Taking away the Children's Special Allowances by the NDP and then the Pallister Conservatives has been a significant cause of homelessness
It was after 3 am, as the sitting of the Manitoba Legislature was coming to a close, I spoke one last time on Bill 2 - to make the point that the NDP and Conservatives taking away the Children's Special Allowances was a significant cause of homelessness among children who aged out of care. They should have had access to the funds which were being held in trust for them when they aged out of care. I describe what this has meant to those who were in care and why Bill 2 was wrong. Sadly my appeal had no effect on the Conservatives who shortly thereafter voted for and passed Bill 2.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Two weeks ago, my wife Naomi and I spent 24 hours fasting in the teepee which is in front of the Legislature.
We did this because we believe passionately that children who are in care deserve support, that they deserve to receive the funds that were stolen from them by two governments in a row. It was an honour for Naomi and myself to be there. We began and we concluded with a ceremony.
I want to thank the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, to thank Arlen Dumas, to thank the First Nations family advocate, Cora Morgan, to thank Jennifer Chartrand, who paid so much attention to all those who were fasting. I want to thank the others who, over the course of several weeks, fasted as part of this process.
I also want to say a thank you to the members of the Bear Clan who helped with security. They helped while we slept, keeping the fires going and they helped by telling us their experiences, sharing their knowledge and their understanding of life for children in care and the struggles they face when they age out of care and how so many of them have been sent straight to a homeless shelter because there was no money for them because that money in trust had been taken away.
I also want to thank Judy Klassen, former MLA for Kewatinook, who joined me for a bit in the fast and who spoke up so eloquently on so many occasions in this Chamber on behalf of children in care and against this practice of stealing money from children in care.
Let me quote from some of the signs, because they express the feelings of those children in care. My children, one of the signs says, were left behind while the foster family went on vacation. This, says another sign, is about human rights for kids. A third sign: I wish I didn't have to rely on food banks. A fourth sign: I wish I got support for my mental health, I really struggled without supports.
A fourth sign: $338 million meant for the benefit of children in care was stolen by Manitoba. Another sign: stealing money from kids is totally shameful. Another sign: why is the Manitoba government trying to deny me my access to justice, taking away the right to take the government to court?
Let me give you, from personal experience, two who were in care: one who when he was eight or nine years old, as he was walking along a road in The Pas, was picked up by a car and taken to a group farm in the Parkland area where there was abuse. What a start to his life.
But that wasn't all. When he aged out of care–I think it was age 16, but it might have been age 18–he was given a bus ticket to Winnipeg and said, you're on your own. He got to Winnipeg. For two years–two long years–he struggled, homeless on the streets of Winnipeg until he started to get his feet a little bit.
He has a heart of gold. He learned a lot from sleeping on the street and every opportunity he has, he has gone out to meet and to care for and to help those who live on the street.
His life has continued to be a struggle. His own daughter was taken away from him and he has spent 11 years trying to get her back. I'm still working with him and hope that one day he will be able to have his daughter back.
Another: this was a boy who was extremely bright. He tested on IQ–I think it was about 150. But he had some difficulties with autism. He went through 16 foster homes. He probably should not have been put into care. In high school, he was holding down three jobs and doing remarkably well, but he was taken away.
When he graduated from care, his foster parents packed up everything he had in a small knapsack and said, now, we don't get any money for you anymore. We're no longer looking after you. You're on your own.
He, too, spent two years on the street. He has struggled his whole life, but he has had accomplishments. He produced an amazing documentary. He cares about others, but he struggles not only with his autism but with post-traumatic stress syndrome from all the trauma he went through. I continue to do my best to try to help him.
He, too, has a son, who was taken away eight years ago, and such is the justice that he has not seen his son. He has not even had a single visit. It is extraordinary. This is the sort of thing that happens when you take away the money in trust for a child in care. You put them out on the street.
One of the signs said the Manitoba government won't silence our children's voice. We must stand together. And I believe that the clause which takes away the right of children to sue to get their money back is probably going to be judged to be illegal.
I will quote from a piece by Bruce Feldthusen on the unique public duties of care, judicial activism in the Supreme Court of Canada. And he says: "historically the government enjoyed sovereign immunity from tort liability. Liability and tort depends on whether the government has agreed to be held liable in tort for the act of omission in question. Such consent is expressed in the relative federal and provincial Crown liability legislation. The Crown has only consented to be liable if the act or omission would be tortuous if done by a private party. It has not consented to unique Crown liability. The Supreme Court has either ignored or effectively eviscerated this legislation when ministers try to provide liability for the acts that they do.
I think this is going to be thrown out. I can tell you a number of years ago I raised a lot of concern about clauses being put in by the NDP to protect ministers from liability. And the MLA for Steinbach, when I raised this with him, said, oh, such clauses aren't worth anything. They're usually thrown out of court. I think the minister–the member from Steinbach is right–that this bill will not hold up.
When I was out there, I was in a not quite good enough sleeping bag. It was cold. Think tonight of all those who are homeless, those kids who are cold.