The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) has taken another step in their legal challenge of a provincial bill they say denies First Nations people who have been involved with the Child and Family Services (CFS) system the right to sue the government for money that AMC believes has been taken by the province illegitimately.
AMC, an organization that represents 62 First Nations in Manitoba, announced on Wednesday they have filed their written submissions in their challenge of the provincial Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act. (BITSA)
The province passed the omnibus bill in November of 2020, and AMC has previously claimed the government used “sneaky and immoral” tactics to get BITSA through the legislature, and “strategically hid” Section 231 of the bill.
AMC claims that Section 231 of BITSA will not allow for legal action to take place, and give no opportunity for the possibility that the provincial government could be forced to hand over hundreds of millions in federal money from the Children’s Special Allowance (CSA) to First Nations people who have been involved in the CFS system.
The CSA is a federal allowance of approximately $530 per month, per child given to agencies that care for First Nations children in care, and is meant to be used for education, training, and recreational activities.
But between 2005 and 2019 the Manitoba government forced agencies to remit the money to the province, as they argued they had been paying for the care of the children and therefore were entitled to CSA money.
A previously-filed Class Action Lawsuit against the Manitoba government could have potentially provided compensation for children who didn’t benefit from the CSA, but with Bill 34 passing last fall the province was granted immunity from its actions and from the lawsuit that could have seen them forced to hand over $338 million.
In a statement released on Wednesday AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said that through BITSA the province “legitimized the capturing of Children’s Special Allowance.”
“First Nations children are disproportionately separated from their families, culture and Nations,” Dumas said. “The quality of care provided under the CFS system, and the lack of supports for life skills after leaving the system, leads many former First Nations youth to the justice system, becoming homeless, and/or becoming vulnerable to being missing or murdered.
“Instead of taking the CSA from First Nations children, the funding could have been used to ensure better outcomes for First Nations children leaving care.”
AMC said that in their written submissions they will argue the bill absolves the province from any liability for receiving CSA money, and in doing so “denies First Nations children equality and equal benefit of the law on the grounds of age, race, aboriginality-residence, and family status.”
Hearings for AMC’S legal challenge to the bill are scheduled to begin on October 25.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun