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'This is wrong': Indigenous leaders criticize Manitoba government’s new bill
WINNIPEG -- Indigenous leaders are calling out the Manitoba government over the introduction of a new bill, which they are describing "wrong."
The province recently introduced Bill 34: The Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act. According to a news release from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO), the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) and the Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO), Indigenous leaders are particularly concerned by section 8, which they said “sets out to legally end the ability of current and former children in care to sue the Manitoba government for clawing back their monthly Children’s Special Allowance (CSA)"
The organizations said this allowance is equal to the maximum Canada Child Benefit Payment, as well as the Child Disability Benefit, noting the CSA was initially a trust fund for Indigenous children in care, but has been “repurposed and used as a revenue source for the Government of Manitoba.”
“It is estimated that to date, the Province of Manitoba has illegitimately taken $250 million from Indigenous children in care,” the organizations said.
“They have moved these funds from the Government of Canada into their general revenue stream for years.”
Sonny Cochrane, a lawyer speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, said that two lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Indigenous children, but if Bill 34 is passed, they will be dismissed.
“There is no way that this is fair or consistent to our system of justice,” he said.
PROVINCE SAYS FOCUS IS TO KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER
Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson told CTV News in a written statement that the province is focused on keeping families together and reducing the number of children in CFS care.
"Under our government, agencies and authorities began retaining the Children’s Special Allowance in April 2019 and also receive single envelope funding from the province," Stefanson said.
The province introduced the 'single-envelope funding model' in February 2019 and, at the time said the new model will provide child maintenance funding up front in a single envelope as opposed to making payments based on a child or youth in care.
"Single envelope funding will provide over $400 million to the authorities and their agencies in 2020-21– that is a $15-million increase compared to what they received before single envelope funding was introduced," Stefanson said.
She added that a 2017 pilot project using this funding model at eight CFS agencies resulted in an 18 per cent decrease in the number of children entering care.
"We are confident that similar results will be replicated throughout our province in the coming months and years,” she said.
MANITOBA METIS FEDERATION 'APPALLED'
MMF President David Chartrand said his government is appalled by what is happening.
“This is wrong,” he said, noting that this wouldn’t be tolerated if it was happening to other groups of kids.
“It should not be tolerated when it’s happening to Indigenous children.”
Chartrand also highlighted the fact that this bill was introduced during the time when the province is concerned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee described the bill as immoral, saying it leaves the most vulnerable people as victims and re-victimizes them.
“I believe this is an atrocity committed at the highest level in Manitoba,” he said, noting there’s no transparency or consultation with the bill.
Settee said we need to make sure the bill doesn’t impact the province’s most vulnerable.
“I’m very disappointed that this is happening right before our very eyes,” he said.
SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said on Tuesday he believes it’s a terrible example to leave for generations of kids.
"We can't let our most vulnerable people be exploited in this way," he said.
The MMF, MKO and SCO said they have reached out to several provincial leaders, including the premier, on the topic.
CTV News Winnipeg has reached out to the province for comment.