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‘A red herring:’ Experts warn ending birth alerts not the only solution

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The number of newborns taken into care dropped dramatically as birth alerts ended across Canada, but child welfare experts warn ceasing the practice cannot be the only step governments take to keep families together.

“(Birth alerts) really risk being kind of a red herring in the real issue of ensuring that children have an adequate opportunity to grow up with their families,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

“What we really need to get at is issues of systemic racism, poverty and domestic violence.”

Birth alerts were used to notify hospitals and child-welfare agencies that a more thorough assessment was needed before a newborn was discharged to a parent deemed high-risk.

The practice had long been criticized by Indigenous leaders and other people of colour. The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls said they were “racist and discriminatory, and are a gross violation of the rights of the child, the mother and the community.”

Some areas stopped using birth alerts a long time ago, but provinces only ended the practice in recent years. Yukon, British Columbia and Alberta stopped in 2019. Manitoba and Ontario ended the practice the following year.

Saskatchewan stopped using birth alerts early in 2021, with New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia following later that year.

Data obtained by The Canadian Press through freedom-of-information requests shows that 496 newborns nationally were taken into care in 2021 in regions that had ended birth alerts. It marked a drop of 52 per cent from 2018 when 1,034 were apprehended in those regions.

However, apprehensions of babies 12 months and younger dropped only 36 per cent from 2,957 in 2018 to 1,881 in 2021. Much of that decrease is from the effect of the decline in newborn apprehensions.

The Canadian Press analysis looked at the regions that ended birth alerts in 2019 and 2020: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon and Ontario. It also looked at Saskatchewan, which ended the practice early in February 2021.

Regions that ended birth alerts later in 2021 were not included in the analysis because experts say it would be too early to know the effect.

Jeannine Carriere, a Métis social work professor at the University of Victoria, said ending birth alerts was a good decision, but she worries governments are using the move as a “deflection away from the structural and ongoing colonial policies around major issues.”

She added: “Poverty is the No. 1 factor for Indigenous kids coming into contact with the child welfare system.”

Indigenous children make up more than one half of all foster children 14 and younger, but only 7.7 per cent of kids that age in the Canadian population, 2016 census data indicates. Thirty-eight per cent of Indigenous children in Canada live in poverty, compared to seven per cent for non-Indigenous kids.

Experts say the overrepresentation is linked to centuries of policies of assimilation and discrimination, such as residential schools.

Carriere said pregnant people need culturally relevant and accessible prenatal care, as well as stable housing and other health and addictions care before a child is born. They also need support after the birth with schooling, employment and connections with community.

“Colonialism isn’t something of the past. It’s something that is ongoing,” Carriere said.

British Columbia saw a 51.4 per cent decrease in newborns taken into care since birth alerts ended.

Manitoba had a 65 per cent decrease in newborns apprehended after the practice stopped. But the downturn was much less dramatic for babies 12 months and younger — 32 per cent from the year before and after birth alerts stopped.

There are about 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and about 90 per cent are Indigenous.

It’s one thing to say birth alerts will end, but another to significantly reduce the number of children in care, said the First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

Cora Morgan said her first time witnessing a birth alert was shocking.

“How can you do something so cruel?”

Her office continues to get calls from pregnant people worried their babies will be taken. Prevention is needed at the community level, Morgan said.

Governments have money to put children in foster placements, she said, but not to support families staying together.

Ending birth alerts has had no effect on the underlying circumstances that put families at risk, added Bryn King, a social work professor at the University of Toronto.

Ontario saw a 45 per cent decrease in newborn apprehensions in the year before and after birth alerts ended. There was a 25 per cent per cent decrease for babies aged four days to 12 months.

King said there needs to be a conversation about the appropriate scope for child welfare intervention. If a child has been harmed or there’s an immediate risk, then social workers should act, King said.

But, too often, “we are apprehending because there are circumstances that are potentially risky and we haven’t done anything to address those circumstances,” she said.

Every effort must be taken to ensure caregivers have opportunities to address possible risks, King said. That means looking at other interventions, such as housing and mental health support.

Ending birth alerts alone is not the solution, she said.

“We spend a lot of money on investigations but not enough on the services and support that would preclude the need for an investigation.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2022.

 

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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Iran protests: Canada sanctioning 'morality police' – CTV News

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Canada will be imposing new sanctions on Iran as a result of a continuing violent crackdown on protesters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday.

