Ontario’s stolen children still getting a raw deal as province deals with Motherisk scandal
NationalPost.com – Full Comment
March 30, 2017. Chris Selley
“Were you taken from your parent by the Children’s Aid Society?”
That’s the question Ontario students were asked this week on posters in their schools. It was an outreach effort by the Motherisk Commission, which is examining hundreds of cases in which now-discredited hair tests for drug and alcohol abuse contributed to children being removed from their parents’ custody — in some cases forever.
“Do you want to know if this testing was relied on in your case?” the poster asked. “If yes, we may be able to help and it’s completely confidential.”
You can understand why parents of adopted children wouldn’t want their sons and daughters confronting such a document. These are discussions that need to happen on a family’s own terms. It could be upsetting if children weren’t adopted under those circumstances: Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Children and Youth Advocate, described a tearful child suddenly wondering “if she was a ‘crack baby’.”
And it could be upsetting if children were adopted under those circumstances: the last thing they need is to be reminded of it every day.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Education asked for the posters to be yanked down. And that’s probably for the best. They certainly had no business in elementary schools, and according to the Ministry they weren’t supposed to be there.
But I can see why the posters would have seemed like a good idea. The full scope of this disaster needs to be known and its effects on parents and children understood.
It’s pretty tough to overstate the gravity of what went on in this province’s children’s aid societies, in its courtrooms, and at the lucrative Motherisk lab at Sick Kids Hospital, since closed.
Consider the case of K, the appropriately Kafkaesque abbreviation of a five-year-old girl who was taken from her mother in September 2012, entirely on the basis of cocaine use detected at the Motherisk lab, which the mother denied.
K has been in “legal limbo” ever since. She’s 10 now. The case took nearly two years to get to trial. The 16 trial days unfolded over eight months, during which the mother’s counsel never challenged the hair evidence. The judge in the case reserved her decision for an astonishing nine months, during which time K was moved from a foster home to a “foster placement with a view to adoption” without her parents or their counsel being notified.
“This passage of time is not only entirely unacceptable, it is reprehensible and cannot be justified or excused on any credible basis,” Justice Grant A. Campbell of the Ontario Superior Court wrote in a scathing ruling in February. (He called the parents’ lawyers “incompetent.”)
K remains a Crown ward. The parents have no access to her. And it all stems from a test that fell “woefully short of internationally recognized forensic standards,” according to Justice Susan Lang’s report to the Attorney-General last year.
Now imagine dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds of similar cases. (The Commission expects to examine 2,000.) Imagine cases where adoptions have gone through, perhaps several years ago. Imagine you haven’t seen your children in years; imagine they don’t even remember you; imagine you know they’re doing well with their adopted parents; imagine trying to decide what to do. The government stole your kid under false pretences; you’re grief-stricken, furious; but maybe your kid is in a wealthier or more stable environment than you can offer. It’s an impossible position that no one should ever be in.
Motherisk has made a lot of headlines, but it doesn’t seem like the full horror of this situation has really pervaded the public consciousness. Perhaps that’s because the people likeliest to run afoul of child protective services tend to be marginalized to begin with, and disproportionately aboriginal. Perhaps people reason people’s hair wouldn’t be tested in the first place if they were reasonably fit parents.
But there’s not much worse that governments can do to people than take their children away. History looks very unkindly upon it indeed. Britain has apologized to the poor and orphaned children who were rounded up, in some cases falsely told their parents were dead, and shipped off to the colonies. Australia has apologized for the so-called “Stolen Generations” of aboriginal children. Canada has apologized for the residential schools.
Those apologies didn’t hinge on whether or not each child was empirically worse off where the state put him than where he was before. They hinged on human beings’ absolute right to raise their own kids absent extraordinary circumstances that a society like Canada stipulates.
“Why didn’t we do more?” is a common refrain in tragic circumstances when children “fall through the cracks.”
What we see in the Motherisk scandal is proof that a society must always err on the side of doing less — all the more so if it takes half a bloody childhood for the courts to decide what’s best. Adopted kids don’t need to be smacked in the head with this mess, but the rest of us surely do.