Mr. Speaker, I would like to start out by congratulating Adopt4Life, the Child and Youth Permanency Council of Canada and the time to attach campaign for their tireless advocacy, which has led to Bill C-318 today.
I also congratulate my colleague from Battlefords—Lloydminster for putting this bill forward. It is an important first step in providing adoptive parents with the parental time they need to attach to adoptive children.
This is a critical first step in improving the outcomes for children being adopted, many of whom are over the age of 10 at the time of placement and have a history of trauma and loss. I, along with my NDP colleagues, support this change as we recognize that building relationships between children and adoptive families is vital for the success, not only of the child, but also for the adoptive family.
The first year that children are with their adoptive parents or caregivers is crucial for bonding and creating a foundation for strong relationships. The extension of this parental leave is crucial.
Unfortunately, one of the areas where this bill falls short is the recognition of kinship and customary care arrangements. This is strongly supported by Adopt4Life and Time to Attach campaign, which are also fighting for an additional 15-week leave for children who are receiving customary and kinship care.
The province of Manitoba defines “kinship care” as an arrangement in which the child is placed with extended family, such as a grandparent or someone with whom they have a significant relationship. Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions defines “customary care” as care through an individual's lifespan in which the community takes care of its own members according to its customs, traditions and norms.
Both kinship and customary care arrangements are common within indigenous nations as we struggle to reclaim our families and children. This is a serious omission in the bill that needs to be addressed, especially because, in the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 90% of all children in care are indigenous. There are more children in the child welfare system today than at the height of the residential school system.
We know the harmful implications of separating children from their families and communities. One only has to look at the impacts of residential schools, where children were forcibly removed from their families and shipped off to residential schools, and at the sixties scoop, where indigenous children were removed from customary care structures and placed in non-indigenous foster homes, disconnecting them from their familial and community structures, to see the lasting damage that has caused.
In both instances, physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse were rampant. This has resulted in lasting trauma and loss for individuals, families and communities. This was acknowledged in the 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Moreover, the omission of customary and kinship care is contrary to our international obligations, including UNDRIP and Bill C-15, which is now a law in Canada. It is also in violation of article II of the UN convention on genocide.
I want to share a story about my mother. My mother, Marjorie Gazan, was a street kid and a child welfare survivor who ended up in the system after my grandmother abandoned her and her younger brother in a hotel room in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, when she was five years old.
My grandmother had to leave them to earn money. There were no supports for indigenous women in the 1930s. There were no human rights. There was no one to turn to, especially for indigenous single mothers, and my grandmother was not an exception.
Since my mother was the eldest child, my grandmother left her in charge of her younger brother with specific instructions. She said, “Here is a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jam. It needs to last five days.” I remember my mother telling me how she, along with my uncle, gleefully ate the loaf of bread and ran out of their food ration in only one day. Hungry, scared and alone, my mother decided to call the Children's Aid Society.
It is beyond most people's imagination, especially those who have been privileged with human rights, what a five-year-old girl would have to have endured to understand who to call and how to work with the bureaucratic child welfare system to relieve her and her brother's hunger. It was not that my grandmother did not love her, but she had grown up as a street kid, who later in life became a serious alcoholic to deal with the violent genocide she had experienced throughout her life. Dislocated from her family for reasons directly correlated to the Indian Act and other institutional and colonial disruptions, including residential schools, she did not have anyone or anywhere to turn to. In fact, under the former Indian Act, a “person” is defined as “any individual other than an Indian”. This made it impossible for my grandmother.
When my mother and uncle were apprehended into care, my late great auntie Stella Goodwill offered to take them into her house on Standing Buffalo reservation. However, this did not occur. As a result, my mother ended up being switched between 15 different placements between the ages of five and 18. It was not until I was 13 years old that my mother reconnected with her family and her community of Wood Mountain Lakota first nation. My mother had to endure a life alone in the world, and as a result, I was brought up almost completely devoid of extended family. I often envied my friends having big family dinners with their relatives. This was robbed from our family by the child welfare system and residential schools, as well as the intergenerational impacts of institutionalization, colonialism and systemic racism.
I sometimes wonder why I was brought to the House of Commons, an often racist, misogynistic, classist and neocolonial environment, where talk of reconciliation is cheap and the discomfort demonstrated when the residue of trauma caused by colonial violence rears its head is received with assumptions and judgments. Maybe that is why I am here, to tell these stories, to speak these truths so that they will forever be recorded in the Hansard, to fight for justice for families and communities, and to bring our children and women home.
Customary and kinship care is one way to achieve this. Although the NDP will be supporting this bill, it is my hope that extending the benefits to customary and kinship caregivers will be addressed at committee to truly reflect reconciliation.