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Manitoulin Demonstrators Rebuffed

August 7, 2008 permalink

When a crowd of young people showed up at the CAS office in Little Current Ontario with questions about a child in their care, Sudbury-Manitoulin CAS executive director Colette Prevost stonewalled them. CAS even obliquely threatened them, suggesting the demonstration might be an inappropriate place to bring children.



Peaceful protestors ask for change in demonstration at Island CAS_office

LITTLE CURRENT-Mason Dugas and his young friends picked up placards and marched chanting back and forth outside the Manitoulin offices of the Children's Aid Society (CAS) in Little Current for about an hour last Friday.

Mr. Dugas and his friends were joined by around 30 fellow protestors of all ages, although some admitted to being there to support the young man's right to express his concerns in a peaceful and democratic way. Others clearly had their own agendas with the Children's Aid Society, although for the most part Mr. Dugas's message remained coherently his.

The protest proceeded despite a meeting held between the children and CAS executive director Colette Prevost on Tuesday. Perspectives on how that meeting went were decidedly different.

Ms. Prevost said that while she met with the young protestor, it was difficult to answer many of his questions because they were very specific to one particular case-thereby being interdicted by the requirements of protecting the privacy rights of a ward of the CAS.

Mr. Dugas, in turn, was adamant that from his perspective the meeting was a complete wash. "They couldn't answer any of my questions," he said. He said that he could not recall receiving answers to his questions even in general terms. "I asked the questions expecting answers," he said. "They said, 'We can't tell you that.'"

Mr. Dugas said that the CAS had sent out a letter (a copy of which was provided to the Expositor) warning foster parents that the demonstration might be an inappropriate place to bring children. "They said they were afraid bad people might come by," said Mr. Dugas. When asked if he had seen any 'bad people' at the protest, Mr. Dugas shook his head in the negative.

Mr. Dugas maintains that his primary concern is ensuring that the Children's Aid Society investigates where they place children thoroughly to ensure they are not putting the child at risk. His particular concern was about a young friend of his who was placed in a home where he understands there were drugs and alcohol being used. He maintains that the CAS did not act in a timely enough fashion to protect his friend and to remove the friend from that environment.

"I asked them why they won't ever admit they were wrong," said Mr. Dugas. "Their answer was 'I know I do, but I can't speak for other people.'"

In her interview with the Expositor, Ms. Prevost said that the decision processes under which the CAS operates are very complex, and difficult even for more experienced adults to understand. "There are very many levels of sophistication in our system," she said. "Even adults have a difficult time."

Ms. Prevost noted that the requirements of protecting and respecting the privacy of children can make communication in situations like these very frustrating for all parties involved. But she stressed that, contrary to the impression being given by the protesting children and their supporters, there does exist a very stringent system of accountability for the CAS.

While claims have been made that the CAS does not have a system of independent oversight, Ms. Prevost said that nothing could be further from the truth. The CAS internal complaint process provides a first level in an attempt to deal with a complainant's concerns. When that process does not solve the issue, Child and Family Services will review the matter in a provincially-mandated legal process.

"There is a third-party review whereby an agency with no connection to the CAS will come and hear the matter," said Ms. Prevost.

In addition, every year a number of cases of the CAS receive a random audit to ensure that legal standards are being met by the CAS. "We have no control over which cases are reviewed," noted Ms. Prevost.

Ms. Prevost clarified that the CAS concerns with the demonstration were more to do with the appropriateness of the venue as a means of communication. "The information picket, as I understand it to be, is about kids having something to say," she said. "I am not sure they have said it in a way that they feel confident they have been heard."

Ms. Prevost said she would have preferred to see the demonstration held in a venue such as a school gymnasium. "My concern is that this process really flirts with the danger of children being exploited by other people for their own purposes," she said. "I would have preferred to see this take place in a more child-friendly forum."

Larry Killens, a Providence Bay resident and Rainbow School Board trustee, joined the children on the picket line.

"I support these kids," he said. "I am proud of these kids, not only just our Island kids, for standing up and speaking out about things that concern them in a peaceful way."

Mr. Killens went on to say that he is in support of an initiative to have the CAS placed under the purview of the Ontario Ombudsman's Office. "Basically, every province in Canada has a process of oversight for child and family services," he said. Ontario, he claims, does not.

Ms. Prevost was adamant that that point of view is not reflective of reality. The CAS, she maintained, is very closely monitored and reviewed. "We are looking after the welfare of children," she said. "That is how it must and should be."

Mr. Killens, in his capacity as school trustee, is currently working on a protocol for interaction between the CAS and the Rainbow board. He said he had been concerned over liability issues as there was no formal policy in place. He praised the school board administration for their diligence in getting the policy in place. "My compliments to the director of education for confronting this huge concern," he said. "Without this commitment by the board we would not now have it."

Mr. Killens expressed his disappointment at Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Brown and the premier of Ontario, suggesting that the region's member of the Ontario legislature should have been at the protest and that the province needs to step in to ensure proper care is being given to the province's youth.

Off-Island media attended the event. With television cameras whirring, a TV journalist interviewed the young protestor and others on the scene.

Although a police cruiser drove past the demonstration twice during the hour, there was no overt police presence at the demonstration. Occupants of other offices at the building complex which houses the CAS were requested by the agency to park their cars at the far end of the parking lot to help ensure the children's safety.

Another group of young people was holding a demonstration at the corner of Highway 6 and Meredith Street-where they continued to wave their placards long after the central picket had closed down and everyone had gone home.

Mr. Dugas said he was pleased with the turnout for the demonstration he had organized. He expressed some confusion over the online petition to have the CAS overseen by the Ontario Ombudsman. "I just want them to be more careful about where they are putting kids," he said. "I don't want anymore kids being put in places that aren't safe."

He also wanted to share the credit for the demonstration's success. "I want to thank my friend Zack," he said. "He has been with me every step of the way-and my brother."

Many of the cars passing in front of the demonstration slowed to a crawl, their drivers craning to see what the signs were saying, and then honking support before driving away. Other vehicles simply honked in support as they drove past.

Source: Manitoulin Expositor (follow continued to main story)