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Indigenous mother proposes class-action lawsuit on birth alerts in Manitoba


A woman whose newborn was removed by police and social workers in a video broadcast live on social media has proposed a class-action lawsuit against the Manitoba government.

The woman said in a statement of claim filed this week that birth alerts are unlawful, breach charter rights and cause significant harm to mothers and children.

The Canadian Press is not identifying the mother so as to not identify the child.

A video in 2019 of the two-day-old infant's apprehension at a Winnipeg hospital caused significant public outcry. The live broadcast on Facebook showed the mother weeping nearby before officers took the infant away in a car seat.

Court documents said while the Indigenous woman was still pregnant, she had reached out to social services for help and to make arrangements for the baby to be placed with her aunt.

She only learned she was subject to a birth alert when authorities showed up at the hospital to take the child, the court documents said.

About two months after the baby was taken, guardianship was transferred to the aunt. Court documents say the woman remains in her baby's life and cares for her on a regular basis.

The province said Thursday it was unable to provide comment on the lawsuit because the matter is before court.

Birth alerts have long been criticized by Indigenous leaders who say the practice is stacked against their families.

The statement of claim says birth alerts are typically issued by social workers. The alerts may occur because the pregnant woman is, or was, in care, or because she is looking for help from the social worker.

The alert is issued without meeting any specific requirements and is not later reviewed, the lawsuit says. A document is issued to local hospitals containing information about the pregnant woman, including alleged child protection concerns.

The lawsuit alleges the result is that birth alerts are motivated by "discriminatory and harmful stereotypes about the parenting capabilities of persons of certain backgrounds."

"The inevitable result of this process has, therefore, been that most birth alerts in Manitoba are issued against Indigenous or racialized persons, or persons living with a mental or physical disability, at rates wholly disproportionate to their representation in the Canadian population at large," it says.

Statistics from the Manitoba government at the time of the 2019 video showed that newborn apprehensions occurred, on average, once a day. There are about 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and about 90 per cent are Indigenous.

The province stopped using birth alerts in 2020 after a review found the practice was discouraging expectant mothers and families from reaching out for prenatal support.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2022. Top Stories

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