Saskatchewan, Saskatoon Tribal Council argue in court over child protection

The Saskatchewan government is seeking an injunction to take back responsibility for children under the care of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, but some say the move infringes on aboriginal sovereignty.

Government lawyer Michael Morris argued the province has to step in because the tribal council isn’t sharing even basic information, such as how many children are in care or their names.

“Right now that information’s not being provided,” Morris told Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Lian Schwann on Tuesday.

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    “Who are the caregivers to those children? What services are being provided to them? What are their needs? What, if any, case planning is there in relation to them? For every child that has been put into care … Saskatchewan requires that information.”

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    Morris said the Ministry of Social Services not only has the authority, but also the duty to protect children on and off reserve.

    He said Saskatchewan needs access to documents “to ensure that children on the STC First Nations … are safe and receiving all proper support and services.”

    First Nations agencies are required to monitor and track children in care on reserve and report back to the Ministry of Social Services. The province has delegation agreements with them.

    But Saskatchewan Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer said earlier this month that years of trying to negotiate a new deal between the province and the Saskatoon Tribal Council have reached an impasse. She also said that federal funding expired in March, which meant the province could terminate its part of the agreement.

    WATCH BELOW: Saskatchewan government moves to collect files from tribal council

    Lawyer Josephine de Whytell, who argued on behalf of the tribal council, said funding from Ottawa expires each year with the federal budget and is renewed.

    She said the council is following a bilateral accord on caring for children that was signed with the province in 1996. It’s not a matter of the province delegating power to the tribal council, she added.

    “Those First Nations have not given up their authority to act as independent nations responsible for the protection and well-being of their children,” she said.

    De Whytell said the tribal council is willing to provide the information for auditing and case transfer purposes, but not because it reports to the ministry as a subordinate agency.

    She called the province’s claims “frivolous and vexatious.”

    “The order that’s being sought is not necessary to protect the best interests of the children because those children are already being protected by their own First Nations who are accountable to their own membership.”

    Outside the courthouse, children held signs that said “No More 60s Scoop” and “Honour the Bilateral Accord #OurKidsOurJurisdiction.”

    READ MORE: Two-thirds of First Nations children in Saskatchewan live in poverty: advocate

    Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas told reporters that the council will not abdicate control or be forced to sign a new agreement.

    “If you’re a sovereign nation, you cannot be told,’You need to give us that report.’ If you’re a sovereign nation, you’re told with respect, ‘Please share a report so that we can do what’s best for the child,”‘ said Thomas.

    “That’s all we’ve been asking for with the province is show us the respect and live up to the agreement that you signed.”

    Justice Schwann has reserved her decision.

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