Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs decries legislation exempting province from lawsuit over funding for kids in care

The front lawn of the Manitoba Legislature was covered with signs Wednesday, accusing the provincial government of failing First Nation children. 

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs put up the display to denounce the long-standing practice of forcing Child and Family Services agencies in Manitoba to remit federal funding — the Children’s Special Allowance — set aside for children in care.

They also slammed the government for a clause in a recent piece of legislation that would make Manitoba immune to a $338-million lawsuit it faces related to that practice.

“Hidden in an omnibus bill, the Manitoba government is seeking to bypass the courts and justify the theft of [the Children’s Special Allowance] from First Nations children,” said assembly Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. He’s leading a relay fast, where a number of people will go without food in turns until a decision is made regarding the clause.

“Our children have have been deeply impacted by this and have suffered enough.”

Dumas is referring to Section 84 of the government’s recent Budget Implementation Tax Statues Act, which would exempt the province from any legal responsibility for years of clawing back the Children’s Special Allowance.

Beginning in 2010, under an NDP government, the province began requiring the CFS agencies to remit the money given to them through the allowance, saying the province was paying for the maintenance of children in care and the money was therefore owed to them.

The Progressive Conservative government, first elected in 2016, continued the practice for three years, until it was ended in 2019.

‘Stand up for our children,’ read some of the signs at the protest against a government bill. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Families Minister Heather Stefanson said the government no longer orders CFS agencies to remit the money, “and any legislation we introduce in this area [during the new legislative session] will be designed to put it behind us while protecting Manitoba taxpayers.”

The province did not respond late Wednesday when asked if any updated legislation would exempt the province from any existing or future lawsuits.

Stefanson added that CFS authorities and agencies are expected to receive more than $400 million in funding in 2020-21, which includes the amount they receive through the Children’s Special Allowance. 

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said it was wrong of his party to withhold the federal funds when it was in power, and it’s misguided for the province to fight a lawsuit now.

“Mr. Pallister’s government knows that this is wrong. They know that it’s wrong. Why else would they have to change the laws to make this practice permissible?”

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