The following news article from the right-wing magazine BC Report may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
Bill Christiansen wanted to do some good. Hired by the Ministry of Social Services in 1996 as the native youth and family advocate for the Terrace office, his job was to help Indian families understand the role of social workers. But he quickly became disillusioned with a system that often hurts children more than it helps. He quit in the summer of 1997, shortly after the new Ministry for Children and Families (MCF) was created, and now says he can no longer keep quiet about his experiences. "A lot of people just won't say anything, either for fear of losing their funding," says Mr. Christiansen, a soft-spoken man who grew up on the Kitsumkalum reserve. "I believe they have to hear it."
Mr. Christiansen alleges that Indian children were apprehended by social workers and put in foster homes not because they were abused, but because their parents had past problems with alcohol and drugs. In the case of one Indian mother - a woman whom Mr. Christiansen says had conquered a drinking problem - social workers arrived at the hospital in Terrace to await the birth of her baby girl so they could apprehend her. He also heard a ministry social worker remark in a meeting that "the only solution to help these aboriginal people is put them in adoption." This sentiment has been common in BC since 1995. That was the year of the release of the Gove inquiry into the death of Matthew Vaudreuil, a Fort St. John boy who was killed by his mother despite repeated interventions from social workers.
The inquiry led to the creation of the MCF - and a mindset that family lawyers, psychologists and parents rights advocates say has made social workers so afraid of one another Vaudreuil case they now apprehend given the merest hint of abuse - even a telephone call from an estranged parent. Mr. Christiansen argues that this new child protection regime hurts Indian families the most, because they are far more likely to be known to social workers. August 1998 figures show that 38% of the children in "continuing custody" of the ministry - those in foster homes or staying with other relatives - were Indian. In the North West region, which includes Terrace, the figure was 78% (Indians are about 4% of the BC population.)
Dr. John Goyeche, a Kelowna psychologist who believes the ministry takes too many children from their parents says "systemic racism" is partly to blame for the inordinate numbers of Indian children in foster homes. Stan Parenteau, deputy director of aboriginal services for the ministry, denies race is a factor, but says he cannot really explain why Indians make up such a large proportion of children in MCF care. Mr Parenteau does not think many children are being apprehended without cause, since social workers must always justify their decision in court. "The courts are, in part, ensuring that we're operating within the legislation when we remove a child," he says.
Perhaps so, but Dr. Goyeche believes the legislation (the Child, Family and Community Service Act) and MCF policies make it far too easy to apprehend children. Ever since Gove social workers have been pressured to look into a person's past for any sign he or she might be an unfit parent. Drug and alcohol use, rampant on many Indian reserves, are among the warning signs. Such information is plugged into a "risk assessment" model that social workers use to determine likely child abusers. Risk assessment is not universally recognized, however. "It is based on the idea you can predict who's going to abuse or not," says Gerald Cradock, a former child protection worker with the Ministry of Social Services. "Such a thing is impossible. It's a farce."
Critics say risk assessment causes more harm than it prevents, as children are traumatized by being taken away from loving and capable parents. That is what Mr. Christiansen says happened in Terrace. Even worse, he believes some children were put in abusive or neglectful foster homes. One of the cases he dealt with involved a five-year-old boy who had been apprehended because his mother had a drinking problem. After several months in a foster home, the boy starts behaving violently on his visits with his mother: screaming, kicking and grabbing things. "The child actually said he was going to kill himself and held a toy gun to his head," says Mr. Christiansen. Hel also began showing sexually aggressive behaviour, grabbing the crotch of his three-year-old sister (who was in the foster home) and putting his tongue in his mother's mouth when he kissed her.
Mr. Christiansen is convinced the boy learned such behaviour while in foster care. When he brought it up with the ministry, they investigated and decided to send both children to different foster homes. But they refused to say why, Mr. Christiansen reports. In another case, an 18-month-old girl in a foster home broke her leg. Her parents later found out from a doctor that the foster family waited four days before they took the girl to hospital. Despite the abuse that sometimes occurs in foster homes, social workers continue to place children in them at a remarkable rate. In the last six years, the number of children in government care has jumped from 6,000 to more than 9,000.
Family lawyers maintain that the MCF exhibits a police state mentality: apprehend first, ask questions later. Westbank lawyer West Munson describes a recent case he saw in which a father accused his ex-wife of abusing their eight-year-old child. The father claimed he had another witness: an employee at the store across the street. When the social worker investigated, she found that at the time of the alleged incident, the store was actually closed - casting doubt on the entire story. Nonetheless, the social worker took the child. A year later the mother is still trying to get her child back. According to Mr. Munson, "A lot of social workers don't like the fact these people get lawyers to explain they have rights."
Your captains and princes promised to respect our laws. They told us of a proclamation from your king that guaranteed that respect. They told us how this proclamation acknowledged our right to live unmolested and undisturbed in our lands, and how your king would commit his armies to remove trespassers from our lands. No one could move onto our lands without our consent.
When your ancestors violated that respect, we were told that they were criminals, and that your governments would correct the wrongs done by them. We have since come to learn that it was your governments that were, in fact, the criminals. It was your governments that were breaking your own laws in extending their jurisdiction into our land.
We have been asked to review your child protection legislation and recommend changes as it affects our people. In doing so, we are put in a contradictory position, since we do not believe that your laws apply to our people. We believe that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 provides a constitutional basis for your laws and recognizes our right to live under our laws. We believe that right is recognized in your Canada Act 1982 as one of the existing rights of Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, your governments and your courts have not enforced those laws.
They have enforced the extension of your law onto our land and applied them to our people with devastating effects. This has been particularly true of your child protection laws. Your child protection laws have devastated our cultures and our family life. This must come to an end...
Your present laws empower your Superintendent of Child and Family Service and your courts to remove our children from our Nations, and place them in the care and custody of others. The first step to righting the wrongs done to us is to limit the authority to interfere in the lives of our families, and to provide remedies other than the removal of our children from our Nations. This must be accompanied by the financial resources we require to heal the wounds inflicted upon us. At the same time, the responsibilities and jurisdictions vested in your Superintendent and the family courts must be vested in our Nations. Finally, as our Nations assert our own family laws to meet our contemporary needs, as we rebuild the authority usurped from our Nations, the laws of our Nations must have paramountcy over your laws as they apply to our people."
- from Liberating our Children - Liberating our Nations: Report of the Aboriginal Committee, Family and Children's Services Legislation Review in British Columbia, October 1992, ISBN O - 7718-9294-2
"Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a) Killing members of the group;- United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948, Article II
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction, in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."