Protesters call out Timmins child services for systemic injustice
TIMMINS -- People supporting the family of a three-year-old boy claim Kunuwanimano Child and Family Services is neglecting his welfare by allowing unsupervised visits with his father, who has a history of criminal charges.
Relatives of the child arranged a protest outside of the agency's location at Cedar Street South in Timmins, saying staff have not returned their calls.
The child's aunt, who is not being named in order to protect the boy, told CTV News that based on messages she has received from people facing similar situations, there appears to be a larger issue with how the agency handles child welfare cases.
"Not just one child, there's many children that I know are in Kunuwanimano and they're misguided and mistreated," the woman said, holding a sign with the name of the agency crossed out in red. "No one does anything because everyone's scared to do anything."
Documents obtained by CTV News confirm that the father of the three-year-old boy has a history with police involving robbery, assault and child pornography charges. The Timmins Police Service confirmed the assault charge, but the child pornography charge was withdrawn.
Other documents also confirm that Kunuwanimano Child and Family Services has authority over the boy's visitation with his father. A letter from the agency showed that family members raised concerns, but that it is going forward with allowing unsupervised visits between the child and his father.
CTV News reached out to Kunuwanimano Child and Family Services for comment but its executive director, Shirley Gillis-Kendall, said she could not comment on this case for confidentiality reasons. Gillis-Kendall did stress that the agency's top priority is the well-being of children in its care.
When asked how the agency deals with complaints about its services, CTV News has not yet received a response.
A supporter at the protest, Sophie Gunner-Sackabuckskum, said this situation invokes memories of Canada's infamous residential school system, where the government would take children away from their families and put them into dangerous living situations.
Gunner-Sackabuckskum said she fears the way the child services agency is handling cases uses a similar mentality — and that people should not accept it.
"It's so important that we stand up for each other," Gunner-Sackabuckskum said. "Even as women, even as families, we have to stand behind each other when some injustice is happening in this system."
The chief of the family's community of Matachewan First Nation, Jason Batisse, told CTV News he has been having meetings about this issue but could not speak to the case directly.
In an emailed statement, he said, "children are our future and Indigenous peoples are working toward raising healthy future Indigenous adults in order to overcome historical issues whereby generations suffered the loss of culture, identity and disrupted family dynamics for generations."
"All agencies, child welfare included, need to work hand in hand with First Nations," Batisse said.
Supporters said they will arrange another protest on Friday to draw more attention to this issue and seek answers from Kunuwanimano Child and Family Services.
The three-year-old's aunt said it's about creating a better system to place children in healthy homes.
"These children don't have a voice and they can't say anything or do anything. This is an aboriginal agency and they're supposed to be helping children and they're not," said the concerned aunt.