In the House

Doug in 2nd reading of Bill 2, the Adoption Amendment Act 2017

 

I rise to take my place in second reading debate of Bill 2, the Adoption Amendment Act. I have some general comments, which are appropriate for second reading of the bill. I'm going to focus my comments on two areas of the bill. One is the rules around adoptions outside of B.C. The second will deal with the recommendations of Grand Chief Ed John, who has been invoked by a number of the speakers on the government side.

I first want to say I'm sorry that the minister couldn't introduce this second reading debate today. I understand that she has laryngitis, so I hope she recovers well. I'm sure she'll be monitoring the comments at second reading.

The rules around and the provisions for allowing adoptions outside of B.C. are a part of the amendments. I believe, and the evidence shows, that these amendments around the rules around adopting outside of B.C. are directly in relation to a very troublesome case that arose last year in a case called S.S., a young Métis child, a female.

The facts behind the case, again, are very troubling. I met with the birth mother myself, and then the deputy critic of Children and Family met with the adoptive mother and a leader from the Métis association and, at that time, the foster mother.

We met with them because at that point the government was in the process of pursuing an avenue where this child…. She had been with the foster parents since birth and was now…. Well, by the time the case was over, she was three years old. At that time, she was 26 months. It was going to remove the child from the foster parents and place S.S. with her Métis siblings in a family in Ontario, a non- Métis family.

It brought up all sorts of questions. The birth mother, who was Métis, wasn't in favour and spoke out in the media saying that she wasn't in favour of this move. The foster parents that were fighting this in the courts — although they were not Métis, they had been very active in trying to connect this young girl, S.S., with Métis culture. In fact, at one point they were being told that they were prohibited from doing that, according to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

It brought up questions around the non-Métis parents in Ontario who had the siblings of this young girl and the placement of S.S. with the siblings. In fact, at one point the Métis leadership who was involved in this expressed to me concern around how, originally, S.S.'s Métis siblings were placed with a non-Métis family in Ontario, so far from B.C.

This, perhaps, is why we see in this bill the provisions that changes around court decisions regarding adoptions outside of the province are going to be…. The new rules will be made retroactive to January 16, 2006. We'll find out more about this at committee stage. But it seems to me that in this case…. Again, we don't know the reasons that the ministry wanted to remove this child.

You can imagine a child, the bonding…. I mean, all studies show that within the first three years, there's an incredible influence on the child's mental development and attachment. The ministry's decision must have been overwhelming reasons for taking this young Métis girl away from her foster parents, who did want to adopt, and placing her with her siblings, who she had never met, with a non-Métis couple in Ontario.

That, I believe, is why this retroactive part of the amendment is there and, also, the criteria for allowing adoptions out of B.C. in the bill. It's unfortunate because…. We'll find out through the committee stage why these provisions were put in place, but I'm hoping that we'll also get to the bottom of the case. It ended up that the young Métis girl was taken away from the only parents she had ever known since birth.

There is, also, in here, in this Bill 2, some provisions around information-sharing with indigenous communities to support aboriginal children post-adoption and in information-sharing generally. I hope that that will lead to a better understanding of why the ministry conducted themselves the way they did, under the authority….

Of course, the buck stops at the top, under the authority of the minister. If the information-sharing provisions of this Bill 2 can actually lead to getting some answers, that will be good.

I believe that we've heard too many times the minister hiding behind the act, saying she legally can't comment. If the information-sharing provisions in this act lead to a little less of that and a little bit more transparency, then that's good. You recall the case with the death of Nick Lang, when even the parents wanted to talk more publicly and talk about that case. They were threatened with legal action by the Ministry of Justice — that they might be contravening the justice act for youth.

I think that we have a number of examples here of the rationale behind some of the provisions in this bill. I just hope that we can talk about them more at committee stage, so we know that we can get more answers, not more curtains, especially in the case of S.S., the Métis child.

The second area I'd like to address is some of the recommendations from Grand Chief Ed John in his report, Indigenous Resilience, Connectedness and Reunification: From Root Causes to Root Solutions, because his name has been invoked by the minister who introduced Bill 2. Grand Chief Ed John provided this report, and yet we don't see evidence under this Bill 2 of any consultation being done, on new provisions that are being proposed, with any of the major provincial First Nations organizations, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Summit.

I would think that the government might have learned a little bit from their experience with the Plecas report, with Bob Plecas, in that consultation is important. They had to back off a number of the recommendations Mr. Plecas made that didn't seem to have a grounding in reality. In fact, he would not release the research information he had conducted, apparently, to come up with these conclusions to the Representative for Children and Youth, so we're unsure where some of them came from.

I thought the government would have learned from that, because Mr. Plecas also invoked Grand Chief Ed John's name in his report and said he'll take care of anything to do with the indigenous aspect of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which puts a lot on one person's shoulders. I thought that the ministry would therefore want to consult a little bit more widely with First Nations organizations when it came to these fairly significant provisions in Bill 2.

