Though we have serious concerns about the system that oversees the children who are taken into the “care” of the state, we also have extreme problems with the checks and balances that are suppose to be in place when families begin to understand that the system is not working the way it should and they are attempting to redress the injustices while their cases are before the court, or to get redress once their cases are out of court. The apparent checks and balances which we have identified as not working the way they should include:
- The family lawyers representing the family,
- the non-existence of independent lawyers for the children
- The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society through which one is suppose to be able to make complaint against the lawyers,
- The Ombudsman’s Office-Children’s Section,
- The assessments of the children and family members, and the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology,
- The Minister of Community Services’ Advisory Committee, and
- The Politicians.
Attempt to understand the frustration that parents go through when they are battling to rescue their children from the unjust system, only to find themselves stonewalled by the various establishments that are suppose to be there as checks and balances. The first and largest frustration being that some of these checks and balances, like the Ombudsman’s Office, the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology, and some politicians refuse to be involved when the case is still before the court. Where is the logic in this? It is while the families are fighting to retain their children, that they need help, assistance and direction to force the system to work the way it should. Waiting until the court case is over and their children have been placed in permanent care, is too late!
Family and Children’s Lawyers
( See also attached document: One Ongoing Futile Attempt to Obtain an Independent Lawyer for a Child Over 12 Years Old as Mandated by the Nova Scotia Children And Family Services Act )
Family lawyers are doing nothing concrete to fight for their clients or to battle the corrupt system that has engulfed the families. Neither are they dealing honestly with their clients. Indeed, it is not uncommon, when families raise specific concerns with their lawyers, that they receive promises that these issues will be raised in court. However, come court time, these promises are often ignored and it is not unusual for families to find out later that an agreement was struck between the government’s lawyers and the family’s lawyers, behind the family’s backs, without their knowledge or approval.
In addition, family lawyers are doing nothing to protect their clients from the shoddy assessments used against the family. They do nothing to prepare their clients for these assessments, nor are they following up with the clients to insure that they were properly conducted. Though there are many legitimate legal arguments lawyer’s can raise against specific tests, the interviews in these assessment, the way they are conducted, given, written, and interpreted, the family lawyers in Nova Scotia are doing nothing.
Instead, the family lawyers are passively allowing the government to lead the case, leaving the families no legitimate representation or defense. Worse still, it can be stated that most of these lawyers, by either their actions or inactions, are actually working against their own clients. In all our years of advocacy work, we have never found one family court lawyer that we would recommend to a family. It makes no difference if these are legal aid lawyers (whom we see as NOT being independent from the provincial government system and therefore in conflict of interest) or well-paid family lawyers hired by the families. We see that they are all equally shirking their duty to properly represent the families.
The families that seem to have the most success are those who, for whatever reason, have hired non-family court lawyers. This pervasive problem with family lawyers here in Nova Scotia, has lead us to only one conclusion: there is collusion and corruption between the family lawyers who are suppose to be protecting the rights of the family and the government of Nova Scotia that apprehends these children.
The inept representation of these lawyers leads to three possible outcomes, with many families sliding through all these outcomes in stages:
- The families passively allow themselves to be continually victimized by their own lawyers, naively believing that, despite the lawyer’s apparent inability to fight the case, that the Supreme Court Family Division justice or Family Court judge will see the all too apparent ineptness and justice will be done in court despite all this;
- They begin the endless succession of hiring and firing one lawyer after the other, as they slowly begin to realize that this is a systemic problem, not limited to one incompetent lawyer and/or;
- Out of frustration, they finally decide to self-represent, with the thought that at least they know they will not, knowingly, work against themselves.
The Children and Family Services Act states that children 12 years or older are suppose to have the ability to have their own independent lawyers in the court case concerning the Minister’s attempt to take them into custody. But as advocates we have never found a single child who was able to do so. Instead we have found families and children who have been told all sorts of lies, one after the other, in an attempt to waylay them and block this right. When one lie didn’t work, another would be thrown in its place.
These are just some of the problems and examples of desperation we have seen concerning this subject:
- Most children in “care” do not know that they have the right to have their own lawyer- No one is informing them of this right
- The governments lawyer’s argue against the children having their own lawyer based on the sole argument that 12 years old is too young (this is contrary to the act itself),
- When parents request independent legal counsel for their children, they may be informed by the Agency and their own lawyers that the Minister’s lawyer is looking out for their best interests
- Parents have been told they cannot assist their child in any way to find their own lawyer,Parents have been wrongly informed that the guardian ad litem’s lawyer is the child’s lawyer.
