Government agencies have been reminded that they must respect the constitutional rights of foster parents. On March 6, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice rebuked the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton (CAS) for having closed down the foster home of Frances and Derek Baars. The Baars had refused CAS demands to proactively tell the two young girls in their care that the Easter Bunny is real.
The Court’s recitation of the facts is almost surreal. CAS accepted the Baars as foster parents, knowing fullwell that this Christian couple does not promote the cultural traditions of Santa and the Easter Bunny, as they would not lie to children. Two young girls, then four and three, were placed with Frances and Derek in December of 2015. The girls’ biological mother communicated with the Baars by way of a journal, and thanked the Baars for having provided a good and happy Christmas for her girls. She made no mention of Santa Claus. But social worker Tracey Lindsay upbraided Frances and Derek for not having taken a photo of the girls with Santa. Ms. Lindsay then began to demand that Frances and Derek celebrate Easter by actively telling the young girls that the Easter Bunny is real.
The Baars tried to compromise with Ms. Lindsay, informing her they intended have a hunt for chocolate eggs, buy the girls new dresses, and refrain from saying anything at all about a large imaginary rabbit. CAS was stubbornly focused in its intention to control the minds and mouths of the Baars. CAS refused the Court victory for foster parents to honour their own conscience Baars offer to have the girls stay with another family over Easter. CAS refused the Baars’ offer to keep their foster home open for infants, who are too young to appreciate or process information about mythical beings. CAS refused the Baars’ offer to foster only kids coming from religious or cultural backgrounds that do not celebrate Santa or the Easter Bunny. The removal of the young girls from the care of Frances and Derek, on only one day’s notice, was heartbreaking.
The Court accepted the testimony of social worker Kathleen Kufeldt, that sudden removal of the girls from their environment would be traumatizing, and detrimental to the girls’ best interests. The girls’ own mother had expressed nothing but satisfaction with the loving care that her daughters were receiving from Frances and Derek. When cross-examined on her affidavit, Ms. Lindsay readily admitted that the girls were loved, cared for, protected, clothed, sheltered and well looked after.
In court, CAS argued that the Baars lacked the capacity to meet the children’s cultural needs. But neither Santa nor the Easter Bunny was a high priority for the girls’ biological mother. No law requires foster parents to uphold the pet fancies of social workers. The Court also rejected Ms. Lindsay’s claim that Christian beliefs regarding same-sex marriage implied that Derek and Frances would mistreat or disrespect same-sex couples.
The court said this was potentially further evidence of an underlying hostility on the part of CAS towards the Baars. CAS violated the Baars’ Charterprotected freedom of conscience and religion, by attempting to coerce Frances and Derek to violate their religious beliefs, as a condition of continuing to serve as foster parents. Further, the requirement to say something that the Baars did not believe (that the Easter Bunny is real) is compelled speech, which violates Charter-protected freedom of expression.
The court’s denunciation of compelled speech is especially relevant to the Canada Summer Jobs program “attestation” in support of abortion being legal, and Ontario’s Law Society now requiring lawyers to express their agreement with “equity, diversity and inclusion.” This court ruling will help protect Canadians’ freedom of conscience, religion, and expression. It will also help protect religious foster parents and religious adoptive parents, by preventing social workers like Tracey Lindsay from closing good homes to needy children. Last but not least, vulnerable children will benefit from having more foster homes become available.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca) which represented Frances and Derek Baars in their court action against the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society. MARCH 15, 2018