New Brunswick Ends Controversial Birth Alert Policy

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New Brunswick has ended the controversial policy of birth alerts, one of the last Canadian provinces to do so.

Implemented in 2009, the policy allowed the Department of Social Development to notify hospitals about a pregnant woman if there were concerns about the safety of her unborn baby.

“Ending birth alerts in New Brunswick is a step towards reconciliation,” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn said in a statement.

“Birth alerts were viewed as controversial as they risked being perceived as discriminatory and unfairly targeting indigenous and marginalized communities.”

Used by many provinces in Canada in recent years, birth alerts have been criticized for disproportionately targeting Indigenous women and often resulting in the removal of newborns from their mothers almost immediately after birth.

Many lawyers have argued that the policy is illegal and unconstitutional.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn said the decision to end the birth alert policy is a step towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities. (Ed Hunter / CBC)

In 2018, the British Columbia Supreme Court endorsed this position and ordered the province to return a child to its mother and coordinate community family support with the affected First Nation instead.

In 2019, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls recommended ending the practice, calling it discriminatory and racist.

Since then, most provinces have stopped using birth alerts, and Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island ended the practice earlier this year.

With New Brunswick’s action on Friday, Nova Scotia is now the only Atlantic province to continue using birth alerts, but says it is also revising the policy in light of the new legislation federal government on Indigenous children and youth.

The province of New Brunswick has said other policies to protect newborns will remain in place and the province will continue to work to protect children at risk, as required by the Family Services Act

“Eliminating birth alerts is about healing all families and communities,” Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said in the release.

“It is also important to focus on prevention efforts and to continue education on the programs and services that are available to parents and pregnant women, fathers and families.

Quebec also continues to use birth alerts. Indigenous children in this province are eight times more likely to be placed in foster care than non-Indigenous children.

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