Manitoba Liberals Request Supreme Court Reference to Ensure Justice for Indigenous Children in Care

October 20, 2020

TREATY 1 TERRITORY, WINNIPEG, MB - Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St. Boniface, Dougald Lamont, has written to the Federal Cabinet to ask them to consider referring two controversial sections in Manitoba's budget to the Supreme Court to rule whether they are constitutional.

One measure in Manitoba's Budget and Tax Statutes Implementation Act (BITSA), or Bill 2, would cancel all court cases by former and current Indigenous children in care who are trying to get back $338-million in special allowances taken from them by the Manitoba Government between 2005 and 2019. Another seeks to break a lease on a specially outfitted home for high-risk, high-needs Indigenous children in care.

Lamont said the Manitoba Liberals are hoping the Supreme Court will overrule the Pallister PCs attempt to deny people who have been hurt by the actions of government to get their day in court.

"We believe that in a free and democratic country governed by the rule of law, the Premier doesn't get to pick and choose which contracts will be enforced or who gets to seek justice," said Lamont. "We believe that the decision to take money from children in care was a betrayal. To deprive them of their day in court is morally bankrupt and counter to the fundamental principles of justice. We hope the Federal Government and Supreme Court agree."

The Pallister PCs are trying to avoid paying back any of the funds taken from Indigenous children in care between 2005 and 2019. At that time, the Manitoba NDP engineered the "2000s scoop" which doubled the number of children in care to over 12,000.

Not only did the NDP government take record numbers of Indigenous children from their families, they also took their "special allowance" - federal funds intended for the care of children - and put it into general revenue.

By the time the NDP were defeated in 2016, they had taken about $250-million in children's special allowances. The Pallister PC government kept the clawback going until March 2019, taking about $80-million.

Prior to the NDP confiscating the allowances, they had been kept in trust by Indigenous CFS agencies for children as a nest egg for when they aged out of care. Afterwards, children who "aged out" were left with nothing. Some received a bus ticket for the Salvation Army and became homeless when they turned 18.

The PCs are also using their budget to try to cancel a lease on a children's home that was being used by high-needs, high-risk Indigenous children in care. The lease was between the Southern Authority and a private landlord. The Pallister PCs ordered a forced eviction of children in care in the middle of the night, then introduced a bill to break the lease and block any proceedings in court.

Lamont said he hopes the Federal Government will consider referring the question to the Supreme Court through an order-in-council. Supreme Court referrals are rare used, but have been used in cases such as same-sex marriage and the legal framework around Quebec secession.

"The first five recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are all about children in care because for over a century, governments have never stopped tearing apart Indigenous families," said Lamont. "We hope that the Federal Government and the Supreme Court will recognize that this is a historic betrayal of children in care and that for justice and healing to occur, Canadians must be able to hold their governments to account."

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