The sanctions will be levelled on “dozens of individuals and entities, including Iran’s so-called morality police,” the prime minister said.

“We’ve seen Iran disregarding human rights time and time again, and now we see with the death of Mahsa Amini and the crackdown on protests,” Trudeau said, referencing the death of a 22-year-old who was detained for allegedly violating the country’s forced veiling laws. Her death has sparked outrage and has prompted a wave of international demonstrations, seeing some women cut their hair or burn their hijabs in revolt.

“To the women in Iran who are protesting and to those who are supporting you, we stand with you. We join our voices, the voices of all Canadians, to the millions of people around the world demanding that the Iranian government listen to their people, end their repression of freedoms and rights, and let women and all Iranians live their lives and express themselves peacefully,” Trudeau said.

While no official notice of the new sanctions has been published by Global Affairs Canada, the prime minister noted they come in addition to outstanding measures Canada has taken against Iran.

In an email to CTV News, Adrien Blanchard, press secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said that Trudeau “announced Canada’s intention” to issue these sanctions, pledging more details “in due course.” 

Joly, as well as MPs from all parties, have spoken out about the escalating tensions and use of force against civilians in Iran, with the House of Commons unanimously passing a motion last week offering “solidarity to the women of Iran who are fighting for their rights and freedoms.”

With files from CTV News’ Michael Lee 

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Maine power workers cross border without incident to help in Nova Scotia

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OTTAWA — Nova Scotia Power says there were no issues delaying American power crews from crossing the border to help repair the electrical grid from the devastation of hurricane Fiona.

On Sunday, the utility company and Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston had both said an issue related to the controversial ArriveCan app was delaying power crews from crossing into Canada.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said this morning that the order making the app mandatory and requiring that foreign citizens be vaccinated to come to Canada will expire on Friday.

Power crews helping to restore electricity are considered essential workers and are exempt from the border measures.

In a new statement Monday afternoon, Nova Scotia Power spokeswoman Jacqueline Foster says there was some confusion about the app but it is now confirmed there were no problems.

Versant Power says 15 line workers and two mechanics left Bangor, Maine, for Canada early Monday morning without issue, and Central Maine Power reports more than a dozen two-person crews and 10 support workers crossed the border without incident at around 7 a.m. Monday.

“We now know there were not any issues with ArriveCan,” said Foster. “Our contractor crews have made their way over the border and we are grateful to have them as part of our restoration efforts here in Nova Scotia.”

The Canada Border Services Agency reported that it cleared 19 power trucks at the Third Bridge border crossing in St. Stephen, N.B., just after 7 a.m. Monday. The CBSA said the average processing time was between 30 and 60 seconds per vehicle.

The ArriveCan app has been fodder for heated political debates for months and Conservatives have repeatedly demanded that the government shut it down.

During question period on Monday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre cited the allegations that ArriveCan delayed power crews to demand that the app be scrapped ahead of schedule.

He asked, “Will the prime minister suspend the ArriveCan app today, not Saturday, so that no more holdups happen at the border for those who are trying to help those in desperate need?”

Trudeau said he can “confirm that there were no delays at any border because of ArriveCan or otherwise.”

The utility company had said Sunday that crews were physically stuck at the border, but confirmed a few hours after question period on Monday that this had never been the case.

Foster suggested the error was a result of “confusion” after a concern arose Friday — before the storm actually hit — that crews from Maine might not be able to cross the border because of ArriveCan.

No New Brunswick border crossings reported issues over the weekend.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

 

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Former top civil servant, medical association president appointed as senators

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OTTAWA — Ian Shugart, a longtime bureaucrat and the country’s top civil servant during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been tapped for a seat in the Senate.

Dr. Gigi Osler, a Winnipeg surgeon, University of Manitoba professor and president of the Federation of Medical Women in Canada, is also set to become a senator.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the picks today after the two were recommended to him by the independent advisory board for appointments to the upper chamber.

Shugart, who will represent Ontario, stepped down as the clerk of the Privy Council in early 2021 to undergo cancer treatments and formally retired in May after a long public service career.

Trudeau also appointed him to the King’s Privy Council today, adding his name to a list that includes past and present cabinet ministers and people “honoured for their contributions to Canada,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Osler, who will represent Manitoba, became the first female surgeon and the first racialized woman to hold the presidency at the Canadian Medical Association in 2018.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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