Huu-ay-aht mother reunited with newborn daughter after court case

Mother and child will reside in Port Alberni with supervision and support

Almost two months after giving birth to her daughter, a Huu-ay-aht mother is now able to return home to Port Alberni with her baby.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations received word on Wednesday afternoon that the Provincial Court of British Columbia Judge Flewelling ruled in favour of the mother, stating that the baby must be returned to the custody of her mother no later than Saturday, March 17.

The mother and child will reside in Port Alberni with their Huu-ay-aht family, where the Nation will offer ongoing supervision and support to both mother and child when needed. The mother will also participate in recommended programs and services, including Nuu-chah-nulth and Huu-ay-aht specific programs.

“This judgment provides strong recognition of the importance of the maternal/infant bond, and the obligation upon the Ministry to fully consider the supports that are available to keep mom and baby together, rather than simply removing the infant from the mother,” explained Maegen Giltrow, counsel for the mother and Huu-ay-aht.

“This is an especially important recognition of the role of the Huu-ay-aht community in supporting one of its citizens as she moves into the role of new mother.”

According to a press release from the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, for almost two months, the future of the child had been in question, after the Ministry of Children and Family Development apprehended the baby girl only three days after she was born, without sufficient reason. Since that time, the mother has been living out of a motel room in Courtenay, more than 100 kilometres away from her community in Port Alberni, in order to have access to her baby.

Following a BC Supreme Court Ruling in mid-February, the mother was given more access to her child for bonding and breastfeeding purposes. Huu-ay-aht First Nations continued to press in Provincial Court that being returned to her mother was in the child’s best interest.

The Court held that in Courtenay, the mother did not have the supports that she needed from her own community and family—supports that are essential for her to properly care for her child.

“This ruling helps establish a solid foundation for mom and baby to begin a happy and healthy life together, with support of family and community,” said Huu-ay-aht Councillor Sheila Charles.

“With this strong foundation, this baby will have every opportunity to grow up safe, supported, and loved by both her mother’s and father’s First Nations.”

In early March, Huu-ay-aht First Nations declared the treatment of Huu-ay-aht children in British Columbia a public health emergency.

To date, Huu-ay-aht has funded more than $600,000 to start implementing the 30 recommendations from an independent Social Services Panel on how to stop the cycle of breaking Huu-ay-aht families up into the foster care system.

“Huu-ay-aht has a strong and accountable plan for ensuring our children grow up safe, healthy, and connected with their Huu-ay-aht family and culture. We can’t do it alone,” said Charles.

“We need the provincial and federal governments to do their part. Today’s decision is helpful in setting clear standards to ensure Indigenous communities are part of the planning for our children.”

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