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Saskatchewan to continue using 'birth alerts' despite calls by MMIW inquiry to stop

REGINA — The Saskatchewan government says it will not stop tracking or seizing babies born to Indigenous mothers despite a call to do so from the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The inquiry’s final report recommends governments and child-welfare agencies immediately abandon what are known as birth or hospital alerts.

Saskatchewan’s Social Services Ministry says the alerts are registered if there is a concern about a mother and the potential safety of her baby.

It says social workers or health professionals can make the reports. 

The alerts allow government officials to be informed of when a baby is born so a report can be investigated, which can result in a newborn being seized.

The ministry says 153 newborns were apprehended in Saskatchewan for their own safety as a result of 588 alerts issued from 2015 to 2018.

“We only do that in extreme circumstances,” Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, if a child is temporarily taken into care — no matter what age they are — our end goal is always reunification with the family to make sure that they have the opportunity to be a family as a whole.”

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says the government is unwilling to change its policies when it comes to delivering child welfare.

“When mother and baby are separated, obviously the mother is very distraught. She’s overwhelmed. She’s heartbroken,” said Morley Watson, first vice-chief of the federation, which represents Saskatchewan’s 74 First Nations.

In Manitoba, figures for birth alerts are much higher.

A government spokeswoman said that in 2017-18, Manitoba child-welfare agencies issued 558 birth alerts for high-risk mothers, but did not have figures on how many of those resulted in apprehensions.

Cora Morgan, a family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, has said, on average, a newborn is apprehended every day.

In January, social media videos surfaced showing a newborn baby girl being taken from the arms of her Indigenous mother by Manitoba social workers and police. The move prompted outrage and renewed calls for changes to child welfare in the province.

A judge granted guardianship of the baby to the mother’s aunt in March.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press