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Human rights tribunal fines Indigenous child-care agency $150K for discriminating against mother

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The BC Human Rights Court awarded $150,000 to an Indigenous mother who lost access to all four children. This is a scathing and “unprecedented” ruling against Canada’s longest-serving Indigenous child care institution.

In a decision released Wednesday, court member Devin Cousineau said the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS) had decided that based on the decision on women’s custody, it was “mentally unhealthy.” found that it was based on ‘stereotypes’ about her as a troubled Indigenous mother.

This prize is the second highest in the court’s history.

“This is an unprecedented grievance. It reveals the power of systemic discrimination and its profound impact on Indigenous mothers,” wrote Cousineau.

“In my view, this is a complaint that justifies a maximum award of human rights violations.”

Cascade of Conflict

The 151-page ruling details the involvement of the woman, known as RR, to both the BC Department of Children and Family Services and VACFSS.

According to the determination, RR was identified as Afro-Indigenous and was raised in the Pacific Northwest by parents who were multi-generational survivors of the boarding school system.

The BC Human Rights Court said the complaint was “unprecedented.” This prize is her second highest in the history of the court. (Daryl Dyke/Canadian Press)

In 2003, when she was 20, she had her first child. She became involved with the ministry six days later.

The woman lost visitation to her three children in 2013, but regained custody later that year. In 2014, she gave birth to a son, but died of a viral infection five months after birth.

RR was exonerated of responsibility for the boy’s death, but Cousineau said “lingering allegations overshadowed her record with child welfare authorities” in the events that led to the complaint.

Activism Seen as a “Direct Threat”

According to the ruling, the incident that triggered the string of disputes with VACFSS was a 2016 complaint from RR’s eldest son who claimed RR “physically assaulted her.”

The teenager later withdrew the allegations, but an investigation resulted in the children being removed from her care and placed in foster care.

Students walk past a display for Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2021. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Over the ensuing years, Casinor said RR had limited access to the children, eventually attempting to “understand and complete the steps VACFSS wanted to take to return the children.” Therefore, he said he gave up.

According to the decision, RR expressed concern about RR’s decision to speak on a radio program about child welfare and plans to hold rallies, stating that her “activities have a direct impact on the safety of those who access that activity and its services.” considered to be a threat.

She was banned from the agency’s office for six months in 2018 and completely lost contact with her children. Meanwhile, she became homeless, the police got involved, and RR took her case to court.

It wasn’t until 2019 that the woman was reunited with her children. After an Indigenous Peoples Court ruled that they agreed to temporary custody on the condition that they secure housing and return family files to the Department of Children and Family Services.

“stereotype lens”

Cousineau said there was evidence to indicate that VACFSS had no reasonable basis to believe that RR’s children faced the possibility of physical or psychological harm in reaching her decision.

“Rather, the crux of this alleged child protection concern was RR’s conflict with VACFSS,” the decision said.

The woman lost contact with all four children at some point. The court determined that the authorities lacked grounds for a reasonable belief that the children had faced mental or physical harm. (Shutterstock)

Mr Cousineau said the case was a reflection of the effects of colonization on the child welfare system and the impact of “parents on the one hand and the many people and professionals empowered to make and influence decisions about children on the other.” It highlights a “severe power imbalance between the home and the

“This is what happened to RR. As I said, the VACFSS record and its evidence at this hearing contained a number of derogatory and critical comments about RR,” Cousineau said. is writing

“In short, I am pleased that VACFSS viewed RR through a stereotypical lens throughout the relevant period. I came to regard it as

This decision indicates that RR’s race and disability were factors in the decision by authorities to continue detention.

“VACFSS relied on stereotypical assumptions to consider RR trauma, drug use, conflict with the child welfare system, and the intergenerational impact of boarding schools as risk factors for children,” the ruling stated. ing.

“RR’s fear and mistrust of the child welfare system was based on her life experience as an Indigenous woman. there was.”

“Precedent… reverberates all over the country”

RR co-lawyer Aleem Bharmal said the case “exposes the systemic power of discrimination affecting Indigenous mothers.”

“This decision is a win for RR as individuals,” Vermal said. “But the precedent it set will reverberate across the country.”

VACFSS issued a written statement Wednesday said she “acknowledges the pain” RR has experienced and “the challenges her children have faced because of the circumstances and history.”

The statement said VACFSS is currently considering a decision, but said, “But please be careful.[s] The focus of the decision was on mothers’ rights, but from the VACFSS perspective, parental rights must be balanced with the well-being of their children and our responsibility to care for and respect them as a “sacred bundle.” not. “

He went on to say that while VACFSS is already prioritizing policies and training to serve Indigenous families, it will “explore other learning and We will continue to enhance and expand our collaboration and processes.”

According to the decision, VACFSS was founded by Indigenous leaders to “stop the flow of Aboriginal children entering government foster homes” and provide an alternative to colonial-era child welfare. .

“With its roots in Vancouver’s urban Indigenous communities, significant efforts to reduce or eliminate the discriminatory impact of child welfare are important and recognized,” Cousineau wrote.

“At the same time, we remain obligated to apply state child welfare laws.”

Vermal said the agency still operated under what he described as “a command and control system with roots that evolved from the residential care system.”

“So even if there were agencies that were more aware and aware of these issues, they could still be exposed to the same discriminatory and prejudicial attitudes.”

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