Beginning on Tuesday, February 18, the BC Human Rights Tribunal will begin hearing a complaint brought by an Indigenous mother, known as R.R., against the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (“VACFSS”), an agency delegated to administer parts of the Child, Family and Community Service Act, the law concerning child welfare in BC.

In 2016, VACFSS removed R.R.’s four children from her care and has since denied her custody. She has only had restricted access to her children since they were removed. The complaint is about the agency’s decisions to deny her access to her children and to place restrictions on her access to them between April 2017 and December 2018.

R.R. is arguing that these decisions were made on the basis of discriminatory assumptions about her parenting abilities as an Indigenous mother living with a mental health disability.

Indigenous children are vastly overrepresented among children taken into care in BC and across Canada. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls made several Calls for Justice specifically directed at reform to the child welfare system. West Coast LEAF’s recent law reform work has been aimed at helping to shift the child welfare system away from apprehension to providing supports for families.

West Coast LEAF is intervening in this human rights complaint to ensure that R.R.’s circumstances are understood in the broader context of systemic discrimination in the child welfare system against Indigenous families and, in particular, against Indigenous women with disabilities. This includes the broader colonial context in which interactions between Indigenous mothers and the child welfare system occur. Our intervention is grounded in the knowledge that was shared with us by the 64 caregivers, Elders, and front-line service providers who collaborated on our 2019 Pathways in a Forest report. The report was developed in collaboration with the families, Elders, and staff at Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Lii Michif Otipemisiwak, and the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association.

Our provincial child protection system should support families to stay together and thrive with the support of community-based services, supports, and resources.