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Convoluted And Puzzling

August 18, 2009 permalink

That is how a judge described Alberta's children's services. Its structure allows officials to defy the law and the courts without anyone being held accountable.



'Bunker mentality' of Children's Services lambasted by lawyer

By Andrea Sands, Edmonton Journal, July 26, 2009

An Edmonton lawyer who represents hundreds of one-time foster children says a judge's scathing comments about Alberta Children's Services show the department is more focused on protecting itself than protecting children.

"I think that the judge has really seen how the government operates," said Robert P. Lee, who represents more than 400 former foster children in two class-action lawsuits against the province. "It's a bunker mentality (in Children's Services). It's, 'Do whatever you can to defend yourself and deny accountability.' "

Lee was reacting to a decision released Thursday by Justice Jean Cote of Alberta's Court of Appeal. In that decision, the senior judge said the department's organization is "extremely convoluted and puzzling" with an administrative structure that creates opportunities for officials to deny responsibility. Cote also invited the attorney general to investigate the "disturbing" conduct of Children's Services staff who failed to return a boy to his foster mother despite a court order to do so.

On June 23, Cote convicted director of child services Richard Ouellet of contempt for failing to ensure his staff obeyed the court order to return the boy.

Ouellet wanted the case reopened after his conviction, arguing that he was not directly involved with the file and the court order should have been delivered to those who were. However, Cote ruled that Ouellet was ultimately responsible for doing nothing while his staff ignored the order and tried to "wiggle out" of obeying it.

The judge also indicated that, next time, "those higher up" might have to answer for similar mistakes.

Lee said he hopes the recent decision will bolster his efforts to win compensation for former foster children, especially in a class-action lawsuit that was launched in 2002. In that case, Lee is arguing the government did not have the legal right to keep about 600 kids in care, but failed to return them to their parents.

"If you read the (Cote) decision, that judge is really mad at what they're doing and how negligent the whole system is...And so it's very similar to our case. I think it's almost identical. It's a situation where the government does not have lawful authority over the child," Lee said.

"In the recent case, they kept the child on the reserve rather than giving him back to the foster parents, and in the 600 kids' case -- in my class action--they kept custody of the kids in foster care rather than giving them back to the parents."

Muriel Stanley Venne, president of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, said she hopes the recent decision forces more accountability in the department. Stanley Venne, who works with women whose children have been taken into government care, said she sees the damage done to families when decisions are dragged out in the courts.

"These are children, and they don't stop growing," she said.

Source: Edmonton Journal