- Legal Aid certificates are denied non-legal aid lawyers to represent these children
- The Legal aid office and lawyers have ignored communications from children looking for legal aid
- One parent approached a number of non-legal aid lawyers only to be told that there is no mechanism that they are aware of by which they can represent these children
- One child was so desperate to have her voice heard, she wrote a letter to the court concerning her wishes and had her mother file it in court for her. This was only done because the mother personally filed this herself. When the mother’s lawyer found out about this action, he strenuously attempted to retrieve it- He was unsuccessful and, in the end, this letter turned the case around for this mother and daughter.
The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society
Bringing complaints before the Barristers’ Society is an option that few choose for a number of different reason. If families have fired a lawyer and still have their case before the court, they already have their hands full. Also, bringing complaint against one lawyer, while attempting to hire another makes it almost impossible to hire another, and working with another lawyer while making complaint can make the current lawyer very uncomfortable and has even led to verbal abuse against clients by their current lawyers.
If the case has finished and they have been lucky enough to get their child back, they are afraid to rock the boat because their experiences have taught them how powerful and unjust the system is, and they are well aware that, in retaliation, the system could easily re-victimize their families or the families of relatives or friends. And if they have lost their battle for their children, they are almost always emotionally and financially spend. And if they have not been lucky enough to hook up with fellow victims or genuine advocacy workers, they are unjustly shamed into silence.
And last but not least, many people do not file complaints because they have no confidence in the Society to do the right thing and see it as a waste of time and an additional drain on their emotions.
Let me quickly cite 2 complaints made to the Barristers’ Society. In one case, the former lawyer was hauled into court by the justice who was presiding over the ongoing case and was raked over the coals concerning 3 points. When complaint was made against the lawyer to the Barristers‘ Society, though a large number of evidentiary documents were listed in the original complaint, the Society only looked at 5, and then, very quickly, closed the case, citing 3 “cautions” against the lawyer. Though the lawyer was quietly removed from the legal firm she was working for, and she worked for a time in her mother’s real estate business, she later resurfaced working for the provincial Justice Department under a different name. (She is not the first person who has publicly gotten into trouble and eventually showed up working for the Justice Department.)
The other complaint concerned conflict of interest. After the case was finished, the Third Party, the maternal grandmother in the proceedings, stumbled upon official documentary evidence concerning her own lawyer, and one of the lawyer’s working for the provincial government agency in the case. Both of these lawyers had been involved in a private adoption that the mother had arranged 3 years earlier.
In this case, the mother had NOT bonded with the child, in part precipitated by the grief she felt over giving her first child up for adoption. It is important to note here that the adoption of this first child did NOT involve the Agency and was a private adoption.
Though both the maternal grandmother and the mother had originally requested services for this mother‘s “baby blues, these were never given. Instead, the mother was taken advantage of with the government Agency workers convincing the mother to give up her second child for adoption. This left the father and the maternal grandmother fighting against the Minister of Community Services, with the government taking every opportunity to create a rift between the mother and the rest of the family.
The documents found by the maternal grandmother showed that the original lawyer hired by the maternal grandmother had been her daughter’s lawyer for the previous private adoption and the government’s lawyer had been the lawyer representing the adopting parents. Put this together with the fact that the mother had made statements that she wanted the people who had adopted her first child, to adopt her second.
So, not one BUT two lawyers concerning this case with the Minister were in conflict of interest. The maternal grandmother’s argument was that neither lawyer had identified this conflict, and if she had known this conflict, she never would have hired the her lawyer in the first place, and she also would have challenged the right of the government’s lawyer to be in the case.Incredulously, the Barristers’ Society declared that they saw no conflict of interest and the complaint was dismissed!
Ombudsman’s Office-Children’s Section
(See attached documents: More Grips Please and The Cry for Help that Went Unheard http://revealingtruthinnovascotia.blogspot.com/2006/05/11-cry-for-help-that-went-unheard.html)
For years the Ombudsman’s Office was declaring that they were overseeing the rights of the children who were in the “care” of the state, on websites and text material, when this was indeed a fallacy.
Understand, we see this office as a conflict of interest - NOT independent. It is a provincial office, overseen by a retired RCMP official, Dwight Bishop, who was rigorously trained to protect the government.
In 2004, when a newspaper article about this office appeared in the paper, we decided to investigate further. Originally, just identifying myself as a citizen of Nova Scotia, I phoned the Ombudsman’s office and spoke with the head of the Children’s Section. In this conversation, this representative informed me that this office was there to protect the rights of the children who had been apprehended by the Children’s Aid Society, Family and Children’s Services and the government Agency, and that they were there to take any complaints the children might have against the system, their workers, or the foster parents.
