London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society slapped with record court costs of $1.4 million


By Jane Sims  The London Free Press

The London area’s child-welfare agency has been hit with record court costs of $1.4 million, for failing to protect three boys caught in a marathon trial the judge says was marked by a manipulative mother and a father falsely cast as an abusive monster.

In a just-released written decision, the judge also ordered the mother — whom he said “manipulated the court by misrepresenting the facts in order to gain an advantage” — to pay $604,478.36, or 30% of the more than $2 million court costs.

The 154-day trial, over three years, was known in court halls as “the trial that never ends.” It helped build a huge backlog in London family court cases last fall, forcing officials to prioritize child-protection cases over divorce trials.

In a scathing indictment of the London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society, Superior Court Justice John Harper wrote the CAS “did not live up to (its) statutory duty to investigate thoroughly and objectively” in the case, and instead accepted the mother’s warped version as the truth. The $1.4 million is believed to be the largest financial penalty ever dished out to a child-protection agency in Ontario.

The cash-strapped CAS made headlines last fall when it couldn’t balance its books.

Spokesperson Michelle Bacon said the agency hadn’t reviewed the decision yet.

“Once we have, we will be considering our response,” she said.

The judge ruled in the case last fall, dismissing the CAS child-protection application and granting a divorce and awarding custody of the kids to the father.

But not until this week were the costs dished out.

“This started as a snowball of an allegation of unspecified emotional abuse that was flagged and assessed as high risk and it came crashing down on this family like an unstoppable avalanche,” Harper wrote.

The CAS applied for a court order in September 2010 to protect the three boys, aged 15, 12 and 5, months after the parents separated. But the judge found the CAS became “a lead advocate” for the mother, the driving force behind the trial. Her “multiple problems” included substance abuse and “manipulations and false claims.”

“(The CAS) had the statutory duty to investigate these claims through a thorough, objective and professional manner and they did not do so,” the judge said.

The family’s identity is protected by court order.

The erratic mother went from claiming her husband emotionally abused her, to claiming he was a sexual abuser and murderer who used his eldest child “as a gun in his hands to try to kill the mother of these three children.” Harper wrote.

Recordings, text messages and e-mails showed the woman to be erratic, verbally abusive to her sons, often drunk and having at least two extra-marital affairs.

In the middle were the three boys, who boomeranged between the parents. They repeatedly tried to alert the CAS to their mother’s violence, alcoholism and manipulation, only to see the agency side with her.

The case spilled into the criminal courts, with the mother alleging her oldest son had tried to kill her. But a charge of attempted murder against the son never got past a preliminary hearing after the mother testified. Instead, the Crown accepted a plea to assault by the son for “excessive self-defence” from his mother.

The judge dismissed the mother’s ever-shifting evidence. The agency, Harper said, tried to squelch any evidence that went against its theory the mother was a victim. A supervisor, responsible for providing lawyers in the case with CAS information, removed 475 pages of notes, records, e-mails and summaries from the file.

At trial, it was revealed the mandatory document-sharing was running a year behind.

Notes in the file referred to the mother as the “Society’s client.”

Meetings were held to discuss how to protect her and case workers from the father.

The mother also made a “most wanted poster” put up in her workplace and in her youngest son’s school file that had photos of her husband and oldest son with the words, “if you see these men, call the police they have a history of violence.”

Neither father nor son was convicted of any crime until the son’s self-defence plea. Harper found the sons were in more need of protection from their mother than father.

Trial by numbers

154: Days it lasted

$2,014,927.86: Total court costs

$1.4M: Amount CAS ordered to pay

$604,478: Amount mother ordered to pay


About the mother:

Serious credibility problems “drove the case to the extreme it became.”

About the father:

Fortunate had help “to dig out from under the avalanche thrust upon him.”

About the children:

“What did survive were the scars to the children . . .”

About the CAS:

“Acted in bad faith.”

Other fallout:

“This was exacerbated by the actions of the Society, some police officers, some women’s groups, a school board and her employers . . . many of whom accepted without any level of scrutiny the (woman’s) self-reports.”