SL (Re), 2020 ABPC 194

The Court rejected a mother’s application for a hearing on the alleged non-compliance of the Director of Children’s Services with An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit & Metis Children, Youth and Families, SC 2019, c 24 in context to an application for a Temporary Guardianship Order over her five children. She alleged the Director failed to provide notice of the apprehension to her and the Indigenous governing body of her children. The Court found it impossible to ascertain who or what comprises an Indigenous governing body and held there was no factual basis or statutory authority for the application.

Indigenous Law Centre CaseWatch Blog

The Director of Children’s Services [“Director”] has applied for a Temporary Guardianship Order [“TGO”] with respect to five siblings. There has been a long-standing history between the family and Children’s Services dating back to 2008. Concerns centered around substance abuse and domestic violence.

In 2020, police responded to the family’s home after being alerted to domestic issues between the parents who had engaged in a night of drinking. Ten days after a safety plan was put in place requiring the parents to remain sober, the police once more attended the home. The parents and one of the adult sons were found to be intoxicated and displayed aggressive behaviour towards the officers who responded to complaints. At the time, all five children were present in the home and were apprehended as there was no sober adult who was able to care for them.

Four days after the apprehension took place, the Director served the Dene Tha band designate with formal notice of its application for an Initial Custody Order, as well as a TGO. To date, no one has appeared on behalf of the band designate. The parents consented to an Order for Initial Custody. Both were represented by counsel at the time. The substantive application for a TGO remains outstanding.

The mother has now asked the Court for a hearing to rule on the Director’s alleged non- compliance with An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit & Metis Children, Youth and Families, SC 2019, c 24 [“Act”]. Her concern relates to the alleged failure of the Director to provide notice prior to the emergency apprehension of the children.

The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act [“CYFEA”] is provincial legislation enacted by the Government of Alberta. While large swaths of the legislation confer power to the Provincial Court in granting certain orders, the Provincial Court does not have exclusive jurisdiction over every aspect of the CYFEA. In the case at bar, the Director’s substantive application seeks temporary guardianship of the children, thereby the Court has jurisdiction over this matter.

The Act is federal legislation which applies to Indigenous children in the care of the Director. The federal legislation does not articulate what remedies, if any, are available when a party is non-compliant with or in breach of the statute. Similarly, the CYFEA does not set out what consequences may arise if the Director fails to provide notification of a child’s apprehension. The CYFEA does permit an individual who is affected by a decision of a director to request a review. If the guardian is dissatisfied with the Director’s review, they may appeal to the Appeal Panel and thereafter to the Court of Queen’s Bench (RP v Alberta (Director of Child Youth and Family Enhancement), 2016 ABQB 306).

It would appear that the mother did, in fact, have notice that the children were to be apprehended as she was present at the time that the police made its decision. The federal legislation does not specify how or in what form the notice should be given. As such, oral notice is sufficient given the circumstances of this case. Any requirement of notice pursuant to s 12 of the Act must always consider the best interests of the children. In instances where law enforcement is required to respond in the middle of the night and finds that children are in harm’s way due to the condition of the parents, the primary principal step taken by peace officers must always be to protect the said children. Such a step is consistent with the children’s best interests.

As well, the Court finds it impossible to ascertain who or what comprises an Indigenous governing body. The children belong to the following Indigenous governing bodies: Dene Tha First Nation in Alberta; Frog Lake First Nation in Alberta; Witchewan Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan; and Onion Lake first Nation in Saskatchewan. The term Indigenous governing body is defined in s 1 of the federal legislation as a council, government or other entity that is authorized to act on behalf of an Indigenous group, community or people that holds rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Neither legislation provides any guidance on how determination of a child’s band affiliation is made, which is integral to the Director’s ability to identify which Indigenous governing body or bodies should be contacted. The Act does not address instances where a child has hereditary connections to several bands, nor on the required strength of any hereditary connection. In this case, the Dene Tha band designate has not appeared in Court, nor made any representation despite the provision of notice to it. The mother has not provided any additional information, including which children belong to which bands; the manner of the connection; or whether any of the children belong to more than one band. Jurisprudence on this topic provides limited guidance to the case at bar. If the Indigenous governing body wishes to participate, it would need to satisfy the Court that it is in fact authorized to act on behalf of the group, community or people. The mother has failed to establish any nexus between her rights and those of an Indigenous governing body.

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