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J. D. Leask confirmed media reports that DIAND officials had removed children from reserves without their parents consent. He acknowledged the federal department had overstepped its authority in doing so and added the responsibility of child protection was actually a provincial matter, falling under the jurisdiction of the department of social services.
Although he could not confirm reports alleging about 70 children had been taken from reserves in the North Battleford area without their parents having received a hearing. Mr. Leask said the department has about 700 wards in foster homes or some other form of accommodation throughout Saskatchewan. He added he was unaware of the number of cases in which the parents were not given a hearing.
He said the children are removed from their parents when it is learned they are being abused or neglected.
He added the department acquires its information of child mistreatment from other indians in the community or from the RCMP.
The department only acts in cases where the child's life is in jeopardy and the department of social services has chosen not to act.
"It's a judgement call on the part of our officials," he said, adding the provincial department is informed the children in question have been mistreated and have been taken from the reserves.
He added department officials have always notified "responsible people" on the reserve when a child has been removed.
Mr. leask said his department is caught in a bind by the situation. On one hand, the life of the child must be considered, on the other hand, the department has no real legal authority in the matter.
Although agreements have been made concerning the welfare of children between the DIAND and departments in provinces, he said no similar agreements exists in Saskatchewan.
He added once the children are safe, the department of social services does not wish to act.
Mr. Leask said he will try to reach some accord with the department of social services when he returns from holidays next month. He added DIAND has recently kept a watchful eye to ensure Indian parents are given their legal right to a custody hearing in cases where children have been taken from them.
He confirmed letters have been sent to Indians in the North Battleford area to inform them their rights may have been violated and to urge them to contact DIAND.
He said the officials position of the department is that the province has the sole authority to remove the children and that DIAND is acting irregularly when it does so.
He said the department acts only when there is no alternative, such as placing the children with a relative.