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This article was published 16/12/2020 (286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Indigenous leaders are joining forces to push back on the Pallister government’s attempt to quash two unresolved lawsuits over the province’s clawback of around $338 million of federal funds meant for children in foster care.
Southern chiefs and the Manitoba Metis Federation have asked a Manitoba judge to declare part of this year’s budget bill unconstitutional, for removing the rights of Indigenous children to seek compensation.
"Manitoba has unlawfully balanced its books on the back of off-reserve, Indigenous children in care, who are some of the most vulnerable members of our society," reads a recent notice of application, which has not been tested in court.
The issue surrounds the Children’s Special Allowance, which is a federal transfer for kids in foster care, pegged at the highest amount the Canada Child Benefit would offer a parent whose child lives at home.
The intent of the CSA is to help with anything from immediate nutrition to long-term education savings.
Around 2005, the former Manitoba NDP government asked Indigenous foster care agencies to remit the CSA to the province, and started clawing back funds in 2010 for those who didn’t — arguing the money would help pay for child-welfare expenses.
The PCs decried the practice until they formed government, and allocated that funding as general revenue until April 2019.
The legislature passed the Pallister government’s spring budget into law last month, and the omnibus bill includes a clause that retroactively deems all CSA money as part of the province’s child-welfare funding.
Bill 2 also voids two ongoing lawsuits seeking compensation, as well as future "costs, compensation or damages" and "any (legal) action or proceeding," which the plaintiffs argue is a violation of access to justice.
The argument contends a federal standard on child welfare the Trudeau government implemented in January makes the practice illegal.
The plaintiffs want the $338 million returned, as well as "a declaration that Manitoba’s actions and conduct described herein are arbitrary, deliberate, callous, highhanded, and reckless" and "cannot be reasonably and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."
A spokesman for Families Minister Heather Stefanson characterized the clawback as "an historical practice of the previous NDP government, and Bill 2 is allowing us to move past that" — though Manitoba has not returned that money.
Stefanson’s office argued her government’s child-welfare reforms have better structured funding for agencies.
"We cannot comment on a matter currently before the court. However, our government remains focused on keeping families together and reducing the number of children in CFS care," reads the statement.