seizing violates the family's Charter rights.

Throughout the hearing Monday, the CFS lawyer laboured to navigate arguments away from those constitutional shoals. "Contrary to what has been reported, this case is not at all about the infringement on religious beliefs or political expressions," he said. "This case is precisely about the kind of protection issues that come before this court regularly."

The agency has broached several other reasons for seizing the children, including suspicion the parents paid underage babysitters with alcohol, alleged drug and alcohol use and an unsanitary home.

During cross-examination, the stepfather's lawyer dismissed those concerns and suggested that the social worker had slanted her interview with the girl based on personal beliefs.

"What [the girl]was saying. … Was it offensive to you?" the lawyer asked.

"Yes," the social worker replied.

"It's not part of your belief structure?"

"No, it's not."

"It's not what you would teach your children?"

"No."

"Because in your mind, parents are not allowed to give this type of content to the children."

But the social worker insisted she was more concerned about the girl's violent beliefs.

"My concern was the emotional impact this was having on a seven-year-old child," she said. "The fact she could describe how to kill a black person is a concern to me."

The hearing is scheduled to run through the week, before adjourning until June.

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