This September, a class action lawsuit was started in BC on behalf of mothers who had their newborns taken from them due to a ‘birth alert’. A ‘birth alert’ occurs when a social worker tags pregnant women, so that child protection authorities appear in the hospital as the child is being born. In almost 1/3 of cases, the newborn is taken from the mother due to “speculative child protection concerns”.
The lawsuit claims that this practice often occurs without evidence and is based on discriminatory assumptions about the mother. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report noted that this birth alert practice occurs predominantly to marginalized individuals, including Indigenous mothers. The report furthers that these birth alerts are “racist, discriminatory and a gross violation of human rights”.
British Columbia had stopped the formal process of birth alerts a couple of years ago, but these alerts have been found to have a long-lasting effect on both mothers and children. Further, in cases surrounding abuse, assault, and systemic mistreatment, there is no limitation date. This means that if an individual was abused by the state 30 years ago, they can still file a lawsuit today.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development stated that there were around 444 birth alerts in BC from January 2018 until August 2019. Out of these 444 alerts, 257 of them, around 58%, dealt with Indigenous mothers. Unfortunately, most of these mothers aren’t told they’re subject to a birth alert, which can increase stress and trauma.
The results of a Freedom of Information request showed that the BC Ministry of Attorney General concluded that hospital alerts that involve the disclosure of information without parental consent, are illegal in British Columbia law, and may even be unconstitutional on a federal level. This decision, along with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report, were the two main reasons that BC decided to end its hospital alert system in September 2019.
The goal of the class action lawsuit is to seek justice for individuals that have been negatively impacted and targeted by this system, along with creating a precedent that can be used in future cases regarding the mistreatment of marginalized groups of people.