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This article was published 11/1/2019 (335 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hundreds of thousands of viewers of a Facebook live video posted Thursday have witnessed the apprehension of a baby by social workers — an emotionally charged episode that happens near-daily at Manitoba hospitals — leading to a renewed call to overhaul the child-welfare system.
In the roughly 17-minute-long video, members of Child and Family Services and the Winnipeg Police Service can be seen taking a baby away from her sobbing mother, who’s seated on a bed at St. Boniface Hospital.
The baby girl was reportedly two days old.
"The reality is this happens every single day, just not every family is able to capture a video or feels the courage to be able to post it the way that this family has done," Cora Morgan, the First Nations family advocate, said Friday.
According to the family — who spoke to media Friday, but whom the Free Press cannot legally name because the child is in CFS care — the Winnipeg mother was in contact with CFS while pregnant, seeking parenting and addictions support.
The mother had arranged for an aunt to take care of her baby if CFS said she was unable to do so herself, the family said. CFS still apprehended the baby, despite the plan, Morgan said.
She also said CFS called after the Facebook video was posted and warned the family to take it down or they'd have difficulty getting the baby back.
"The system has all these mechanisms of confidentiality and those measures are there just to protect the system. It’s not protecting our newborn babies, it’s not protecting our children, it’s not protecting our mothers," Morgan said.
'In the system, as a mother, as a father, as a grandparent, they're always deemed guilty of something and there's no mechanism to ever prove you're innocent' – Cora Morgan
The mother in question also weighed in, saying she was disappointed with how CFS handled her situation.
"This is just a huge let-down and it's just astonishing how far this had to go," she said. "I'm really appreciative of all the support and encouragement I've received."
The video, filmed by an uncle and described as a "CFS KIDNAPPING" on Facebook, was shared more than 15,000 times online by Friday afternoon, and had more than 480,000 views.
Despite the family wanting to go public about their plight, the Manitoba advocate for child and youth, Daphne Penrose, said the child’s rights need to be respected.
"This has caught a lot of media attention, but there’s a little baby at the other end of this. And if that baby’s name becomes public… then as they grow up and as they navigate through life, this would follow them. That’s the piece that we have to be cautious of," she said, adding her office will continue monitoring the case.
Agency workers allegedly told the family the pregnant mother appeared intoxicated when she arrived at the hospital to give birth. The family said Friday this wasn’t true, countering she was having labour pains and needed medication.
It’s unclear when or if the baby might be returned to her family. They believe the mother was marked with a "birth alert" by CFS, since she had another child involved with the system decades earlier.
Child welfare agencies issue "birth alerts" for babies they believe could be subject to unsafe environments.
A provincial families department spokesperson said there were 558 birth alerts issued during the 2017-18 fiscal year, with 282 newborns under four days old taken into care.
Debbie Besant, chief executive officer of the General Child and Family Services Authority, said she personally reviewed the file of the family in focus Friday, spoke to staff involved, and is "confident" in the choices made.
"Apprehending a child is a very difficult decision, and is done only as a last resort and when required to ensure children are kept safe," Besant said in a prepared statement, adding family reunification is always a top priority.
'This video has opened up dialogue and a discourse that needs to happen. The system that we’re subject to is not a system that is for our people' – MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said the case highlights a need to "overhaul" CFS and give Indigenous people more control.
"No mother should have to go through what she went through, of any ethnic background whatsoever. But this video has opened up dialogue and a discourse that needs to happen. The system that we’re subject to is not a system that is for our people. As Indigenous people, we have our own ways, we have our own laws that have sustained us since time immemorial," Settee said.
"(The CFS) system is discriminatory. That system is brutal. That system needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed now."
Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson issued a statement noting the province is already making changes.
"I am saddened to see a family’s situation result in an apprehension, which is meant to be used as a last resort when there are serious concerns about a child’s safety," she wrote. "Our government is focused on strengthening family bonds and reducing apprehensions through child-welfare system reform...
"Over the past year, we have seen a reduction in the number of children in care, an increase in family reunifications and a decrease in apprehensions by more than nine per cent."
Manitoba had 10,714 children in care — more than any other province — according to the government’s most recent annual report from March 2018.
Statistics obtained by the Manitoba Liberal Party through freedom-of-information law show more than 300 children under 32 days old were apprehended by CFS during every fiscal year since 2013-14.
The Tories formed government in 2016, after 17 years of NDP rule. The numbers of annual apprehensions remain similar.
"What is disturbing and frustrating is that the current PC government has done nothing of substance to turn this around," said Liberal MLA Judy Klassen (Kewatinook).
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says the video of a Child and Family Services apprehension at a Winnipeg hospital is "disturbing."
"It certainly begs the question as to whether or not this family was treated in a way where the unity of the family and the bond between parent and child was respected as something that had to be taken into serious consideration," she said Friday.
The federal government has promised new legislation this year, aimed at keeping more Indigenous families together, and Philpott said consultations to date have raised recurring themes.
"One of the specific things that we heard from people is that the emphasis has to be on prevention, and to look for every possible way that we can support families to be together," the minister said.
– With files from the Canadian Press
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Friday, January 11, 2019 at 1:51 PM CST: Adds audio.
5:08 PM: Adds factbox
7:05 PM: removes photo