Simcoe Muskoka Child Services sued for rejecting foster parents based on religion

A northern Ontario couple has filed a court application against Simcoe Muskoka Child, Youth and Family Services (“Child Services”) over its decision to reject their application to become foster parents.

In November 2017, the couple “A.A.” and “B.A.,” who have three biological children of their own and for their sakes wish to remain anonymous, applied to become foster parents.  They started the required training in January 2018 and completed it successfully in March, after which a Child Services social worker interviewed the couple.

The social worker asked A.A. questions regarding his religious beliefs, including whether his church “still believes in some of the more outdated parts of the Bible.”  He responded that his church believes and adheres to all of the Bible. The social worker then commented that her son is gay and that her son had been told by churches in the past that homosexuality is a sin. A.A. explained that although the Bible does identify homosexual behaviour as sinful, he believes all people are created in the image of God and are worthy of respect, dignity and honor. He further explained that, in accordance with their beliefs, he and his wife would provide any child in their care with unconditional love, respect, and compassion, and would vigorously defend all their children from harassment and bullying.

The couple heard nothing from Child Services for the next six months.  Then, on October 24, 2018 they received a letter from Child Services communicating its decision to dismiss their application to foster.  The letter stated, “we feel that the policies of our agency do not appear to fit with your values and beliefs and therefore, we will be unable to move forward with an approval for your family as a resources home.”

On the morning of October 25, A.A. phoned their social worker and asked for clarification about which “values and beliefs” had disqualified him and his wife. The social worker responded that Child Services’ “anti-oppressive” policy conflicted with the couple’s opinions about homosexual behaviour.  He reiterated the couple’s commitment to treating any child in their care with unconditional love, respect, and compassion regardless of their sexuality, gender or anything else, but the social worker did not offer any recourse.

The Justice Centre sent Child Services a letter in January 2019, explaining that Child Services “unlawfully dismissed the couple’s application, not due to any legitimate deficiency in their qualifications, but due solely to Child Services’ prejudice and bias against the religious beliefs of the [couple].”  The letter requested that Child Services reopen the couple’s application to foster and properly process their application to become foster parents in a non-discriminatory manner. Child Services eventually communicated that it would not reconsider the matter and said that its decision was final.

The couple seeks a declaration from the Court that Child Services unreasonably rejected their application to foster children, and a declaration that in rejecting the application to foster children, Child Services unreasonably impaired their freedom of religion and conscience and their freedom of thought, belief and opinion of, contrary to sections 2(a) and 2(b) of the Charter.  The couple further seeks an order directing Child Services to include the Court’s ruling on this matter in any relevant correspondence with other foster and adoption agencies.

This Child Services decision will also impair their ability to foster children through other organizations entrusted with the statutory care of children, as the application process invariably includes inquiry into whether a person applying has previously been rejected as a foster parent.

 This decision has the practical consequence of fewer children being placed in foster homes, and more children remaining in institutions without a mom or dad to tuck them in at night.  Like the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society, which removed two vulnerable young girls from foster care because Derek and Frances Baars refused to tell the girls that the Easter Bunny is real, it seems that this agency is putting ideology ahead of children’s interests.

There are far too many children in need of a loving family for Child Services to discriminate against well-suited applicants on the basis of the applicants’ religion.