Meanwhile our research of financial documents of the Ombudsman’s office posted on the website showed that this office had “NOT taken jurisdiction over the children in care”. After sourcing this information, we arranged to meet with the head of the Children’s Section,.We were surprised that, now, in person we were being told that they indeed had NOT been representing the children who had been apprehended. Their excuse being that because they did not have jurisdiction over the children in the privately run Children’s Aid Society and Family and Children’s Services, they had NOT taken jurisdiction over the children they could, the children taken by the provincial government Agency.
This made NO sense - They chose to NOT take jurisdiction over the children they could because they did not have jurisdiction over them all! At this meeting, we were told that they planned on taking jurisdiction over all these children in the near future.
At a second meeting, since the Ombudsman office had made such a clear distinction between the privately run establishments and the government Agency, we though it might me important to ask specifically about the children in foster care. In response to our inquiries, we were informed that the Ombudsman’s Office did not have jurisdiction over the children in foster care, believing there was no need to do so.
But stop and think about this- the children are originally taken into care, through court action, by Children’s Aid/Services and the government Agency BUT then most of them, especially the youngest and the most vulnerable, are then put into foster care! This revelation meant that almost all the children taken into care by the state would NOT be represented by the Ombudsman’s Office- Children‘s Section.
When we explained the need for having this jurisdiction, with specific examples of abuse that we were aware of in the foster homes, the 2 women we were speaking to ended the meeting with the assurance that they now agreed that they did need to get jurisdiction over the children in foster care.
Imagine our surprise when we arrived for a third meeting to be told now, in no uncertain terms, that the Ombudsman’s Office saw no need to obtain jurisdiction over the children in foster care. Dwight Bishop, the ombudsman, himself, was in attendance at this meeting, completely dominating and controlling everyone. The other two women from the previous meetings sat at the table in total silent. And every time we attempted to speak, we were interrupted and spoken over.
We have since sourced government documents verifying that many of the children apprehended by the Minister are being sent out of province as well as out of country - One such place is Cinnamon Hills in UTAH in the United States. We also have documentation showing that the California government was so concerned about this facility in Utah that, at one point, they abruptly pulled funding for this this facility and immediately recalled all their children.
We are very concerned about the well-being and the whereabouts of these children - Once they have taken children into permanent care and shipped them out of country, who is watching out for these children? What, we ask, is the Ombudsman’s Office doing to protect their rights? What avenues of complaint do these children have to complain against the out-of-province and out-of-country facilities that they find themselves in?
We have no confidence in this Ombudsman’s Office to oversee the right and complaints of the children who have been apprehended by this province. It is not independent. This office has shown no desire to defend and represent these children . For years, they had been funded to do exactly this, yet they chose Not to take jurisdiction over any of these children.
We need a truly independent organization that really care about these children to take jurisdiction over these children who have been apprehended by the government.
Assessments and Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology
We have no confidence in assessments conducted either to justify apprehending a child in the first place or keeping a child in the system, whether these are assessment of the child or the family members. There is too many people making too much money with the assessments as well as the various mental health “services” proceeding and/or following these assessments.
There is also concern that it also behooves the system, paid caregivers, foster parents and group home operators, as well as adopting parents, to have the children classified as “special needs” because then more funding is made available to them. And it is very important to note that there is a very tight connection between the government department responsible for apprehending these children and the mental health department. We are concerned that they encourage and financially feed off of each other.
Families have limited options fighting these assessments. As mentioned above, the lawyers of the families do nothing to fight the assessments, in fact, knowing the all too often dire outcomes of these assessments, they actually speed their clients on to submit to these assessments with the false expectation that “the sooner you submit to these assessments, the sooner you will get your child back”.
On the rare occasion when something is attempted to fight the assessments, it has only happened because the family is self-representing or they have put extreme pressure on their lawyer to do so. However, these actions by lawyers are limited and the families find themselves constantly battling their lawyers to do their job.
In one case, where the assessment against the mother was the main argument for taking the child away from her mother, her lawyer, who had a reputation of being “bulldog” in court, only submitted a half page letter by a psychologist in her defense!
In another case, the grandmother accused the assessors of deliberate misrepresentation of statements made by her and other supportive witness in the interview section of the assessment. An order to have the original handwritten interview notes presented in court within 10 days, was originally stalled with excuses of not having a working photocopier. This was eventually followed by a fraudulently produced handwritten document. Two to 3 months later, the assessors finally confessed to withholding the requested documents, but then, in a signed letter, they also confessed to shredding the all important documents - the proof that the grandmother would have had that the assessors had deliberately and fraudulently misrepresented her and her supportive witnesses!
