Legal fees threaten foster family

Couple awaits repayment from Children's Aid

The Toronto Star

page A3. by Kate Harries, ONTARIO REPORTER, November 8, 2001

A couple caught up in a legal battle with the Haldimand-Norfolk Children's Aid Society face the loss of their home because of massive legal fees. The family fought back after the society seized two children, now 5 and 6 years old, from their foster home, based on false allegations of abuse.

In a key February, 2001, judgment, Mr. Justice Gethin Edward of the Ontario Court of Justice ordered the siblings returned to the foster family, which wants to adopt them.

Since then, further rulings have found that the society acted improperly and awarded the family more than $212,000 in costs. However: A May 28, 2001, order to pay $160,000 is on hold until the society's appeal of Edward's order is heard.

An Aug. 14 order that the society pay $2,600 has not been complied with.

An Oct. 31 order to pay $49,500 is also likely to be appealed by the society.

The father, whose identity and hometown cannot be published, by court order, said yesterday his home is under a power of sale and his landscaping business is in jeopardy because the society refuses to accept these rulings or pay awarded costs.

In the most recent ruling, on Oct. 31, Madam Justice Patricia Wallace characterized the society's conduct as "distinctly unreasonable and verging on blind obstinacy.''

Wallace said she was ruling on costs even though the appeal of Edward's judgment had not been heard, "because of the significant disparity in the parties' respective resources.''

She noted that the society is fighting "a young middle-class couple, with their own four children, whose financial needs should not be compromised by this case.''

The society will probably appeal Wallace's recent award of costs, executive director Brian Hillier said yesterday, because it's based on Edward's earlier ruling, which is under appeal.

"It's certainly not that we're sitting out here on stacks of money,"

Hillier said, but the society has an obligation to the children and is seeking an independent assessment of their needs. "We're not going to sign off on this.''

"It's not fair," said the father, who has paid $220,000 of the $270,000 he owes his lawyer noted children's law specialist Jeffery Wilson but can't collect on any of the monies awarded by the courts.

Wilson said he has appealed without success to Social Services Minister John Baird to end the costly litigation. A spokesperson for Baird could not be reached for comment.

"It's scandalous that a crown agency has ignored the court orders," Wilson said.

The two children, who suffered horrendous abuse by their biological parents before being taken into care by the society in February, 1998, have settled down and are doing well at school, the father said.

The siblings had been with the family for 17 months before January, 2000, when a man being considered as an adoptive parent alleged they were being abused. The siblings were then placed with the family that made the allegations. After Edward found the abuse story false, the children were returned.

The appeal was set for June, then moved to last Monday at the society's request. But Simcoe courts were too clogged for the case to be heard.