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British Columbia B.C. First Nation sues province over child welfare bylaw

B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development has faced a barrage a criticism recently. Last month, 18-year-old Alex Gervais died in government care after he was placed in a hotel.

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A British Columbia First Nation has filed suit against the province, accusing it of failing to respect the band's child welfare bylaw – which it believes is the only one of its kind in the country.

Chief Wayne Christian of the Splatsin First Nation held a rally outside Premier Christy Clark's constituency office in West Kelowna, B.C., on Tuesday to announce the lawsuit.

Chief Christian, in an interview after the event, said the bylaw was introduced in 1980 and allows the band to make its own decisions on the protection of its children.

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However, he accused the province's Ministry of Children and Family Development of ignoring the bylaw and continuing to interfere.

"We've got five or six cases that the province is trying to go through the courts to seek jurisdiction of our children. This has been ongoing now for a number of years," he said.

"Enough is enough."

Chief Christian said the bylaw was passed in response to the Sixties Scoop, in which thousands of aboriginal children were removed from their homes and sent to live with non-aboriginal families.

He said the Splatsin have been successful in caring for children in their community through the agency Splatsin Stsmamlt Services. The program's goal is to provide support so children can remain in the care of their families.

"We have a system that works for our children under our law, same as it was in 1980. Yes, we've had bumps in the road because that's part of it, family dynamics and all of that. But it's something that's been very successful," Chief Christian said.

"… We're probably the only First Nations community in Canada that can say we know where every one of our children are since 1980."

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A ministry spokesperson said the ministry cannot speak on a matter that is before the courts.

However, the spokesperson said B.C.'s Child, Family and Community Service Act sets out the requirements for child protection.

"The ministry acknowledges that the Splatsin have a child welfare bylaw in place, and we are committed to working collaboratively with Splatsin on any matter," a statement from the ministry said.

The ministry has faced a barrage of criticism in recent months.

In July, it lost a lawsuit brought by the mother of four children. The judge in the case ruled the ministry had violated a court order and allowed the children's father unsupervised access. The judge said the father had already sexually abused three of the children and would go on to abuse the fourth while the child was in ministry care. The judge found the ministry failed to investigate the reports and falsely accused the mother of being mentally ill. The ministry is appealing the ruling.

Last month, 18-year-old Alex Gervais died in government care after he was placed in a hotel.

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Last week, B.C.'s representative for children said the ministry needs to increase its budget by $20-million and hire 250 more people, including 200 front-line social workers.

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