The PHD psychologist who spoke strongly against all aspects of this assessments, including the wrong use of tests and an inappropriate testing process, as well as blatant bias, testified to the important fact that such original interview documents are to be retained with the file so that when psychologists, like her, or other officials are called to review the assessments they can go back to the original documentation on which the assessment is based.
In another case, knowing the deliberate misrepresentation of interview notes, a mother requested that tapes be made of the interviews. She valiantly fought for this right, but was adamantly refused. Later a well known and well respected local PHD psychologist, Carol Pye, in a public speaking appearance we arranged, candidly shared with us her grave concerns with assessments done for Children’s Aid/Services and the government Agency. In this presentation she spoke about the right and the importance of having interviews taped, to protect not only the person being interviewed but also the interviewer. We fear that the system in Nova Scotia is so corrupt, that they have no concern for protecting themselves for they are more then aware that the system is stacked against the families - not them. So, in the end, the right to tape interviews are denied because the evidence of these tapes could assist the families and be detrimental to the assessment services.
In yet another case, a mother knowing the abuse of these assessments, and fearing that the government was determined to have her child taken away at any cost because she had been publicly outspoken against the system, refused to submit to an assessment. This was consequently used against her. Though the mother was not found to have neglected or abused any child, her young child, who was still breastfeeding, was taken into permanent care.When there are concerns about the assessments, the avenue of defense are limited. One option is to hire an independent psychologist to review the assessment. However, in order to do this one must first hire a psychologist with equal or superior credentials. Then one needs to find a psychologist who is willing to honestly speak up against his/her own colleagues. This is not an easy task . As, Rilda Van Feglan, the registrar of the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners, informed us, “this is a small province and the family of psychologists are small and everyone knows each other“
And last but not least, you need the funds to pay for this review and then pay for the psychologist’s appearance in court. Many of the people who are victimized are well selected: poor, single, and oftentimes separated from supportive family etc. Few can afford this defense.But, and this is very important to note, even if a family does get this review of the assessment done, this expert testimony of a PHD psychologists speaking against the system is summarily dismissed. One such witness was even rudely dealt with by the justice, for daring to speak against the government’s psychologists.
The last resort is a complaint to the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology. However, to have even a hope in this process, one must first have had the assessment reviewed by a PHD psychologist. Only 2 women that we are aware of have made this complaint.
One woman approached this board a few years previous looking for redress. However, her right to file a formal complaint was never explained to her. At one point, Rilda Van Feglan, the registrar of Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology and Dr Wine a psychologist, together, wrote a letter to officials in Community Services and the Family Court requesting a new investigation. In this letter they chronologically citing the major events in this woman’s case including the names of a number of professionals who shared the concerns this woman was bringing forward. These names included a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, officials from Family and Children Services and the Agency of Community Services, and a well known and respected PHD psychologist from Ontario who testified in court for this family.
This woman had the assessments in her case reviewed by Dr Marlies Suderman a psychologist who was then the Director of Violence Prevention Services In London Ontario. This psychologist cites concerns of bias, inappropriate interview techniques, disregard for the voices of the children involved in the interviews, inappropriate interpretations of statements made by interviewees and test results.
The two women who filed individual formal complaints to the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology did so, at the same time, supporting each other. Over the course of a year these women asked the board a number of questions including clarification of the complaint process and the names of the people on the investigation teams - All innocuous but valid questions. But they were continually frustrated by a persistent avoidance to their questions. When a year had passed they were both suddenly sent written letters informing them that their complaints had been dismissed and were bluntly informed not to bother asking the board any questions concerning their cases because no answers would be given!
When they both filed letters to appeal the decisions, they were summarily informed that they had no right to appeal- BUT if the decision had gone the other way, the psychologists involved would have had the right to appeal.!
The next step would have been taking the psychologists to court to make them accountable through the court system BUT these women have NO confidence in the court system and have no intention of throwing good money after bad.
So where we ask is the justice and redress?
The Minister of Community Services’ Advisory Committee[See Section 88 from the attached document entitled Concern with Nova Scotia’s Children and Family Services Act (1990)] http://revealingtruthinnovascotia2.blogspot.com/2006/06/9-annual-review-of-cfsa-section-88-1.html
According to Section 88 of Nova Scotia’s Children and Family Services Act (1990), the Minister of Community Services is suppose to appoint a committee on an annual basis to review the Act ands it implementation. Two of these members are suppose to be parents who have had their children in care or fear of having them placed in care.
