An Indigenous child who was removed from her mother’s care three days after she was born must be returned, a B.C. judge has ruled.
The child, who cannot be identified, was born in January and the mother has said she was shocked when the newborn was taken from her.
Katrine Conroy, B.C.’s Minister of Children, said the government respects the court decision and will review the case to see what can be learned.
Bernard Richard, the province’s representative for children – who had said the decision to place the baby in care was based on a racist, paternalistic approach to child welfare – called the ruling a win for the newborn and said such judgments are rare at this stage of the legal process.
Huu-ay-aht First Nations, which has assisted the mother in the legal proceedings, announced Thursday that the Provincial Court had ruled the child must be returned no later than Saturday.
Robert Dennis Sr., elected chief councillor for Huu-ay-aht, said in an interview the ruling was an “enormous step.”
“We want to keep the family intact, particularly when it comes to mother and child,” he said.
Sheila Charles, a Huu-ay-aht councillor, said the ruling “helps establish a solid foundation for mom and baby to begin a happy and healthy life together, with support of family and community.
“With this strong foundation, this baby will have every opportunity to grow up safe, supported, and loved by both her mother’s and father’s First Nations,” she wrote in a statement.
Huu-ay-aht said it will offer supervision and support to both mother and child when needed, and the mother will also participate in recommended programs and services.
The judge in the case, Barbara Flewelling, said the ministry must establish it has been “active and diligent in attempting to find other alternatives to removing a child before a final determination that there are no other less disruptive means of protecting the child.”
But the judge said the ministry had not established there were no less disruptive measures available.
Judge Flewelling also said there was no clear communication from the ministry to the mother that it was seriously contemplating removing the child at birth. The judge said the ministry had expressed concern about the mother previously being diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder but ruled it was in the child’s best interest to be with the mother on a full-time basis, as long as the child is adequately protected.
The judge then adjourned the matter ahead of a full child protection hearing, a date for which has not been set.
Ms. Conroy, the Minister of Children, told reporters she could not discuss the specifics of the case but the ministry would take a close look at it.
“I think that we can always learn in any situation and the ministry will be doing that,” she told reporters.
She said social workers always want to keep families together and she will be introducing legislation in the spring aimed at doing that.
Mr. Richard, the representative for children, in an interview commended Huu-ay-aht for its support of the mother.
“Returning the child into the community will require supports be put in place, the community itself to engage and I know they’ve stepped up quite strongly,” he said.
Mr. Richard said it is “fairly unusual” for the court to not accept the ministry’s position at this stage of the proceedings.
“I think it’s clearly a win for the child, for the baby, if the right supports are in place.”
Huu-ay-aht last year released a report with 30 recommendations involving the child-welfare system. It said its goal was to “bring our children home.”