When Sonia became an MLA in 2017, she saw that one of the biggest issues in her riding of Cowichan Valley was the over-representation of Indigenous children who are apprehended from their families and placed in state care.
In BC, 64% of 6,804 kids in care identify as Indigenous, but they make up just 10% of the population under 19. “Child-protection workers are more than four times more likely to launch investigations into Indigenous families, and 12 times more likely to remove Indigenous children than other children.”
Sonia’s riding has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the province, and is one of the areas where Indigenous child apprehensions have been the most prevalent. The number of Indigenous children in state care in Canada actually exceeds the number that were placed in residential schools. As such, it is a horrific continuation of our history of colonialism that removes Indigenous children from their communities. As The Tyee journalist Katie Hylsop writes: “Placements with non-Indigenous families separate [Indigenous youth] from their communities, and even expose them to denigration of their culture. That’s compounded by the intergenerational trauma many experienced in their birth families stemming from colonization, the residential school system and the mass adoptions of their parents and grandparents in the Sixties Scoop.”
Studies show that being removed from your family is incredibly traumatic for children. It can cause lasting psychological damage that resonates throughout the rest of their lives and through subsequent generations. The vast majority of child apprehensions are due to a nebulous cause of “neglect”, which the federal Minister has admitted includes removing children simply because their families are living in poverty.
After Sonia heard the heartbreaking stories from mothers in her riding, she began working with local midwives and community groups to support them to be able to keep their babies. As she told the Globe and Mail: “We are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. There are a range of choices available to us as individuals, as there were for elected officials in the residential-school era. I have chosen not to be a bystander, to do everything in my power to stop children from being removed from their mothers, their nations, their cultures.”
Sonia also began questioning the Ministry of Child and Family Development on what they were doing to keep more babies and families together, asking for a funding plan and the urgent implementation of policy changes. In September 2019, the province announced it was finally ending the practice of birth alerts, which leads to the apprehension of newborn infants from their mothers.
Sonia welcomed the move, but is continuing to push for greater systemic change. As she said at the time: “We need to recognize that the humanitarian crisis of Indigenous child apprehensions will not be stopped by tinkering around the edges of a very broken, non-evidence based system. I will continue to work tirelessly to prioritize this issue, amplify the voices of those affected, and support those in my community who are working towards solutions.
“Increasingly, Indigenous and First Nations communities are asserting their inherent rights and jurisdiction over their children. This government needs to recognize this, and end its colonial practices.”
As Leader of the B.C. Greens, addressing systemic racism and inequality will be one of Sonia’s top priorities. She understands how our institutions are layered with our history of colonialism and oppression, and how much work there is to do to rebuild our systems so that they are fair, just, and effective.