When it was originally brought to the attention of the government, that this had only been done twice, in 1993 and 1996, the government then scandalously, and fraudulently claimed that they had also appointed this committee and done this work in 1999. Later, the government fraudulently claimed this committee also had been appointed in 2001. We have sourced the documents concerning these claims and we know the government’s claims are untrue.
After writing the Minister of Community Services twice concerning this negligence and receiving promises from the Minister that were not fulfilled, Marilyn Dey , and I, Linda Youngson took the Minister to court to force him to obey the act and appoint the committee.
It is important to note that when this went to trial, the government’s legal argument was that “the Crown only owed its duty to the Crown”, and that individual citizens like Ms Dey and I did not have the right to bring the government to court to make it obey its own laws. This is evidence of the arrogant mindset of this government. And this supports what we have been saying all along about the government and this Act - there is very little of the Act that they actually follow. This government believes that it is a law onto itself and that they are answerable to no one - not even to the people of this province.
Then there was some flurry in our province when the committee members were appointed -basically it seemed that only inside members and the friends of the government need apply. And though one of the qualifications to be a member of this committee was to have knowledge of the Act, we are aware that some of the “in crowd” didn’t even know the Act to see it when given copies to read.
Both Ms Dey and I applied for this committee, and, knowing this government, we were not surprised to find ourselves locked out. We have since reapplied for the following year.The government then buried an advertisement in the newspaper inviting the public to make submissions or meet the committee to make presentations. The final dates for submissions and requests was October 20th, 2006. Though most of us had made our requests to meet the committee well in advance of this date, we were informed to phone in to get a specific date to meet the committee. Then, imagine our surprise, when, just days before this deadline, as we were phoning in to get our appointments, Lynn Cheek, the committee member placed in charge of scheduling, came up with a number of last minute qualifications to meet with the committee or make submissions.
People were told that they had to link anything that they wanted to bring before the committee with specific sections in the Act and when people who did not have computer connections asked for copies of the Act they were refused and those who did have computers were given such poor instructions that even one applicant, a writer and journalist gave up trying to find it.
Others were told outright by Lynn Cheek that it was her determination that their concerns did not line up with any section in the Act - First of all, we are well aware that Ms Cheek is not familiar with the Act herself and she is NOT qualified to make that determination arbitrarily. In addition, it is possible that important concerns dealing with Children’s Aid/Services, the Agency, the children in care, the court process, etc are not presently covered by sections of the Act. In this case, the committee needs to be mindful of possible amendments that may be needed.I, myself, was informed by Ms Cheek that because my submission was so thorough including specific references to the various sections of the Act that I did not need to meet with the committee! So it seemed that whether one complied with the last minute requirements or not, Ms Cheek was determined to keep our voices out of the committee.
And last but not least: though the original advertisements for the public participation gave only a fax number and e-mail address, Ms Cheek, only days before the deadline, was suddenly stating that any new request now had to be made through the mail “with a stamp“! !However, kudos to the media for doing their part in setting this government straight. After we spoke with the media, the media immediately contacted Ms Cheek on her direct phone line. Within hours her tone had changed and we now understand that we will be given times to meet with the committee - But only after the committee decide on new dates to fit us all in. From this, I gather, they had planned on successfully keeping us out.
(See the attached article - The Cry for Help that Went Unheard)
We are tired of knocking on the doors of politicians who pretend concern and then do nothing. One politician who recently retired from provincial politics candidly informed one of our advocates that even though we raise valid concerns, we would not get anywhere because our issues were not “vote getters” .
Shame on our politicians when they ignore legitimate cries for assistance. There have been many. In 2001 the youth under the “care” of the Halifax Children’s Aid put together a Newsletter entitled The System: It Doesn’t Work For Us. In this newsletter, through graphic drawings, collages, and articles the cry for help is clear.
It is apparent that these youth were encouraged to have a voice, but though all the politicians of the day were given copies of this newsletter, not a single one responded to the cry that so blatantly screamed from its pages. Like the people who looked upon the naked Emperor who paraded around in his “new clothes“ invisible to everyone, these politicians chose not to rock the political boat by acknowledging what was actually within the pages of this newsletter.
We implore this senate committee not to ignore our concerns as you write your report for the United Nations. We understand that you would like to bring “tidings of great joy” to the international community in regards to Children’s Rights in Canada. But you must bring the whole truth of the situation of our children to the international community. We are not government or government representatives. We wield no great power and carry no swaying influence unless you count the hearts and tears of families who love their children, families that still cling to the belief that someday the injustices in this country will be righted for the sake of our children. You have a responsibility to bring forth our voice, the voice of individuals citizens, and families of Canada who have a very different story to tell.