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CCAS Deports Canadian
May 23, 2013 permalink
In 1981 Toronto CCAS broke up a family by sending four-year-old Marinela Piedrahita, a Canadian by birth, to Columbia. Three decades later the woman lives in Canada but has limited command of English because of her childhood abroad. She cannot live in the same country as her brother Felipe Piedrahita because of citizenship laws.
Catholic Children’s Aid sued by siblings decades after being removed to Colombia
Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto is being sued for negligence by two siblings, who allege they were wrongly removed to Colombia three decades ago.
Marinela Piedrahita is still haunted by the memory of seeing her mother pushed by her drunken father down the stairs of their Toronto home in 1981.
But nothing haunts her more, she says, than what happened next to her and her then-17-month-old brother, Felipe.
With her mother in hospital and father out of their lives, Piedrahita, then 4, remembers being taken to a Chilean woman’s house, where she and Felipe stayed for about a month before they were taken by “some strangers” to their relatives in Colombia.
A quarter of a century later, Piedrahita managed to return to Canada, her birthplace, and is now suing the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CCAS) for negligence in removing her and her brother to Colombia and for causing them hardship living in conflict and warfare in their parents’ homeland. The agency denies the allegations.
“It was a big mistake to send us to Colombia, to suffer and live by ourselves. We were moved from one relative to another. No one really took care of us,” Piedrahita, now 35 and a mother of two, said in broken English. “And now I am a stranger to the country I was born.”
Felipe, now 33, will likely never join his sister to return to Canada. He was born in Colombia during their mother’s visit there and was removed from Canada at the same time he was waiting for his permanent resident paper, which has since expired.
“My brother and I grew up together by ourselves. We are very close, but separated because he can’t come back here,” Piedrahita lamented.
According to their statement of claim, CCAS signed a temporary care agreement on Oct. 1, 1981 with Piedrahita’s mother, who was separated from their abusive father and had checked herself into the Queen Street Mental Health Centre, now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, for substance abuse.
The temporary care agreement was for three months only and designed to allow the children’s mother time to secure treatment and resume care of them, and their mother intended to raise the children in Canada, the claim states.
However, on Nov. 12, 1981, the claim says their mother terminated the agreement at the advice of a CCAS worker and signed some documents that she only found out later had authorized the agency to send her children to their grandparents in Colombia.
The next day, on Nov. 13, 1981, the children were flown to Columbia, escorted by a volunteer couple, who placed them with their grandmother.
The siblings’ Toronto lawyer, Jeffery Wilson, says the mother was in no mental condition to understand what she was signing at the time.
“She did the commendable thing by having the CAS care for her children, but then discovered they threw her children into harm’s way,” Wilson said in an interview.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
CCAS denies any wrongdoing in a statement of defence, saying the children’s mother “wanted care of the children to be transferred to her mother Aura Saldarriaga (the grandmother) in Medellin, Colombia, because she had no relatives in Canada to care for her children.”
Their mother never advised CCAS that she intended for the children to be raised in Canada as alleged, the agency says in its defence.
“CCAS pleads that it reasonably fulfilled the statutory, common law and fiduciary duties it owed to the plaintiffs at the material times,” the defence statement says.
In seeking $1 million in damages from CCAS, Piedrahita and her brother claim they lived in constant fear in Colombia, where leftist guerrillas including the infamous FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), were in constant conflict then.
As a result, they claim they received virtually no schooling, were physically and emotionally abused, and were periodically abandoned and left to fend for themselves.
Their father passed away in Colombia years ago and the mother lives in Toronto, still struggling with substance abuse.
Piedrahita said she only discovered CCAS’s involvement in their return to Colombia when a grandmother passed away in 2008 and she came across some old documents.
The agency declined to comment on the case, but said care agencies do on occasion reunite children with family in other countries.
“This is done only when it meets the specific needs of the child or children involved and after a thorough assessment process,” executive director Mary McConville said in a written statement.
“If there are close family ties in another country where the child could receive the supports needed and all criteria to ensure the child’s safety are met, an international kinship arrangement may be in a child’s best interests.”
But cases such as the Piedrahita’s are rare, said Felipe’s immigration lawyer Angus Grant.
“While child protection agencies have frequently failed to recognize their obligation to obtain legal status for the children who come into their care, I have never seen a case like this where they have done the opposite,” said Grant.
“They took it upon themselves to effect a child’s deportation and subsequent loss of status.”
In 2010, Grant filed an immigration application for Felipe on humanitarian grounds. The application was denied last year.
“While I recognize that you and (your sister) endured difficulties throughout your childhood, you are now 31 years old and are no longer subject to abuse,” Citizenship and Immigration Canada said in its rejection letter.
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Source: Toronto Star