Liberals table ‘historic’ Indigenous child welfare bill

Bill emphasizes need for the child-welfare system to promote preventative care and support families

If an Indigenous woman in labour in Winnipeg is being challenged on whether she is fit to parent her newborn, Treasury Board President Jane Philpott says she hopes a new law on Indigenous child welfare will help ensure that mother can keep her baby.

Too many Indigenous children are being placed in foster care, Philpott said.

“I hope anybody that has to do with the care of that mother thinks twice about what the best thing is to do for that child, because the best thing for that child is to be raised with her family, raised in their culture surrounded by their land and their lineage and their loved ones,” the former minister of Indigenous services said.

Philpott delivered an unusual off-the-cuff speech at the announcement of new legislation tabled Thursday in the House of Commons that seeks to affirm the right of Indigenous Peoples to have jurisdiction over child welfare in their communities.

The main purpose of the bill is to stop the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care — a situation that has become so dire in Canada it has been described as a humanitarian crisis. Currently, Indigenous children account for 52.2 per cent of children in foster care in private homes, according to 2016 census data.

The bill was tabled by Seamus O’Reagan, who took over as Indigenous-services minister from Philpott after last month’s cabinet shuffle. But Philpott’s role in bringing the legislation to life was on the tip of every tongue Thursday.

The legislation had been delayed while the government addressed concerns that it wouldn’t adequately respect Indigenous communities’ sovereignty and authority over their own children.

Thursday, First Nations, Inuit and Metis leaders applauded the new bill as a turning point in Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination and reconciliation.

The bill, C-92, emphasizes the need for the child-welfare system to promote more preventative care and support for families instead of apprehending Indigenous children from their mothers.

It outlines factors that have to be taken into consideration when determining the best interests of an Indigenous child, including not only the child’s physical and emotional needs, but also cultural and spiritual upbringing; the child’s own views and preferences; and the importance to the child of an ongoing, positive relationship with his or her family and Indigenous community.

READ MORE: Federal bill would make Sept. 30 holiday for Indigenous reconciliation

READ MORE: Trudeau Liberals face pushback on Indigenous child welfare legislation

It also will clearly indicate that no Indigenous child will be taken from a family solely due to poverty, lack of housing or the state of the parents’ health.

An order of preference will be established to ensure that if an Indigenous child must be removed from a parent, he or she will go to a family member or an adult who belongs to the same Indigenous community. The bill also stresses that siblings should be kept together when it is in their best interest.

O’Regan called the legislation “historic,” saying the goal is to see fewer Indigenous children taken from their families.

“Fewer children will be apprehended, more children will stay with their families, more children will stay in their communities and that will make for happier, healthier children in this country,” O’Reagan said.

Child welfare legislation was one of the first five calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said the legislation is an important first step, but he stressed the need to have it passed before Parliament dissolves for the October election.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national organization representing Inuit in Canada, said he was encouraged by the co-operation offered by the Trudeau government to Indigenous communities in crafting this bill.

“This is a major milestone,” Obed said.

“Within child welfare, this legislation will hopefully be able to push back against the colonial legacy that we face all around us in this country in relation to federal legislation and provincial and territorial legislation and in general attitudes about our children and, in many cases, the disregard that most Canadians have had about the plight of Indigenous children in this country.”

Speaking of that Indigenous mother-to-be in Winnipeg or elsewhere in the country, Philpott pleaded for new ways to ensure her child remains safe.

“Maybe there are challenges for that mom. Maybe she wasn’t raised by her own mom and therefore might struggle. Or maybe she’s had health issues, maybe she’s been so traumatized in her life that she’s dependent on substances to be able to deal with her pain,” Philpott said.

“The solution for that mom and that baby is not to rip them apart. We’ve got to find another way … This is not just important for First Nations, Inuit and Metis families. This is essential for our entire country.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Backlog reduced at Langley adult day program

Wait list goes from months to weeks

Langley golfer Erin Lee wins major Pitt Meadows tournament

Maple Leaf Junior Golf Tour (MJT) gets underway at Swan-e-Set Bay Resort

VIDEO: Langley Trappers lose to Wolf Pack in PJHL final

North Vancouver makes it four in a row

VIDEO: Vancouver fall to Seattle in Game 2 of the playoffs

Thunderbirds topple the Giants 4-1 in Langley, evening the Western Conference series one game each

VIDEO: Stolen Bentley seen driving wrong way in viral video has been recovered

Dash cam captured coupe nearly colliding with oncoming traffic

Mueller finds no Trump collusion, leaves obstruction open

But while Mueller fully ruled out criminal collusion, he was more circumspect on presidential obstruction of justice

Sparks fly as SUV speeds down wrong side of Highway 1 trying to flee RCMP

Captured on video, the vehicle headed westbound against oncoming traffic before crashing

Fundraising campaign launched for man caught in SilverStar avalanche

In only two days, the GoFundMe surpassed its $15,000 goal

B.C. doctor reprimanded for accessing medical records without consent

Doctor admits to accessing records of the woman carrying his child

Video service to compete with Netflix, Amazon expected from Apple on Monday

The iPhone has long been Apple’s marquee product and main money maker, but sales are starting to decline

Edmonton judge to rule on whether Omar Khadr’s sentence has expired

Canada’s top court ruled punishment handed Khadr for alleged acts committed in Afghanistan when he was 15 was to be a youth sentence

Kootenay city councillor starts nationwide climate caucus for municipal politicians

Climate Leadership Caucus has 57 members including seven mayors

Trudeau delivers campaign-style speech while introducing candidate Taggart

The Order of British Columbia recipient said she wants to be the people’s voice in Ottawa

Stolen Bentley spotted going wrong way down highway found in Summerland

The car has been recorded going the wrong way on the Coquihalla, found two days later

Most Read