Rachel Anne Notley – Premier of Alberta
A class action law suit, that claims from 1985 to 2009 the province took thousands of children and then illegally retained them, is a step away from certification.
“You can’t take somebody’s child without following the law, whether you’re a neighbour, a stranger or the government,” said lawyer Robert Lee, whose firm began the class action. “The only way (Alberta) child welfare can take a child away from the parent is if they follow the law and if they take a child from a parent without following the law, to me, that’s kidnapping.”
In 2008, the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act was amended removing the obligation to prepare concurrent plans. The Child Welfare Service Plan Class Action claims that the government failed to follow its own legislation by allowing temporary guardianship orders, under which the children were initially claimed, to expire but still holding on to the children without court orders.
“If the TGO has expired, especially by reason of the Department failing to follow legislated procedures, it is certainly arguable that children were kept in government care without lawful authority,” said Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert A. Graesser in his 76-page ruling released on March 14.
The issue surfaced, says Lee, following two Alberta Court of Appeal cases in 2002. In both, the central issue was the failure to file a plan for care under the Child Welfare Act. Lee says he was contacted by multiple families after those cases and, because handling each matter individually was impossible, he decided to proceed with a class action.
In his decision, Graesser called attention to a March 8, 2002, email sent by Darryl Bertch, acting manager of child welfare resources of the Ministry of Children’s Services, in which he requested a list of non-compliant TGOs. He was told 539 TGOs were invalid, impacting 332 families.
Lee says it’s reasonable to assume that figure of 539 is a fair representation for every year from 1985, when the act was brought in, to 2002, representing the number of children whose service plans were not filed in court. That means as many as 8,000 children could have been impacted. The government has not yet supplied figures up to 2009, says Lee, but if that stands at 500 each year, as well, that could be another 3,500 to 4,000.
The Child Welfare Service Plan Class Action also seeks compensation for the parents, who had their children illegally retained by the province.
Lee has no specific numbers as to how many Aboriginal children or families could be impacted, but as of March 2016, 69 per cent of all children in provincial care were Aboriginal.
“I’d say at least that and probably higher because of just how poorly the system treats Aboriginal families,” said Lee.
Read the full article at AMMSA.com.
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