B.C. ministry wants to stop Metis foster parents' petition to keep toddler

VANCOUVER -- The British Columbia government is fighting an attempt by Metis foster parents to stop the province from moving a two-year-old girl to Ontario to live with her older siblings.

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The caregivers in Ontario are not Metis, raising questions about whether the child is better off with her siblings -- who she has never met -- or with parents she shares a cultural background with.

Keith Henry, president of the Metis Federation of B.C., said Thursday that sending the girl several provinces away to a non-Metis family is "completely inappropriate."

"What we believe needs to happen is Metis children being brought up and raised in culturally aware families, so they know the culture," he said.

Henry's organization, which represents more than 1,600 Metis members, filed an application to intervene in the case in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday. The judge did not make a decision on the application.

By law, the Ministry of Children and Family Development must give preference to placing aboriginal children and youth in aboriginal homes. When that's not possible or in the child's best interest, a social worker must seek approval from a committee made up of First Nations, Metis and child-welfare representatives.

The Metis Commission for Children and Families of B.C. said it sits on that committee as the official authority that acts on behalf of Metis children in the child protection services system.

Commission CEO Eva Coles said a cultural plan has been worked on for several months to ensure that the Metis community remains involved in the child's life.

"It is our view that a placement with biological family (siblings) and preserving their family bond is one form of keeping the Metis community intact," she said in a statement.

In court on Thursday, a lawyer for the ministry argued that a judge already dismissed a petition filed by the foster parents to keep the girl in the province last December.

Leah Greathead said a second petition filed earlier this month is an attempt to relitigate a case that's already been decided.

"What's at stake is respect of the judicial process," Greathead told the judge.

"Their remedy is in the Court of Appeal. It's not to ask another B.C. Supreme Court judge to weigh in a second time."

The foster parents, who can't be named, say the little girl has bonded with them.

"There's overwhelming evidence that my clients are excellent parents," their lawyer, Jack Hittrich, said in an interview. "There's essentially no reason why this little girl's life should be disrupted.

"My clients are the only parents that she's ever known. They've had her since she was three days old and they've had her for almost two and a half years."

Hittrich said the second petition is not an abuse of process because it raises a constitutional argument that was not in the first petition.

He said the child did not have standing in the first case and the court did not consider her charter rights to have the adoption process based on her best interests.

"As of now, there is no real mechanism for a court to look at what is in the best interests of the little girl," he said. "That discretion is essentially assigned to (the ministry). That's profoundly unreasonable."

The soonest the petition could be heard is March and Hittrich is in court this week to seek an interim custody order to prevent the ministry from relocating the girl in the meantime.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development said a child's best interest is the first and foremost consideration in planning for their permanent accommodations.

"The ministry is legally responsible for making placement decisions for children and youth in care that are in the best interest of those young people," said spokesman Bill Anderson.



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