On Tuesday May 31, I spoke at second reading on Bill 41 which deals with changes to the Child and Family Services act. The primarily purpose of this act is to allow Peguis First Nation, which is the first Indigenous community to take over full responsibility for child welfare in its community, to partner with the provincial government in the care of children. Sadly, there remain problems within the system, in particular with the quality of the provincial database, which need to be corrected. This was an opportunity for me to speak out about this issue. While Liberals fully support the partnership with Peguis First Nation, we want to make sure the information in the database which is to be shared is of high quality.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): We see the importance of having this bill proceed so that the Peguis First Nation and their child and family services agency can operate effectively together with the provincial government and other First Nations in order to look after the lives of children and families.
We are very concerned about the quality of the data in the database, and we are very concerned about the need to upgrade that quality and the need to have an ability for individuals–where there are allegations against them in the database–to have an ability to be made aware of those allegations; and also to be able to appeal the allegations if they think that they are false, and have the data in the database updated and corrected where there are errors.
This is a really, really important job and the changes in child welfare are highlighting this–perhaps, as they haven't been adequately highlighted before, although minister and the government should have been well aware of these issues because they have been around, as the member for The Pas-Kameesak (Ms. Lathlin) has indicated, for many years. And in spite of this being raised by individuals in this Chamber over quite a number of years, the problems with the database still have not been adequately addressed.
So we look forward to this measure moving forward, but we look forward with some trepidation and some concern about the information that's in the database and the need for the government to invest significant funds with agencies around the province, and perhaps, in other ways to make sure that the quality of the information is at the standard that it needs to be, because we are working with the lives of children and families.
I can tell you a couple of stories. One, this was a mother who was in a First Nations community, and she was, as usual, ready to welcome her children coming home from school on the bus, and–but they didn't arrive and she was in a bit of panic as to what was happening.
And so, she started calling around, including various sources, the police department, saying the kids were missing. And she was–she found out that the kids had been apprehended. And so, she made inquiries as to what was the reason and why was the apprehension occurring.
And after her investigation, what she found was this: she had been helping a niece of hers, and she'd been helping the niece of hers by providing a little bit of money here and there to help her get along and to help her, she thought, have a better life. Well, her sister came to her and explained that what the niece was doing was using that money to purchase drugs. And she said to this woman, who is a mother whose children had been taken away, that you have to stop giving her, the niece, any money at all. And so she did.
And when she stopped giving the niece the money, the niece got very upset and she called CFS and she made an accusation against this woman, and her children were taken away. And this accusation, which was not accurate, resulted in the children being taken away. And it took several years–not a day, not a week, not a month, not a year; several years–until she got those kids back. It was horrible. And this was all because of an accusation made in revenge under this situation.
And, you know, it's hard to explain to people who don't understand what is happening in families and that these sorts of inaccuracies can get into the system and cause problems and cause kids to be taken away from their families and put into care and that this sort of information can get into the CFIS database. I don't know a hundred per cent exactly what was put into the database, but I presume that this information likely got into the database.
I can tell you another story. And this, as opposed to the first one, which I can verify all the details, but this was a woman who was living in Manitoba Housing, and she was very concerned about her kids and her kids being taken away. And if you're living in poor circumstances and you don't have resources, you're very vulnerable. And she was hearing and being told that, look, don't you do this, don't do this, or we'll we'll send in an accusation and your kids will be taken away.
You know, this system, which was set up to protect kids, has not always worked nearly as well as it should have worked, and it's about time to finally get this database into shape so that the information that's in there is known to be accurate, that false information and false accusations can be addressed and corrected.
We're going to be transferring private information. This is continuing a practice which has been going on for some time, but I think that, even though we're ready to approve and support this bill, we have some significant concerns. And it looks like the minister may be starting to listen, but there is an urgent need to make sure that this database is much better than it is currently.
Thank you for the opportunity to say those few words.