Birth alerts still occurring at Thunder Bay hospital despite Ontario shutdown, First Nations leaders say

Ontario stopped allowing the practice of birth alerts — child protection agencies notifying a hospital when they think a newborn may need protection — at the end of 2020, but First Nations leaders say it’s still happening at the Thunder Bay hospital.

The province ordered an end to birth scares, which have long been reported to disproportionately affect Indigenous families, in response to a call to action from the 2019 inquiry into murdered Indigenous women and girls and extinct (MMIWG). The parent is not notified of these alerts, which could lead the agency to immediately remove the baby from the parent after birth.

But Matawa First Nation chiefs say their members have told them child welfare agencies are still making birth alert arrangements with Thunder Regional Health Sciences Center staff. Bay. Matawa members have to travel to Thunder Bay to give birth because health centers in their communities do not provide non-emergency maternity care.

“It is distressing for the Council of Chiefs of Matawa that after two years of their tenure by the Ontario government to be discontinued, we are still hearing that birth alerts are still occurring in Thunder Bay and in municipalities where the women of Matawa give birth. “Webequie First Nation Chief Cornelius Wabasse said in a statement.

In the Ontario Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, Kiiwetinoong NDP MLA Sol Mamakwa, who represents the communities of Matawa, said the birth alerts are a “flagrant violation of children’s rights, of the mother and the Indigenous community as a whole”, and called the practice “traumatic”. to our nations.”

Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Center and Dilico Anishinabek Family Care did not respond to CBC’s request for an interview or comment at the time of publication.

Call for Inquiry into Services for Indigenous Peoples

Cora McGuire-Cyrette, executive director of the Ontario Native Women’s Association, isn’t surprised to hear the allegations, calling them the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of systemic anti-Indigenous racism at the hospital from Thunder Bay.

“We are tackling deeply rooted systemic racist views within the system, even the practice of ending birth scares, leadership and political will. We knew this would not happen overnight. tomorrow,” she said.

“We need to look at the health care system, what needs to happen next. We have provided recommendations, as has the Truth and Reconciliation [Commission] calls to action. There are specific actions for the health system for 18-31 year olds, so I would like to know what the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital has done for any of those actions. »

McGuire-Cyrette is asking health care providers to start open conversations about the quality of services Indigenous patients receive.

Calls for change began long before Ontario’s directive

Birth alerts have been stopped in much of Canada, but some controversy remains.

Long before Ontario’s ban on birth alerts came into effect, one community in Matawa was advocating for ensuring newborns stay with their expectant mothers.

In 2014, then-Councillor Judy Desmoulin was contacted by a member who lived in Long Lake #58 First Nation. The woman was seven months pregnant when she received a call from the family who had raised her in foster care. She thought they were just calling to make it up, but she was told Child Services had asked this family to raise their baby after the birth.

“Especially with this first case, I saw absolutely no reason why anyone should remove this child from this family,” Desmoulin said, adding that the woman was enrolled in smoking cessation and smoking cessation programs at the time. family planning.

Desmoulin thought she and the agency had confirmed the support plan, but when the mother went into labor, she drove 300 kilometers to Thunder Bay to be there, just in case. She remembers law enforcement, security and social workers all waiting to take the baby.

She told them that under child protection law, the community has the right to have a say in the welfare of a child.

“And I said, ‘OK, let’s get dressed. Let’s put this baby in his stroller and let’s go,'” Desmoulins recalled. “So we did it and nobody stopped us. Nobody stopped us and we left the hospital.

“So that told me, yeah, that part of the law had some weight. And we haven’t stopped since.”

First Nation leaders then ensured that an advocate was present at the hospital for every mother in labor thereafter, and over the next eight years, Desmoulin said, none of the 100 babies born to members of Long Lake #58 was only seized at birth.

When she was elected chief, Desmoulin recommended that the other eight Matawa chiefs provide their members with the same advocacy. This led to the program Awashishewigiihiwaywiin (The framework of social services).

The program aims to help keep families together

Since 2019, the program has focused on creating supports that help keep families together. It connected 61 families with doctors, completed 71 housing applications and referred 63 families to mental health agencies, while helping 28 get addiction services. It also provided 24 families with traditional supports such as elders and ceremonies.

For Desmoulin, the job is to try to end a “direct link” between residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care.

“A long time ago there were written statements to ‘take the Indian out of the child.’ This is another modern form of how the government seems to perpetuate this plan,” Desmoulin says.

“The Canadian government needs to officially lift this idea of ​​’taking the Indian out of the child’. It’s not going to happen.”