“We’re going to actually physically remove the baby” – these words, unthinkable to any mother, were streamed on Facebook Live and have since prompted angry accusations of state discrimination against indigenous people in Canada.
The edict was delivered by a cop as he was taking a newborn girl away from an indigenous woman at a hospital in the Canadian province of Manitoba this week. The mother was accused of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and of being drunk when arriving to give birth – claims that she and her relatives vigorously deny.
In the footage, which instantly went viral, the infant’s mother is seen hugging her baby when social services and police officers arrive. They tell the woman that “Child and Family Services (CFS) have the power to apprehend a child” and that the newborn will be placed into care.
The mother’s plea to spend at least a few more minutes with her baby is rejected with a harsh and simple “No.”
The woman also isn’t told when she’ll be able to see her child again. The girl is then placed in a baby car seat and taken away. Neither the mother nor her relatives try to resist the authorities, but cry and weep in sorrow.
Even more shocking than the video itself is the fact that apprehensions of newborns such as this occur, on average, about once every day in Manitoba, official records show. More than 10,000 children are currently in CFS care in the province and around 90 percent have an indigenous parent or parents.
The Facebook video has attracted public attention to the sad statistics, with the mother and her family vowing to fight to bring the child back. During a press-conference on Friday, the woman, whose name can’t be revealed under Manitoba law, said she thought that her little girl would be given to one of her relatives and was “blindsided” when told that, in fact, the child services were taking her.
“It’s just astonishing how far this had to go,” she said, but added that she was “very hopeful things are going to work out in a positive way.”
The CEO of General Child and Family Services Authority, Debbie Besant, said that she was “confident” the decision to separate the mother and her baby was right. However, she insisted that apprehending a child is a measure used “only as a last resort.”
Grand Chief Garrison Settee, who represents northern Manitoba First Nations, was by the mother’s side and the leader blasted the Canadian child service, saying that “the system that we’re subject to isn’t a system for our people.”
“As Indigenous people, we have our own ways, we have our own laws that have sustained us since time immemorial,” he said. “Those ways have been taken from us. The authority has been taken from us to govern ourselves and to govern our people with our own laws, with our own child welfare systems.”
Lawyer Cora Morgan suggested that the woman was deprived of her child only because she was already in the database after seeking help for addiction and had her other child temporarily in care a few years ago. She became a victim of the so-called “birth alert” when social workers are notified that the expectant mother is ‘high-risk’, she 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,” Morgan explained, adding claims of her client being intoxicated when arriving to hospital were false. She criticized the authorities for ignoring a notarized custody agreement that would have the baby’s aunt take care of her niece. Morgan added that officials that took the baby carried it outside in freezing temperatures without proper clothing.
“They say the family is incapable of taking care of the baby and they take her away,” she said. “This is how they treat a new life.”
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