Priest fights C.A.S. over abuse of power that put him through hell

Reprint of Article in Ottawa Citizen April 10, 1996

By Dave Brown, Brown's Beat

A determined Anglican clergyman, caught in an 11-year legal battle with a Children's Aid Society calls it "a fight against evil" and is a step closer to ending it.

His story was told in the Citizen in April of 1994, when Oshawa Judge William Somer blistered the Durham Region CAS for the hell it had put the priest through.  He ordered the society to pay the father of two $200,000 for the suffering it had caused.

By court order, the man can't be identified, so he calls himself "Rev. Victim."

The CAS reacted to Somer's orders by announcing it would launch another appeal.  It took almost two years to get the paperwork done, and then Rev. Victim was informed the hearing of the "leave to appeal" would likely be in the spring of 1999.  That's not an appeal, but asking a court for permission to appeal.

The priest says he long ago dropped the word  "justice" from his vocabulary, and refers only to court processors and legal systems.  "There is no justice in a system like this."

But the reverend managed to get in front of a judge March 19 with a motion to expedite the case.  He has been given a May 23 court date.

Make no mistake," he said this week.  "This is a battle against evil."

In 1985 his wife ran away with a convicted rapist, taking with her two small daughters.  When the priest started custody challenges, his wife accused him of sexually abusing the girls.  The caseworker who made the decision to believe the mother refused to speak to the priest.  "It took nine years to get her into court and force her to listen to me."

Custody was given to the father in 1986 after a marathon 51-day trial.  It was during that trial that the worst evil surfaced, says the priest.  He was approached by a CAS representative who said the society was aware a mistake had been made and he was innocent.  The CAS was willing to back off if the priest would do likewise.  The father said he wanted a letter clearing his name, and repayment for $75,000 worth of legal bills.

The letter was agreed to, but not the money, so the CAS continued as if it believed the man was guilty."  At that point I made three vows. "He would get his children back.  He would sue the CAS for negligence.  He would form an agency to hold people accountable if they misused it.

He says his agency, Canadians for Organizational and Personal Accountability, COPA, now has 5,000 members across the country.  Co-chairman is ex RCMP officer Edward Jenkins of Calgary.

Says Rev. Victim: "We have found mine was not an isolated case.  My co-chairman is a paralegal, and we will pursue other cases vigorously.  We have been joined by many powerful people."

In 1987 the CAS paid $60,000 to the priest, but continued to defend the actions of the caseworker who decided his guilt without the courtesy of an interview.  Rev. Victim was in a position to do something few could.  Because he had widespread support, he could challenge an agency that didn't hesitate to dig deeper into the public pocket for more money for more lawyers.  Although he was forced into bankruptcy, he kept fighting.  "The whole process has been a horror and an indignity."

What the priest was running into was the CAS credo that it will err on the side of caution to protect children.  Then it will put up a wall of money to defend the error.

"I know that we need social workers.  I know there are good social workers.  I stand behind them and say, please protect our children.  But God help them if they abuse their power.

He suggests a body of civilians, in each CAS jurisdiction, to monitor conduct.  Although some would argue a CAS board of Directors is just that, the priest believes such boards become too close to administrative issues and lose objectivity.  In his case the board turned his problems over to the legal industry without hearing him.

The legislated powers of a CAS are extraordinarily intrusive and must be used with caution, he says.

I first notices and reported conflict between CAS and the courts in February 1989, when Garry Guzzo, then a family court judge and now a Conservative MPP, showed fury as he ordered CAS management to appear before him, saying the child-protection system was ignoring his court orders.

"Someday, some man, or family who knows their rights, is going to appear in court.  When that happens, I assure you, the lawsuit is going to be astronomical.

Guzzo resigned shortly after that outburst, and later served on the board of directors of the Ottawa-Carleton Children's Aid Society.  Rev. Victim says he isn't looking for an astronomical settlement.  He says the payment ordered by Judge Somers won't cover his legal bills.  COPA operates a national toll free hotline at 1-800-707-9099.

You can read this column, plus previous Brown columns, at the Ottawa Citizen Online,