Court orders Huu-ay-aht child returned to mother's care
Provincial Court of British Columbia Judge Flewelling ruled on March 13 in favour of a Huu-ay-aht mother, ordering that her baby must be returned to the custody of her mother no later within days. The mother and child will reside in Port Alberni with Huu-ay-aht family.
Huu-ay-aht First Nations took part in the child protection proceedings initiated by the Ministry of Children and Family Services itself, represented by Ratcliff lawyers Maegen Giltrow and Melinda Skeels.
Bernard Richard, the province’s representative for children – who had said the decision to place the baby in care was based on a racist, paternalistic approach to child welfare – called the ruling a win for the newborn and said such judgments are rare at this stage of the legal process.
“This judgment provides strong recognition of the importance of the maternal/infant bond, and the obligation upon the Ministry to fully consider the supports that are available to keep mom and baby together rather than simply removing the infant from the mother,” explained Ms.Giltrow. “This is an especially important recognition of the role of the Huu-ay-aht community in supporting one of its citizens as she moves into the role of new mother.”
The Court said specifically that the Director of Child, Family and Community Services “must establish that she has been active and diligent in attempting to find other alternatives to removing a child before a final determination that there are no other less disruptive means of protecting the child”, and that the “least disruptive means” must be viewed from the child’s perspective, which includes that the child be “spared as little disruption and emotional distress as possible”. The Court pointed specifically to evidence of the harm arising from disrupted attachment for newborns.
Sheila Charles, a Huu-ay-aht councillor, said the ruling “helps establish a solid foundation for mom and baby to begin a happy and healthy life together, with support of family and community. “With this strong foundation, this baby will have every opportunity to grow up safe, supported, and loved by both her mother’s and father’s First Nations,” she stated.