Provincial Court rules in favour of Huu-ay-aht mother, reuniting her with her baby

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is very pleased to announce that, almost two months after she gave birth to her new daughter, a new mother is now able to return home to Port Alberni with her baby.

The Nation received word on Wednesday afternoon that Provincial Court of British Columbia Judge Flewelling ruled in favour of the mother (LS), stating that the baby must be returned to the custody of her mother no later than Saturday, March 17, 2018. The mother and child will reside in Port Alberni with Huu-ay-aht family. The Nation will offer ongoing supervision and support to both mother and child when needed. The mother will also participate in recommended programs and services, including Nuu-chah-nulth and Huu-ay-aht specific programs.

“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,” explains Maegen Giltrow, counsel for the mother and Huu-ay-aht. “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” (para. 94), 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” (paras. 87 and 95). The Court pointed specifically to evidence of the harm arising from disrupted attachment for newborns (paras. 38 and 98).

For almost two months, the future of this child has been in question, after the Ministry of Children and Family Development apprehended the baby girl only three days after she was born, without sufficient reason. Since that time, the mother has been living out of a motel room in Courtenay BC, more than 100 kilometres away from her community in Port Alberni, in order to have access to her baby. Following a BC Supreme Court Ruling in mid-February (2018 BCSC 255), the mother was given more access to her child for bonding and breastfeeding purposes. Although pleased by that victory, Huu-ay-aht First Nations continued to press in Provincial Court that being returned to her mother was what was in the child’s best interest.

The Court held that “In Courtenay, LS does not have the supports that she needs from her own community and family and which are available to her in Port Alberni. That support and assistance are essential for her to properly care for her baby” (para. 89).

 “This ruling helps establish a solid foundation for mom and baby to begin a happy and healthy life together, with support of family and community,” explains Huu-ay-aht Councillor Sheila Charles. “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.”

This ruling supports the approach the Nation has taken in implementing the 30 recommendations from an independent Social Services Panel on how to “Bring Our Children Home” and stop the cycle of breaking Huu-ay-aht families up into the foster care system (Full report: https://huuayaht.org/social-services-project/ ). Everyone involved in making this a reality hopes this is just the beginning, and that the Nation will eventually realize its dream of having no Huu-ay-aht children in care.

“Huu-ay-aht has a strong and accountable plan for ensuring our children grow up safe, healthy, and connected with their Huu-ay-aht family and culture. We can’t do it alone,” adds Councillor Charles. “We need the provincial and federal governments to do their part. Today’s decision is helpful in setting clear standards to ensure Indigenous communities are part of the planning for our children.”

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