BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Fights Foster Parents' Petition To Keep Metis Toddler

01/21/2016 09:00 EST | Updated 01/21/2016 09:00 EST
katerha/Flickr
Having fun the past few days trying to keep up with a 22 month old! Phew!

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.

A lawyer for the Children's Ministry argued in B.C. Supreme Court that a judge already dismissed a petition filed by the foster parents in an attempt to keep the girl in the province last December.

Leah Greathead said the second petition is an attempt to re-litigate a case that's already been decided.

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

"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 petition aims to stop the ministry from moving the toddler across the country to live with the guardians of her two older siblings, people she hasn't met.

"They've had her since she was three days old and they've had her for almost two and a half years.''

The foster parents, who can't be named, say the little girl has bonded with them and both they and the toddler are Metis, unlike the Ontario caregivers.

"There's overwhelming evidence that my clients are excellent parents,'' said their lawyer Jack Hittrich 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.

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

"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 he is in court this week to seek an interim custody order to prevent the ministry from relocating the girl in the meantime.

Hittrich also entered an application on behalf of a lawyer for the B.C. Metis Federation to intervene in the case. The judge did not make a decision on the application.

Federation president Keith Henry said his organization represents more than 1,600 Metis members in B.C. He said 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.

By law, the Children's Ministry 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.

Metis Commission for Children and Families responds

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.

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.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Also On HuffPost:

MPs of First Nation, Inuit Or Métis Descent