VANCOUVER - The last time a pair of British Columbia foster parents saw the Metis toddler they have raised almost since birth, the little girl was being carried away in the arms of her new adoptive parents.
"As they were walking away, she was calling out to us and we weren't allowed to do anything," the emotional foster mother recalled in an interview Thursday.
"We just went away and held each other because it was so difficult."
The Vancouver Island couple has lost multiple court battles to adopt the nearly three-year-old girl. On Thursday, they suffered a devastating blow when the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed their emergency motion to keep the toddler until they learn whether their appeal will be heard.
The court's ruling stated the girl was to be moved to Ontario that day to live with non-indigenous adoptive parents and her older siblings, whom she met for the first time this week. She was waiting in an airport at the time the decision was issued, it said.
"This motion is undeniably a heart-wrenching last attempt by the applicants to retain care of a child they love," wrote Justice Suzanne Cote.
However, Cote wrote that the child's best interests favour the continuation of the B.C. Children's Ministry's transition plan, which began Sept. 15 when she began to spend time away from her foster home. Stopping the process now would cause her "unnecessary hardship," the ruling said.
The application was dismissed with costs to the ministry.
The Metis foster mother and her husband, who cannot be named because of a court-ordered publication ban, have raised the girl since she was two days old. They argue they had a custom adoption of the child in 2014 under traditional Metis laws.
The foster mother said the last time she saw the little girl was Wednesday, when she met the Ontario parents and the toddler's older sisters. The girl was supposed to be moved last week, but the B.C. representative of children and youth convinced the ministry to delay it to allow the meeting, she said.
"I wish that we would have gotten to know these people a long time ago because we probably could have been great friends," she said.
The little girl appeared to react to her sisters as "playmates," she added, rather than family. The toddler has bonded with the foster parents and their extended family, and they fear the move will cause her lasting trauma, she said.
"Her hurt is what hurts us," said the foster mom. "It's not about us. We've only ever done this to protect her."
She said she and her husband always wanted the little girl to know her siblings, and were even willing to move to Ontario. Instead, her family has "mortgaged everything" and spent almost $500,000 fighting the ministry, she said.
The ministry has said it must obtain approval from a committee before placing an aboriginal child in a non-aboriginal home and that it also develops cultural plans to preserve the child's heritage. Sibling relationships are among the most important of a child's life, it said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who represents a Vancouver Island riding in Parliament, issued a statement saying the foster family has her full support.
"As a mother, I find the decisions of the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development and B.C. Supreme Court unbearably heartless and wrong-headed," she said.
Deputy representative of children and youth Dawn Thomas-Wightman said she and her staff have suffered a lot of sleepless nights over the case.
The ministry's cultural plan is "embarrassingly weak," she said, and the province never responded to a letter from the representative requesting a 30-day delay in the placement so Metis experts could be heard.
"It's very discouraging and very much against what the government is talking about when they talk about reconciliation with aboriginal people."
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.