We need protection from the protectors

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday 21 December 2000

Ottawa parents are 19 times more likely to lose their children to state care than are parents on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. The risk that parents will be taken to court by child protectors in the first place is three times higher in Ontario than across the river in Quebec.

Either Quebec authorities are leaving children at risk, or Ontario child protectors are being over-protective. Take your pick, but there has been no noticeable epidemic of child abuse in Quebec.

For Ontario parents, the risk of court challenges by child protectors skyrockets if they're poor. Ottawa lawyer Ross Stewart has been practising at the family bar for 11 years, and is a veteran of protection cases. Among those clients over the years, he can't remember one that wasn't a legal aid case. Only the poor qualify for legal aid.

There are 448 Crown wards on the rolls of the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa-Carleton, which serves a population of 780,000. In Quebec, where Les Centres Jeunesse de l'Outaouais serves a population of 325,000, there are 10 children for which the agency is "tutor," the Quebec equivalent of a Crown ward. Put those figures through a calculator and the number of Crown wards in Ottawa-Carleton is 19 times greater per capita.

In Ontario the decision to remove a child from its family is made by family court judges. In Quebec those decisions are made by judges in juvenile courts. In 1999, according to Attorney General Department figures, Ottawa family courts were asked to decide the fate of 2,151 children. For the same period in the Outaouais, child protectors asked for court decisions for 302 cases. On a per capita basis, that's puts the Ottawa figure three times higher.

Why are the Hull-side figures so low? Luc Cadieux is director of the Outaouais child-protection agency. He says one possible answer is oversight. He has powerful people looking over his shoulder to make sure his child protectors don't abuse their power. His peers in the Ontario system don't. "It makes you cautious," he says.

Parents in Quebec who believe the protection agency has overstepped its authority, or acted improperly, can complain to the Quebec Human Rights Commission. That agency will investigate, even if the case is being pushed to court.

In Ontario and the rest of North America, rights agencies stand back. They take the view that any involvement in a court-related issue would be interfering with justice.

Family courts are classed as courts of justice, but are they? They do not review hard evidence and scientific fact. If there's any of that, the case appears in a criminal court.

A family court makes decisions it believes to be "in the best interests of the child." Evidence is mainly opinion and theory from social workers and psychologists. There is no requirement that those who put parenting skills on trial -- including judges -- must themselves be parents. Frequently they are not.

The "best interests" principle has been called, by some legal experts, the vaguest principle in all of statutory law.

For Ontario parents who think they are being abused, the complaints desk is in the same agency they want to complain about. Children's Aid Societies are arms-length organizations. There are more than 50 in Ontario. There is no oversight.

Regional councillor Alex Munter hears enough cries for help at his office that he has called for a complaints process. Ontario's new ombudsman, Claire Lewis, former commissioner for public police complaints, believes child protection agencies are enough like police services to require oversight. He has offered to take on the role of CAS complaints reviewer -- if the legislature will give him the power.

In a family court, the most dangerous accuser parents will face is a psychologist. There are reasons to fear them and their spooky craft. In the '50s and '60s, multiple personality disorders (MPDs) were all the rage in the psychology industry. Many got rich writing about patients they said had several different personalities inhabiting the same body. Since then, the existence of MPDs has largely been discredited.

In the '70s, evidence taken from children by psychologists and presented in courts sent dozens of daycare operators to jail for involving children in satanic rites and sexual abuse. Oops again. It didn't happen. Massive lawsuits are still going on.

Now on the block is suppressed memory syndrome. Reports suggest that those memories are often planted by psychologists' repeated, leading questions.

A new breed of psychologist is emerging, dedicated to exposing junk psychology. One of them is Dr. Tana Dineen of Victoria, author and frequent contributor to this newspaper.

The title of her 1996 book leaves no doubt where she stands; Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People. For more information visit her Web site at www.tanadineen.com.

Recently I watched three different family court trials in which mothers failed a test called the Child Abuse Potential Inventory (CAP). In each case, psychologists, paid by the prosecution, reported that the mothers were trying so hard to fool the tester by being nice that they were masking their true feelings and invalidating the test. They didn't pass. They lost their children.

I asked Dr. Dineen for her expert opinion of that test.

"Psychologists are the inquisitors of the modern age witch hunts. They control the uncovering of child abuse and thrive from identifying perpetrators. The tests they use, including such questionable instruments as the CAP, are useful to them for two reasons: The tests sound clinical and scientific, and they cast such a wide net that they identify a significant number of innocent people as potential child abusers."

Family courts provide abundant grazing for psychology. Not only are practitioners highly paid for producing the reams of

material that will be logged in as evidence, but there's more good grazing on the periphery. Courts routinely order people to take parenting courses, marriage counselling, anger management courses, addictions counselling and the list grows.

Courts buy psychology as science and the media buys it as sexy. Hardly a week goes by that a new psychological discovery doesn't make a splash in the media.

A new affliction discovered recently in California is called affluenza. The discoverer, with a book bearing that title already on the U.S. market, promises to make nice people of the children of the affluent. The diagnosis is rich kids grow up to be arrogant snots, but don't worry, a treatment has been developed.

The perfect life is living rich in California where you can hire experts to give you angst-free love, guilt-free sex, and snot-free kids.

Psychology is a hard sell in a Quebec child protection case, because judges run courts that require more of a burden of proof. Of the 1,237 files opened in 1999 in Hull juvenile court, 876 were under the Young Offenders Act. The remaining 302 were child protection cases under the Loi de la protection de la Jeunesse.

Parents who truly abuse their children and cause injuries or leave marks, appear in criminal courts. There are harsh penalties.

For the kind of abuse psychologists describe in family courts, though, the aim is not to incarcerate the parents, but to take their children into custody. They go into a foster-care system that regularly turns out adults with a high failure rate. In March, the latest month for which figures are available, there were 14,200 children in the care of all Children's Aid Societies in Ontario. It will cost taxpayers $650 million for their welfare, including foster care.

When we created family court with its reduced burden of proof, we established an institution. Institutions grow and, to do that, they need numbers. This institution is served by dedicated professionals in the child-protection system who, through no fault of their own, provide the system with what it needs to keep growing -- a body count.

The problem is the system, not the people in it.

Only public pressure is going to bring about change. Politicians are locked into the idea that more power for the child- protection industry means more protected children. What's needed is protection from the protectors -- accountability -- and that's not going to happen until the public demands it.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca . Read previous columns by Dave Brown at www.ottawacitizen.com

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.