$1B class action suit related to child welfare system filed against Manitoba government, Attorney General of Canada

A $1 billion class-action lawsuit has been filed in the Court of King’s Bench against the Government of Manitoba and the Attorney General of Canada related to the child welfare system in Manitoba.

The suit has been filed by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and the First Nations Family Advocate Office, alleging the system failed the children, their families and their First Nations.

“Before colonization, it would be unthinkable to remove a child from their family, nation, lands and culture. The lawsuit is necessary to hold governments accountable for the harm they have caused for decades,” said Cornell McLean, the deputy Grand Chief of the AMC.

Cora Morgan is the First Nations Family Advocate with the AMC and she said since she took the role seven years ago, the consistent message she has heard is the system is breaking the bond between mother and child.

“We work to repair the harms of the child welfare system. We work to reunite families. We have been successful at reuniting or preventing the apprehension of over 4,300 children. However, there are still more children in the system. There is so much damage that has been done that we cannot undo,” said Morgan.

She said the outcomes for children in care include homelessness, incarceration and mental health issues, negative aspects she says most Canadians don’t have to deal with.

“This is very important that we are taking these steps because it’s finally giving a voice to those youth and to those parents and to our nations. Because our most vulnerable citizens have been stolen for decades, arguably over 150 years we’ve had the issue of stolen children in this land.”

Morgan said in this age of reconciliation, there needs to be accountability and the systems should have been fixed a long time ago, adding no more damage can be done.

The lawsuit covers children living off reserve going back to 1992 who were apprehended by Child and Family Services and placed into foster care in Manitoba.

The time period marks the end of the Sixties Scoop settlement process but lawyers for the plaintiffs said it’s also when governments were given fair warning about the impacts of the child welfare system.

The Misipawistik Cree Nation, Black River First Nation and Pimicikamak Cree Nation and three people who’ve had involvement with the system are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“I’m bringing this case because I believe that no child should grow up away from the love and care of their family,” said Roberta Godin, who’s one of the plaintiffs, during a news conference held by AMC.

Another one of the plaintiffs, Amber Laplante, spoke of her own experiences.

“When I was in care I was exposed to violence and trauma,” Laplante told the news conference. “I was always treated as a problem and never as a person. I never received the support I needed to heal.” 

The legal team for the lawsuit said there are over 11,000 children in the child and family services system and of those children, approximately 80 per cent are First Nations. They added that 61 per cent of children in the northern authority and 75 per cent of children in the southern authority were taken into the system off-reserve, which falls under provincial jurisdiction.

This move comes after the federal government settled two class-action cases related to the child welfare system with the Assembly of First Nations that totalled $20 billion.

Rochelle Squires, Manitoba’s Families Minister, told reporters the government is aware of the lawsuit but couldn’t comment on it specifically as it’s now before the courts.

“But what I can say is our government recognizes there is a need for transformation in the CFS system,” Squires said. “That is why we have eliminated the practice of issuing birth alerts and have since achieved a 65 per cent reduction in the apprehension of newborns.”

“We are committed to achieving systemic reform so that families can be reunified where possible and that we can prevent children from coming into care in the first place.”

CTV News has reached out to the federal government and is awaiting a response.

– With files from CTV News’ Josh Crabb

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