Viral Facebook videos showing a mother weeping as her newborn baby is taken away by child and family services and police in a Winnipeg, Manitoba hospital provides a disturbing glimpse into the system that disproportionately affects Indigenous children.
It also provides further evidence that the system needs an immediate overhaul, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott told VICE News in an interview. She described the footage as “highly disturbing.”
The two videos, livestreamed and then posted to the site on Thursday by the mother’s uncle, show the mother holding her baby in a yellow onesie as she sobs and rocks back and forth on the bed located in St. Boniface hospital. Other family members are shown near the bed.
The videos have garnered more than 350,000 views as of Friday morning and hundreds of comments expressing outrage at the situation. Manitoba has one of the highest rates of child apprehension of Western nations. More than 90 percent of the 10,000 children apprehended in the province are Indigenous.
The mother and her family members spoke to reporters on Friday morning at the office of the First Nations Family Advocate Office in Winnipeg, urging for change and for the child to be returned.
The mother and aunt told the press conference that a CFS worker had accused the mother of being intoxicated during a visit with a doctor. “But she wasn’t,” the aunt said, adding that the mother had sought treatment for addictions.
“You deserve so much better … you’ll be OK."
“I’m hopeful things are going to work out in a positive way,” the mother said. “Good things are going to come out of this.”
Debbie Besant, CEO of General Child and Family Services Authority in Manitoba, said in an emailed statement that "apprehending a child is a very difficult decision, and is done only as a last resort and when required to ensure children are kept safe."
"I have personally reviewed this file in detail and met with the agency staff involved," she continued, adding that the department will continue to work with the family. "I am confident in the decisions made."
The first video, which has since been removed, showed security guards entering the hospital room asking that everyone leave the room except the mother. The mother continues crying and nestles her cheek against the infant’s head.
She rubs the baby’s back and apologizes in the second video, which is just over 17 minutes in length.
“You deserve so much better … you’ll be OK,” she says, kissing the baby.
Shortly after, officers with the Winnipeg Police show up and say that child and family services has the power to apprehend the baby. They deny the family’s request for more time.
“It’s not us; it’s child and family services,” one officer tells the family.
“We’re going to actually physically remove the baby,” an officer says. “I don’t want to do that.”
Eventually a woman identified as the mother’s aunt places the baby in a car seat.
“We’re going to actually physically remove the baby. I don't want to do that."
A police officer carries the baby down the hall. “Now she’s got no child,” the uncle says, turning the camera back to the mother on the hospital bed.
“While she cared for that baby for nine months, and just like that, this corporate system … reminds me of the residential school days when the RCMP would come to your house and you can’t do nothing about it,” he continued.
Last November, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced the federal government would hand over control of child welfare services including foster care to Indigenous governments pending the passage of new legislation to be tabled later this month.
In an interview on Friday, Philpott said that it’s very concerning to see a child being taken away from his or her family, and that it’s not an isolated incident. After viewing the video last night, she said she promptly contacted the First Nations advocate office and other officials.
“We already know from our past experience with policies like residential schools the damage that is done and that continues to affect families when children are taken away against the family’s will,” Philpott said.
She stressed how critical it is for a newborn baby to be attached to a family member,
“ideally mom and dad and other family members who are intimately acquainted and attached to that baby already.”
“For us to sever that critical biological and cultural bond, we have to have an extremely high bar for looking at when a child must be apprehended,” she continued, “especially to be apprehended under force.”
VICE News has requested comment from the CFS in Manitoba. According to CFS Act, the department "places strict confidentiality provisions in place to protect the privacy and wellbeing of children and families who have had contact with the child welfare system."
A spokesperson for the province’s children’s advocate said she knew of the video and could speak to it at a later time.
Cover image: screenshot of mother before her baby is apprehended, via Facebook video.
This article originally appeared on VICE News CA.