VANCOUVER - A British Columbia foster mother fighting to adopt a two-year-old Metis girl says she fears the toddler will suffer lasting psychological harm if moved to Ontario to live with her older sisters.
The foster mother, who cannot be named, said she has always known of the B.C. Children's Ministry's plan to move the girl across the country to live with her siblings, who she has never met.
But she said the ministry "mishandled" the case and took too long to make the arrangements. In the meantime, the girl has bonded with the only family she has ever known, she said.
"A bond with a child that you've spent night and day with since she was born is very strong. It's an emotional bond that goes beyond words," she said in an interview.
She and her husband have filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court to stop the government from moving the girl.
Their lawyer, Jack Hittrich, was in court this week to seek an interim order to keep the toddler in B.C. until the petition can be heard. Government lawyers filed an application to strike the petition on the grounds that it's an abuse of process.
A judge reserved her decision on both matters Friday afternoon and issued an order that the child not be removed from the foster parents' care until her decision is made.
The foster mother is Metis, while the caregivers in Ontario are not, raising questions about whether the child is better off with blood relatives or with a parent who shares her indigenous background.
"There are just day to day values that can be passed along that you can't learn from a book. It happens as you walk, as you talk, as you explore, as you sing and dance," said the foster mother.
She said she understands the need for the girl to have a relationship with her sisters, and would be happy to arrange visits with the Ontario family.
The biological family lives in B.C. and supports the toddler staying with the foster family, she added.
Hittrich told court Friday that moving the little girl to live with parents who are "strangers" to her, and then potentially moving her back if the petition is successful, would cause her emotional harm.
"There's overwhelming evidence before you that the disruption of the status quo, pending the full hearing of the current petition, is simply not in the best interests of this little girl," he said.
He said he has reports from psychologists who say the girl could suffer reactive attachment disorder, a psychological condition that affects one's ability to form long-term emotional bonds.
Government lawyers have said the evidence is hearsay.
Leah Greathead, representing the ministry, said a judge has already dismissed a similar petition filed by the foster parents and that asking a second judge to rule on the matter is "pure craziness."
She said the foster parents should have filed an appeal with the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Her co-counsel Tyna Mason told court the ministry has sole guardianship of the child and the decision to move her was made based on her best interests.
She pointed out that the foster parents' legal contract with the ministry states that the child can be removed from them permanently at any time.
Hittrich has said the best interests of the child should be determined in this case by a court, not by the ministry in a "unilateral decision."
The ministry has said it did not make the decision unilaterally but after consultation with a committee of Aboriginal representatives.
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