After Manitoba First Nations and Métis leadership took the provincial government to task Tuesday on a controversial omnibus bill via a video news conference, Families Minister Heather Stefanson released a statement.
The three leaders — Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand, Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) and Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak — spoke of a provincial government robbing children in care to the tune of $250 million over the past decade.
They asserted the government continues to use questionable practices to claw back the federally legislated and funded Children’s Special Allowance for individual children, which is much the same as the Canada child benefit.
Chartrand said, for example, that amounts to $7.7 million annually for Métis children in care alone.
The leaders also said the government’s new method of block funding for child and family services agencies is a roundabout way of continuing to claw back that federal money for children.
"Our government remains focused on keeping families together and reducing the number of children in CFS (Child and Family Services) care, in partnership with organizations such as MKO, SCO and MMF as well as child welfare authorities and agencies," Stefanson said.
"Requiring that authorities and agencies remit the Children’s Special Allowance back to the province is an historical practice of the previous NDP government, and this legislation allows us to move past that practice."
The legislation introduced by government includes specifically dismissing two live court cases.
The first case, filed in 2018, is on behalf of Peguis Child and Family Services, Animikii Ozoson Child and Family Services, Southeast Child and Family Services, Sandy Bay Child and Family Services, Michif Child and Family Services and Metis Child, Family and Community Services.
The parties are seeking an order from the court for the province to cease the practice of clawing back the Children’s Special Allowance by any method.
The second case is a class-action lawsuit to recoup the estimated $250 million for children formerly and currently in care, which disproportionately affects Indigenous children since of the approximately 10,000 to 11,000 children in care in the province, 80 to 90 per cent are Indigenous.
Chartrand said yesterday the leaders would pursue the matter at the Supreme Court of Canada if need be.
"We will protect the children come hell or high water," he said.
Stefanson said, "Under our government, agencies and authorities began retaining the Children’s Special Allowance in April 2019 and also receive single-envelope funding from the province. Single-envelope funding will provide over $400 million to the authorities and their agencies in 2020-21."
She said that’s a $15-million increase compared to what agencies received before single-envelope funding was introduced.
"Our 2017 single-envelope funding pilot project involving eight CFS agencies resulted in an 18 per cent decrease in the number of children entering CFS care, and we are confident that similar results will be replicated throughout our province in the coming months and years," she added.
A department spokesperson said Stefanson will respond to a letter from the three leaders very soon, "and we look forward to continuing our positive working relationship with the leadership council during this difficult time."
The leaders indicated Tuesday the leadership council hadn’t met since May last year and were blindsided by the government’s proposed legislation.
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.
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