Sex-abuse case files frozen while privacy probe underway

The Ministry of Children and Family Development has frozen access to files in a high-profile sex-abuse case while B.C.’s privacy commissioner investigates a complaint.

Elizabeth Denham is looking into concerns about an external review of the case by former deputy minister Bob Plecas.

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Plecas was hired last month to review the ministry’s conduct after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Walker found social workers ignored or misled the courts and allowed a sexually abusive father unsupervised access to his four children.

The government has appealed Walker’s decision.

The mother of the children objects to Plecas or any of his team having access to her personal information or that of her children.

She complained in writing to Denham last week, prompting the commissioner and the ministry to agree to shut down access until the complaint is resolved.

Plecas said Wednesday that he will proceed with other aspects of his review.

“We can do all sorts of other things while we’re waiting for the files,” he said.

Plecas noted, however, that Stephanie Cadieux, the minister of children and family development, recently made him a director under B.C.’s child welfare legislation — a position with broad powers to review sensitive files.

“We have authority to deal with this issue,” he said. “I’m happy to comply with the freedom of information officer’s decision.”

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, met with the mother Wednesday and described her as “extremely distraught” and confused by the government’s actions.

“She’s never been contacted by anyone and she’s never agreed to anything,” Turpel-Lafond said.

The mother is very concerned that, the day after she filed her privacy complaint, the ministry appointed Plecas as a director under child-welfare legislation, Turpel-Lafond said. She said it would have made more sense to conduct the review from her office, which offers the necessary privacy protection, but remains independent of government.

“Mr. Plecas, who was supposed to be arm’s-length from the ministry, is now a director,” she said.

“So now it’s inside the ministry. So, again, I remain a little bit confused about the process myself.”

NDP critic Doug Donaldson said the decision to make Plecas a director, two weeks after he was named to head the review, speaks to the ministry’s “incompetence.”

“All in all, it’s another hit to the confidence people have in the ministry to get to the bottom of this case,” he said.

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