I think what we've learned from the government is that…. For instance, in the case of Grand Chief John's report, there are 85 recommendations. This government often treats reports from indigenous leaders or the Representative for Children and Youth as a buffet. They can pick and choose which ones that they feel they want to implement and not really understand the full intent of reports.

Often, the wording used is: "We accept all the recommendations of Grand Chief Ed John. We accept all the recommendations of the latest report from the Representative for Children and Youth." "Accept" and "implement" are two different things. Accept, fine. They just have to take the report, look at it and read it. But implement is something quite different. I think that's misdirection. When the minister and the B.C. Liberal government says: "We accept all the recommendations…." Yes, but implementation is the key.

That's where I come to Bill 2 and the recommendations that Grand Chief Ed John made on aboriginal custom adoption. That directly relates to Bill 2.

As Grand Chief Ed John pointed out in his report, approximately 17 percent of indigenous children and youth in care find permanency, versus about 28 percent for non-indigenous youth. That's an issue, because we know that the majority of youth in care in this province are of First Nations descent.

Grand Chief Ed John goes on to say in his report, "Relatedly, less than 60% of indigenous children and youth in care will find permanency within five years of entering into care" — five years — whereas for non-indigenous children and youth, approximately 75 percent will find permanency within five years.

He goes on to say, "In fact, close to 60% of indigenous children in care will age out without ever finding permanency"— age out. This is what happened with Paige, as well as with Alex Gervais. They aged out without ever finding permanency.

Although Grand Chief Ed John's name is invoked by the minister in introducing second reading here, and by other members on the government side, his key recommendations around aboriginal custom adoption are not mentioned in this bill, and, in fact, seem to be absent. That's unfortunate, because in recommendation 48, Grand Chief John recommended the creation of an indigenous custom adoption registry for indigenous children and youth. That's not in this bill, in Bill 2, and that's an oversight. I don't understand why, when you're bringing in a bill amending the Adoption Act, you wouldn't listen to a pretty comprehensive report specifically on custom adoptions.

Custom adoptions are particularly important for First Nations and aboriginal members because they allow a little bit more latitude in how adoptions occur. Of course, we all know that in First Nations communities…. I know specifically in the Wet'suwet'en, the Gitxsan, the Gitanyow, the Tahltan, the Takla and the Tlingit communities in Stikine, the constituency I represent, have many ways of embracing and giving those warm, all-around services to children in an extended family kind of situation. That's what custom adoptions is all about, but it's not touched upon in this amendment, in this act that amends the Adoption Act. For me, I don't understand why the government chose not to pursue that.

We know as well that in recommendation 49, Grand Chief Ed John wrote: "MCFD ensure all custom adoptions are eligible for post-adoption services and pay rates similar to the current post-adoption assistance to those caregivers who utilize custom adoption." So that specifically is talking about resources that are required. Often, as he's hinting at there, they aren't the same in custom adoption as they are in what one would call mainstream adoption.

If you want to actually get at the crux of the matter, the majority of kids in care in this province are of aboriginal descent, at least 60 percent, while only 5 percent of the total population is of indigenous background. That's a real issue. That's a disproportionate issue.

He also, in recommendation 49, talks about the resources that are required for that. 

This really hits home because the Representative for Children and Youth, in both Paige and in the Alex Gervais case, really pointed out that there were care options available with family members — whether adoption or whether in extended family or whether custom adoption or whether foster care — that were not made available and that dollars were the main reason that THAT didn't happen. Dollars. 

In both those cases, those two young people died after aging out of care, when connecting with family members could have made a big difference in the final outcome of their lives. That is one aspect that is not addressed. The recommendations around custom adoption that Grand Chief Ed John made — it isn't in Bill 2.

Finally, on that note, around resources, we know that this government, late in the day, has found resources to put back into the Ministry of Children and Family Development. We're just back to zero again, compared to what resources were there under 16 years ago, under the B.C. Liberals when they made cuts to that ministry. 

Paige and Alex both spent their entire lives, pretty well, under the 16 years of the B.C. Liberal government. So that is why it's so important, in Bill 2, to try to get down to the crux of the matter in Grand Chief Ed John's recommendations. 

Just to sum up. I'm looking forward to finding out in committee stage if these amendments under Bill 2 actually make a difference for us to understand why children like S.S. — the Métis child who was removed from her foster parents after three years, even though her Métis birth mother was voicing support for those foster parents, and put in Ontario with a non- Métis family with siblings she'd never met…. 

If this bill gives some answers to why that situation arose; Ii this bill, with its information-sharing provisions, will end up lessening the likelihood of the minister hiding behind the act when we ask questions in question period; and if we can see aboriginal custom adoptions being fully resourced, as Grand Chief Ed John put in his report, then we'll know that this bill is actually getting to the crux of the matter on adoptions in this province when it comes to First Nations people.