A half dozen children from two families returned home in early November to a Manitoba Old Order Mennonite community after about 40 children were removed by Child and Family Services in June.
Several adults in the Westbourne Orthodox Mennonite Church have been charged with assaulting children, who allegedly were assaulted with items including a leather strap and cattle prod while strapped to a board for discipline.
In a Jan. 8 update to media, Peter Rempel wrote that four children of one family and two from another returned home in November. Rempel is a former director of Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba and facilitates a restoration team to help the community through its crisis.
“None of the parents of the two families for whom children who have been returned had charges,” he said by email. “One or both parents in seven of the other eight families face charges.”
One of the two families had a child born in December and was able to keep the child at home. Another family expecting a child to be born this month will be able to keep the child at home with its mother since the father is prohibited from living at home due to charges against him.
Families are allowed weekly visits with their children at the Child and Family Services office in Portage la Prairie. CFS supervises the hour-and-a-half visits and provides transportation for the children from their foster homes and for the parents about 40 miles away in the community, which does not use automobiles.
Rempel said CFS is not ready to predict when more children might be returned.
Canadian Mennonite magazine reported Nov. 25 that CFS changed the wording of a condition that children could not attend church if someone facing charges is in attendance. The new wording puts responsibility on those facing charges to not attend rather than putting pressure on parents to keep their children out of church.
In his report, Rempel said a meeting about a restorative process for the community with Mediation Services is scheduled for Jan. 30.
“Mediation Services was established by MCC Manitoba about 30 years ago and has evolved into an independent nonprofit, but no longer faith-based, agency for facilitating and training in conflict resolution,” he said by email. “A significant portion of its staff and supporters are Mennonite, but its board is from a diverse community.”
He also said community leaders continue to request an introduction to the “Hollow Water Healing Justice Process,” which was developed by the Hollow Water First Nations community north of Winnipeg.
Rempel said the community had experienced widespread dysfunction before instituting a restorative justice process based on aboriginal values and traditions, and supported by the government.
Jarem Sawatzky, associate professor of peace and conflict transformation studies at Canadian Mennonite University, wrote about the process in a recent book but has not yet been able to visit the community to present about it.