By Miranda Leybourne
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
First Nations and Indigenous groups are commending the Manitoba government’s decision not to appeal a May ruling that stated the province wrongly kept an estimated $334 million in federal benefits meant for children in care.
The amount includes $251 million from Indigenous child and family services agencies. In May, a Court of Queen’s Bench justice ruled the province violated the rights of Indigenous children in care by clawing back federal payments called the Children’s Special Allowance. The money goes to agencies responsible for children in care and mirrors the Canada Child Benefit given to parents who are raising kids.
The former NDP government started the clawback in 2006. The Progressive Conservative government ended it in 2019, but also passed a law to try to ban any legal action over it.
In a press release from the province released yesterday, the government stated it is creating a collaborative table to address policy and legislative issues affecting Indigenous peoples that will include representation from Indigenous governments and organizations.
Provincial Families Minister Rochelle Squires told the Sun the government respects the May ruling.
“We certainly know that we need to move forward in building a better child welfare system in the province of Manitoba. That is something the province ? is committed to.”
Squires said the province recognizes how the system has failed the children of Manitoba, something that echoed, in part, the residential school system.
“I reflect often on the words of the Honourable Murray Sinclair when he was working on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. He said that ? the monster that had lived in the residential school system had taken up a new home, and that new home was the child welfare system, and that change needed to be made,” Squires said.
“It’s those words that certainly guide many of the actions we’re taking towards working collaboratively with Indigenous communities, families and leaders to ensure that we build a better child welfare system in the province of Manitoba and ensure that all children are well-served so that they can build a bright future.”
Squires said she spent Wednesday speaking with Indigenous leaders in the province, and that she was very humbled by the reception she received during those talks.
“ 1/8I’m 3/8 really pleased about the willingness to walk together on this journey of building a better child welfare system with Indigenous leaders.”
In another press release Thursday, this time released by the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF), Mona Buors, the MMF’s minister for
Metis Child and Family Services, said the organization is pleased the government has accepted the court’s decision.
“While there are still outstanding decisions to be made about how the money will be returned to them, we are seeing that the provincial government is acting in good faith, which gives us hope that the matter will be resolved soon.”
The MMF said in the release the money should go directly to children in care and not be used to offset the operating costs of agencies, or for providing necessities for kids.
“That’s why our view has always been that this court case is about fighting for our kids and the financial head start that they need and deserve,” Buors said in the release.
Funds for the children who remain in care will be set aside in a trust until they are ready to start transitioning out of care, the MMF said.
Young people who have aged out of care were also adversely affected. In a phone interview with the Sun, Buors said that some youth who aged out of care are homeless as a result of a lack of funds to help them transition out of care.
Buors said the MMF did its very best since the clawbacks started to look after its children in care through the Metis Spirit Program.
This includes plans for the creation of a transitional house for youth called Mazoun, which will be built in Winnipeg.
“You hear it all the time, the MMF has your back, and that’s a true statement, especially with our kids in care,” Buors said. “We had to be creative and find our own resources.
“Now that the province has determined not to appeal the decision of the courts, we ask that this matter rapidly move forward in good faith.”
The first meeting for the new collaborative table is scheduled for Aug. 11, when Squires said talks will begin about changes that need to be made to the child welfare system, including what implications there are in respect to the judicial ruling.
Miranda Leybourne is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter who works out of the BRANDON SUN. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.