Manitoba: Mennonite Community Still
Awaiting Return of Seized Children

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overview

In June of 2013, police and child welfare officials raided a secluded old order Mennonite community in Manitoba, removing over 40 children from 15 families, placing them in foster care. Since then, their parents and community leaders have been in talks with Children and Family Services officials towards the end of having the children returned.

Between January and June of 2013, child protection officials raided a Mennonite community in Manitoba, removing between 40 and 50 children from 15 families, placing them all in foster care. Since then, their parents and community leaders have been negotiating with Children and Family Services officials hoping to have the children returned.

Former Child and Family Services supervisor Henry Dueck is reportedly not happy with how the department has handled the case, telling CBC News reporters that it is unclear whether the approximately 40 children who were removed were actually in danger.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he says with apparent frustration.

“I like to think they have the best interests of the children in mind, but I think their cure is worse than the disease,” he said.

I like to think they have the best interests of the children in mind, but I think their cure is worse than the disease.

Dueck – who has over 25 years of experience in child apprehensions – says that he foresees problems with the way this case was handled.

“Our concern is that the breaking of bonds, the lack of attachment, and what the consequences will be for these children down the road,” said Dueck.

Dueck and his wife Hilda are working with the families, helping them to navigate the system and to get their children back.

Hilda said language barriers and the passage of time have made the situation both emotional and difficult.

“When you see their tears, you can’t help but share their pain,” she said.

Taking too long

Paul Walsh, a lawyer representing 10 of the parents, said the process is taking too long. His clients have some of the youngest children among those seized, and only one of his 10 clients is actually facing charges. He says the children should be returned home immediately.

“It’s a question of time. It’s outrageous that this much time has been taken,” said Walsh in an August 15 CBC report.

But far more time would pass before the children would be returned – that is if indeed they will be.

Unanswered questions

“What CFS won’t explain is why 11 people who have not been charged also had their children taken away,” said CBC reporter Cameron MacIntosh.

An earlier CBC News account of the case reported that among the children taken was a nursing infant. Randy Fehr, a pastor whose parishioners knew some of the families involved in the arrests, told CBC reporter Jill Coubrough that there has been “a lot of heartache for the mom to not know where her little child was going.”

The charges of abuse that were laid against four members of the community are alleged to have occurred between July 2011 and January of this year. Why – if the situation was so dire as to require the removal of so many children – were many left in harm’s way for five months of time? (Some children, though it is not clear how many, had been removed in January).

September hearing

After a court hearing concerning the case in early September, Paul Welsh — attorney for some of the Mennonite families — said he still believes that the process has taken too long. All of his clients have agreed to conditions laid out by CFS officials, yet the children&’ return date had yet to be set.

The conditions were listed in a letter sent to the Mennonite community by Child and Family Services in July. The conditions for the return of the children include:

  • Only spanking children on their buttocks with their hands.
  • Not to leave marks or injuries on the children from disciplining them.
  • Having children disciplined only by their parents, not by teachers or pastors.
Mennonite families address mediaWhile old order Mennonites typically shy away from technology and the press, some of the families were not in the least reluctant to air their frustrations to a wider audience, speaking with CBC reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing.

Little has been said of the judge inside of the courtroom whose actions have served to sanctify the mass removals of the children. That judge holds the key to their return.

With the RCMP at their beck and call, and with a judge acting to cleanse the agency’s actions, an isolated community can only hope and pray that its children will be returned, and that they will be returned as undamaged children.