In a Winnipeg hospital last January, an Indigenous mother gently rocked back and forth as she cradled her newborn girl.
“I’m sorry, baby,” she told the baby tearfully, stroking her tiny back. She had given birth to her daughter only hours earlier, and now the police and child welfare workers were in her hospital room to take the infant away. She didn’t know when she would see her again.
The disturbing scene was broadcast live on Facebook by the woman’s uncle. The infant’s removal sparked outrage from Indigenous leaders and questions from then-federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott.
“It certainly begs the question as to whether or not this family was treated in a way where the unity of the family and the bond between parent and child was respected as something that had to be taken into serious consideration,” Ms. Philpott told the Canadian Press.
But the apprehension inside a hospital, hours after a child’s birth, was not unusual. The practice, known as a birth alert, disproportionately affects Indigenous families.
In the wake of the Winnipeg incident, Globe and Mail reporter Nancy Macdonald set out to uncover how the child welfare system works and what help is offered to keep families together, especially newborns with their mothers. Her reporting took her to a hospital on Vancouver Island, where a mother was frantically working with Indigenous advocates to persuade B.C. child welfare workers not to take her newborn girl. They had already seized two older children.
Stacey, the child welfare workers conceded, was a good mother with a good home and a full-time job as a grocery store supervisor making $28 an hour. But they worried her husband posed a threat to the family, and so they took her baby away. (The Globe is not using Stacey’s real name in accordance with B.C. legislation.)
Ms. Macdonald has spent the year chronicling Stacey and her family’s journey through the child welfare system. Their story illustrates how difficult it can be to get off the government’s watchlist, no matter what efforts a mother makes to provide a safe home for her children.
Stacey’s children are Métis, and in Canada, Indigenous kids are removed from their families at a rate 10 times higher than non-Indigenous children. Earlier this year, the federal government passed legislation to overhaul Indigenous child welfare. Ottawa maintains its planned reforms, which include recognizing the rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit authorities to pass their own laws for children and families, will reduce the number of kids in care and keep more families together.
But many Indigenous leaders and child advocates are skeptical because few details have been released so far, and no funding commitment has been made. Further details about the reforms are expected from Ottawa next month.
- Renata D’Aliesio, deputy national editor
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.