Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Rules that Manitoba Government Discriminated Against First Nations Children in the Child Welfare System

Scales of Justice

On May 18, 2022, the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that the Manitoba government discriminated against First Nations children in Manitoba foster care by denying them the federal Children Special Allowance (“CSA”) to which they are entitled and which is meant to be used exclusively for the care, maintenance, advancement and education of children in care. 

In Manitoba, approximately 82% of children in the child welfare system are First Nations. From January 1, 2005 through March 31, 2019, Manitoba required Child and Family Service Agencies to remit all CSA benefits received for children in their care. When Agencies refused, the CSA amounts were clawed back from their Operational and Child Maintenance budgets.  In total, Manitoba recovered over $334 million during this period that would otherwise have directly benefited children in care.

In 2020, Manitoba passed legislation (section 231 of The Budget Implementation and Tax Statues Amendments Act, or “BITSA”), which attempted to retroactively authorize its taking of CSA funds. This legislation also sought to absolve Manitoba of all liability for doing so, including by preventing any lawsuits – including already filed and ongoing lawsuits – against Manitoba over its taking of CSA funds.

In 2021, the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs initiated an application against the Manitoba government over its attempt to legislatively prevent children in care from seeking recourse for the denial of the CSA funds. 

The Court’s decision found that the Manitoba government discriminated against children in care by taking the CSA funds from them, and that its attempt to absolve itself of liability for the holding back of over $334 million from children and youth in care was unlawful and constitutionally invalid. The Court found that Section 231 of BITSA “overwhelmingly impacts the Indigenous children and disabled children in care. The CSA policy prevented the claimant group from receiving equal benefit of the law resulting in economic and social consequences to Indigenous children in care The Court stated that “over 150 years of colonial policies which removed children from their families and nations is one example of the historical discrimination against [First Nations] children.” It acknowledged the significant disadvantages experienced by Indigenous children in care, which were perpetuated and exacerbated by Manitoba’s treatment of CSA funds.

The Court found that Manitoba discriminated against First Nations children on the basis of race, ethnic origin, disability, and family status contrary to section 15 of the Charter. In particular, the Court’s finding of discrimination on the basis of family status is notable and precedent-setting as the family status of a child in care had not previously been recognized by courts as a basis for grounding a claim of discrimination. This recognizes, as AMC argued before the Court, that the targeted discrimination of First Nations children in care by Manitoba could not be fully understood and remedied without recognizing family status as a ground of discrimination.

The Court concluded that it [was] a violation of s. 15(1) [of the Charter] by Manitoba to preclude children in care from receiving the CSA Benefits and then enacting s. 231 of BITSA to make the CSA Policy law in Manitoba.” The Court declared section 231 of BITSA to be invalid and of no force or effect. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was represented by Byron Williams and Chris Klassen of the Public Interest Law Centre of Legal Aid Manitoba, with the support of many other lawyers and students at PILC, and Dayna Steinfeld of RavenLaw, with assistance from Anna Rotman.

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