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Canada Advocate hopeful Indigenous newborn taken by authorities to be returned to family this week

A family member holds a photo of a newborn baby during a press conference in support of the mother whose newborn baby was seized from hospital by Manitoba's Child and Family Services (CFS) at First Nations Family Advocate Office in Winnipeg on Jan. 11, 2019.

JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

An Indigenous newborn taken from her mother just hours after birth in an apprehension broadcast live on Facebook is expected to be back home with her family later this week, an advocate for the family says.

The infant has spent the five days since in an emergency placement with either a foster family or at a Winnipeg infant shelter where staff feed and change many of the newborns apprehended into care in the province, Cora Morgan, the First Nations Family Advocate at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in an interview on Monday.

Ms. Morgan said she hoped the child would be returned to her mother and her great-aunt on Wednesday.

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Neither the hospital nor anyone from Manitoba’s Child and Family Services (CFS) would comment on why the infant girl was taken. Broadly speaking, a spokesperson for the ministry said, a health-care professional who determines a child may need protection has a duty to report. Once CFS receives this report, a safety assessment is done. Along with other information, the safety assessment is used to help social workers and other professionals engage with the mother to determine her ability to meet the baby’s needs.

That does not necessarily result in an apprehension, but could lead to referring the mother to relevant services, the spokesperson said.

“If a health-care professional determines a child may be in need of protection, they have a duty to report,” she said, speaking in generalities.

Manitoba’s legislation stipulates that a child is in need of protection, for example, when they are in the care of a person whose conduct endangers them or who neglects them; or when the child is being abused or is likely to suffer harm or injury because of the behaviour, condition or associations of the person caring for them.

A total of 354 infants were removed from their families in Manitoba in 2017, 87 per cent of them First Nations; and 259 remained in care 12 months later, putting them on the fast-track for permanent wardship.

The members of the baby’s family, including the mother, said in a news conference Friday that officials with Manitoba’s CFS told them she was removed from St. Boniface Hospital because her mother appeared intoxicated when she arrived at the hospital. The mother vehemently denied this, saying doctors and nurses allowed her to breastfeed, which they would have stopped had they believed she had been drinking.

Micheline St-Hilaire, a St. Boniface spokesperson, said that under Manitoba’s Personal Health Information Act, the hospital could neither confirm nor deny that the removal even occurred there.

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The province has no policy to test for intoxication when an expectant mother comes to the hospital, the ministry spokesperson said.

“Health-care professionals will only test with the mother’s consent or if there is a medical reason for testing."

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that Cora Morgan, the First Nations Family Advocate at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, had said that the infant girl would be returned to her mother and her great aunt on Wednesday. In fact, Ms. Morgan said that she hoped the child would be returned on Wednesday.
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