Government ‘sadistic’ for appealing abuse case, mother says

A mother called the B.C. government “cruel” and “sadistic” Friday for appealing a court ruling that found social workers ignored or misled the courts and delivered her children into the hands of their sexually abusive father.

“I think it’s completely rude and inhumane for them to go on against little children who have been hurt so terribly,” the mother said in a statement released by her law firm.

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“What they have done for six years, and now are continuing to do, is cruel and sadistic. Like the people running the MCFD [Ministry of Children and Family Development]. We are suffering because of them.”

The government said in a brief statement that the ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Walker raised issues of “general importance for child protection” that require clarification by the Court of Appeal.

“Social workers perform important responsibilities in often difficult circumstances,” the statement said. “The finding that social workers in this case acted in bad faith has serious consequences for individual employees and others who perform the crucial public function of child protection.”

But Surrey lawyer Jack Hittrich, who is acting for the mother, said the appeal seeks more than clarification and, in fact, seeks a “full dismissal” of all the mother’s and children’s claims.

“Mr. Justice Walker has made very disturbing findings of fact and yet this ministry is doing everything in its power to try to escape accountability in any fashion,” he said.

In ruling for the mother and her children, Walker found the ministry liable for negligence, misfeasance and breach of fiduciary duty. He said social workers sided with the abusive father in a bitter custody battle, failed to investigate the mother’s allegations of sexual abuse, wrongly apprehended her children and then provided false or misleading information to the judge to support the apprehension.

Walker also concluded that social workers tainted a police investigation by inaccurately portraying the mother as mentally ill, and went so far as to disregard a court order and allow the father unsupervised access to his children, during which he sexually abused his youngest child.

Overall, the judge concluded that ministry employees “lost sight of their duties, professionalism and their objectivity.”

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said she has been advised by government lawyers that Walker “erred in a number of areas” and that an appeal is warranted.

“I want to make clear that today’s decision is not about the family involved, but about every family that the ministry may interact with in the future,” she said in a statement.

She said the appeal in no way diminishes the supports available to the family “and the ministry will be extending additional supports as needed.”

She also said the appeal will not affect a review of ministry policies and procedures by former deputy minister Bob Plecas.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, representative for children and youth, said the government’s appeal came as no surprise to her. “Certainly, all indications to me from day one was that they didn’t accept the decision and they intended to appeal it,” she said.

“I’m deeply concerned for this mom and her children. She has been through a difficult journey. She is not unscarred and now there will be a long road ahead for her, including facing the government taking an action to quash and set aside the entire judgment.”

Turpel-Lafond said that, as an advocate for the mother and her children, she intends to pursue Cadieux’s offer of support. “In our advocacy, it is clear to us that they have offered no support to this family,” she said. “They have not made a gesture or offer of any services or support to them.”

NDP children’s critic Doug Donaldson expressed shock at the decision to appeal. “I think it’s pretty deplorable,” he said. “To me, it’s re-victimizing the family.”

Donaldson said the decision turns the Plecas review into a “sideshow” with little likelihood of success. “Bob Plecas is going to run up against ministry officials who will be able to say, ‘It’s before the courts,’ and he has no ability to compel them to provide testimony.”

The government expects to file its comprehensive legal arguments for the appeal within 90 days.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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