Vancouver-based firm CFM files class action against Government of B.C.’s MCFD for parents subjected to “illegal and unconstitutional” birth alerts in the province
Alisha Samnani (she/her) // Editor-in-Chief
Ethan Woronko (he/him) // Illustrator
Warning: The information here may trigger unpleasant feelings or thoughts of past abuse. Please contact the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for support.
Indigenous parents in British Columbia that have been subjected to birth alerts are now represented in a proposed class action lawsuit filed through the B.C. Supreme Court in September 2021.
In B.C., ‘birth alerts’—something practiced by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD)—were issued by social workers when they felt that an expectant parent would put their newborn at risk. These alerts involved sharing personal information of these expectant parents without their consent. Once a newborn arrived, hospital workers would inform the social workers, who would often apprehend or remove the child immediately after the birth.
It’s a practice that was cited in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as “racist and discriminatory and a gross violation of the rights of the child, the mother, and the community.” In addition, it’s a practice that disproportionately affects Indigenous women.
According to government records obtained by Indiginews, birth alerts in B.C. lead to infant apprehensions 28 per cent of the time. In 2018, 58 per cent of parents impacted by these alerts were Indigenous.
Although B.C. is one of many provinces said to have formally abandoned the practice—although not until government lawyers advised the MCFD that issuing birth alerts was “illegal and unconstitutional”—the impact of unexpectedly and forcefully having your newborn child removed from your care is long lasting.
Due to the ongoing impacts of systemic racism and colonial structures, Indigenous children represent over two-thirds of all children in care in B.C.—despite only accounting for 10 per cent of all youth under 14 in the province.
Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP (CFM), the Vancouver-based firm who filed the class action, alleges that birth alerts are “a product of the state’s colonialist and paternalistic attitude,” which are “grounded in discriminatory assumptions regarding which individuals are likely to be neglectful or abusive parents.” CFM is working alongside Indigenous-owned and operated firm Semanganis Worme Lombard (SWL) to ensure a trauma-informed process.
SWL is also working on a class action against the forced sterilization of Indigenous women across Canada.
While birth alerts are said to no longer be a thing in B.C., what tangible steps have been taken to ensure that no newborn — or their families — fall through the cracks?
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.