The Mulberry Bush: When Criminal, Civil and Family Court Matters Collide
I had just cross-claimed against them in civil court. A week later my phone rang. The call display said it was a private number. My heart sank. The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) always calls from a private number. You go into a kind of shock when they call. Oxygen levels drop slightly in the brain as your body instinctively sends it to your other vital organs. I tell my brain to tell my body to send the oxygen back up before I answer the call. I need to be able to think clearly, logically and quickly as I set all emotion aside to defend my family.
I answer the phone. It is the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society this time. Last time they sent Kingston CAS, which forms part my claim against them (the Kingston CAS matter ended with them being ordered to pay my legal costs). The actual agency in my jurisdiction is neither of these agencies. Because of ongoing criminal and now civil matters involving the actual agency, complaints made about me are contracted to surrounding agencies. This is good in a way. I am not legally allowed to write about the actual agency, as per my criminal release conditions, but I can write about the Ottawa and Kingston CAS all I want.
The call begins with a child protection worker telling me about the complaint. She then informs me she is around the corner from my house and that I will have to let her into my house for an inspection. I tell her that I am not comfortable with that as we are suing each other for millions of dollars in civil court and that they are the complainant in a high-profile criminal case against me. I need to get instructions from my lawyer anytime the opposing party engages me. She tells me if I do not let her in, she will have to call police. I remind her that police cannot enter my house without a warrant. I also tell her that I recognize the importance of the agency’s mandate and that surely we can find a middle ground that we can both agree on. I focus on the specific complaint. It can easily be disproven without the worker coming into my home. By working together, we come up with a solution that we both agree on. I meet her and another worker in my driveway a few minutes later and we work to address the complaint together. She tells me she will follow-up once she speaks to her supervisor. I record the entire encounter.
There are important benchmark dates to keep in mind when working with a Children’s Aid Society/Family and Children’s Services. For this case, the 30 and 60-day mark from the time of referral would be important to note. A child protection investigation needs to be complete within 30 days and then either closed, moved to a family service worker through the family’s signing of a service agreement or brought to Family Court. There is also a provision in the legislation to never rush a child protection investigation to meet this deadline and therefore an extension of another 30-days to complete the investigation may be provided. During this time, the worker may ask for additional information, interview your children at school and request consent forms be signed that will allow workers to speak with the family’s service providers. If you don’t respond to these requests or respond after the 30-day mark, you may be taken to Family Court to force your “cooperation”.
In this case, additional information was requested. They wanted a picture of my child. My lawyer for criminal court advised me not to send the picture. I also did not feel comfortable sending a picture of my child to an agency that has knowingly lied about me to news media and in four different types of proceedings in the last two years. I never sent the picture and in the weeks leading up to this 30-day mark, I became increasingly worried and prepared myself to be brought to Family Court again.
On March 27th, 2018, I got the call from Ottawa CAS. They are closing the file. I receive the letter in the mail a few days later. This experience with a CAS was unlike any I have ever had. If not for the extremely exceptional and unprecedented situation, I am not so sure my hesitation to service would have been seen as reasonable. Because my hesitation was seen as justifiable from their viewpoint, it gave them reason to work with me. But because they worked with me, we were able to come to an agreement. My hope with this article is that other CAS’s take note. We can help a lot more kids if parent concerns are taken as seriously as the child protection concern. It should never be assumed that a parent does not know what is best for their kids. With a child protection and Family Court system that is widely known to be severely flawed, there is justification for concern and hesitation for any parent that takes notice. Protecting kids always comes first but working with parents instead of threatening police involvement if you don’t do what they say, can achieve that, as demonstrated above.