While the Manitoba government laid out plans for the upcoming year during its throne speech on Wednesday, dozens of Indigenous protesters were outside the legislative building as they fight for millions of dollars they believe First Nations children in the province are owed.
The protesters were voicing their opposition to an omnibus bill that would effectively kill a class-action lawsuit that could force the provincial government to hand over $338 million in federal money from the Children’s Special Allowance (CSA) meant for Manitoba First Nations children that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs claims instead ended up in provincial coffers.
“The Manitoba government has stolen $338 million from First Nations children in care off reserve,” Grand Chief Arlen Dumas from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said during the rally.
The CSA is a federal allowance of roughly $530 per month,per child given to agencies that care for First Nations children.
In 2006, the Manitoba government began forcing these agencies to remit the money to the province, indicating that the province had been paying for the care of these children and therefore the money belonged to it.
“The practice of clawing back the CSA is wrong,” said Wab Kinew, provincial NDP leader. “Why else would they have to change the laws to make this practice permissible?”
According to the chiefs, Section 84 of the provincial government’s Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act would void the lawsuit on behalf of children who “are victims of the government’s actions of capturing the Children’s Special Allowance.”
“It’s eliminating their rights to even fight back, it takes out any kind of legal process for them to fight a fight, to get what was rightfully theirs,” said Cora Morgan, a First Nations family advocate.
Among the people missing out on the money is Matthew Shorting, who was in foster care nearly from birth and aged out of the system without any money and without a place to stay. Shorting believes even a few thousand dollars from the program would’ve gone a long wayat the time.
“I could’ve got myself an apartment or a bus pass for looking for work,” he said.
The province ended the practice last year and Families Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement that “any legislation we introduce in this area will be designed to put it behind us while protecting Manitoba taxpayers.”