One Woman's Story -- Many Women's Lives

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The real woman at the centre of the "G" case is a 23-year old First Nations woman from Winnipeg who was ordered by the court into treatment last summer when she was five months pregnant with her fourth child. Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS), the agency that had removed two of her other children at birth, was behind the legal action, charging that her unwillingness to stop sniffing glue was harming her fetus. Several of "G"'s children had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

That ruling was overturned by the Manitoba Court of Appeal. "G" decided to get treatment of her own accord and is now free of her addiction. William, her six-month-old baby, is healthy and seems to be developing normally, but it is still too early to tell whether he has FAS.

However, the Winnipeg agency was not satisfied. They still sought the power to order substance-using pregnant women into treatment even against their will -- a power supposedly to be used only in exceptional cases -- and looked to the highest court in the land to authorize it.

In cases such as this, which have broad social, legal and even constitutional implications, the Supreme Court allows interested groups to make presentations arguing one side or another of the question. Intervening on behalf of the appellant (CFS) were the Alliance for Life, the Catholic Group for Health, Justice and Life, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Christian Medical and Dental Society, L'association Des Centres Jeunesse Du Quebec, Southeast Child and Family Services, West Region Child and Family Services and the Government of the Yukon.

Intervening on behalf of "G" were the Women's Health Rights Coalition (composed of Women's Health Clinic, Métis Women of Manitoba, the Native Women's Transition Centre and the Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties), the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

"The Women's Health Rights Coalition saw this as a case that affects all women, particularly First Nations women," says Barbara Wiktorowicz, Executive Director of Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg.

"Women feel deeply responsible about the health of the children they bring into this world and their ability to nurture must be supported by the rest of us," says Ms. Wiktorowicz. "We're strong believers in that old midwifery saying: 'Mother the mother and you'll mother the child.' In the end, you can't separate the health interests of mothers and children -- they're inextricably linked. The complex problem of women and substance use is a health issue that needs to be addressed by services that are sensitive to women's needs, not by the law."