WINNIPEG - A social worker says a girl at the heart of a custody dispute described her stepfather as a skinhead who drank up to 10 beers a day.

The social worker told a hearing Thursday that the girl replied "my dad" when she was asked what a skinhead was. When further asked what kind of person a skinhead was, she described them as "white pride people."

"She seemed to be relaxed and comfortable," the social worker said of her 45-minute interview with the girl after she was seized from her parents.

Manitoba Child and Family Services is trying to gain permanent custody of the girl and her younger brother because of concerns about their home environment. It's alleged they were exposed to racist teachings, and that drugs and alcohol were being abused in the home.

Child services removed the children last year after the girl showed up at her elementary school with white supremacist symbols and slogans drawn on her skin in permanent marker.

The mother has denied raising her children to be racists. She does not have a lawyer, but has said she plans on attending court next month when the custody hearing continues.

The stepfather, who is the biological father of the boy, wants the children back. He argues his constitutional right to freedom of expression is being violated.

No one involved can be identified under Manitoba law.

The case worker testified that the girl said her stepdad drank "a lot" of beer, wine and whisky - sometimes on his own and other times with friends.

"She said he had 10 beers or more a day."

The stepfather wasn't working and her mother would pick her up from school if "dad was at the bar," the girl said. She recalled one time when her mother took a nap and forgot to pick her up.

The girl also told the case worker she often didn't eat breakfast because she slept in. Asked what she didn't like about living at home, the girl said she didn't like eating stir fries. She remembered her stepfather making her "stay up until midnight because she didn't eat her dinner."

During supervised visits, however, the children were well-behaved and the girl doted on her brother, much like her parents did.

"She was very co-operative in handing over a toy ... so he would stop fussing," the worker said.

But she added neither parent was very good at setting limits with the children, especially the younger boy.

Sometimes they would play with the kids. Other times, they were less interested, the worker said.

Court also heard that school officials were worried about the girl before she showed up at school with the drawings on her body.

The social worker said a vice-principal told her the girl's frequent absences were a source of frustration for the teacher.

The social worker had also been told that both parents had picked up the girl when they were smelling of alcohol.

The parents haven't testified but their side is expected to be presented later in June. In a sworn affidavit on the court file, the stepfather said they were "excellent parents."

"I believe that there is no legal basis for the children having been apprehended in the first place," he said.

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