Saturday, February 05, 2011

Ottawa CAS, Barbara MacKinnon, and Heart Gallery of Canada Causing Confusion Around Application of Law

The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa has initiated a pilot program called the Heart Gallery of Canada which has dramatically increased the number of adoptions of children and youth in Eastern Ontario who are in need of a permanent home, and a family.

Under the Society's publicly available Youtube page you will find a video (shown below) featuring a very happy and fortunate youth named Jon Daly (we are unsure of his age since youth can include up to 24 years of age) and his adoptive parents, Andre Lafontaine, an Ottawa area Wedding Officiant, and D'arcy MacPherson, a staff member of the Senate of Canada, who have formed a family around Jon, saving this particular youth from the dreaded and all-too-common fate of leaving the foster care system alone and without any support systems many former fostered youth and adults have suffered over the years.

The program (Heart Gallery of Canada) which makes public appearances with pictures of foster children who are legally available for adoption -- despite being successful at finding much needed families and support systems for foster children and youth -- has the potential to cause serious confusion with the public as to whether it is legal to publicly identify a child who is the subject of a child welfare proceeding, their parents, or foster parents, all actions which are prohibited by section 45 (8) of the Child and Family Services Act and punishable by prison sentences of up to three years or fines of up to $10,000 for each count if convicted of such.

In the past, Societies have taken Ontario citizens to court, obtaining jail sentences for making such identifying information public on websites which detail their experiences with a Society, others have faced warnings from Superior Court judges at the request of a Society's lawyer not to publish such information, others have reported being threatened with legal action when they were going to speak out at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario about their experiences with a Society, others have reported receiving letters from lawyers involved with a Society stating it is illegal to make such information public, and even child-welfare court decisions make mention of this at the beginning of their reported cases at Canlii (Canadian Legal Information Institute, a non-profit organization managed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada which makes Canadian law accessible for free on the Internet)

Currently, section 45 (8) of the Child and Family Services Act reads as follows:

No person shall publish or make public information that has the effect of identifying a child who is a witness at or a participant in a hearing or the subject of a proceeding, or the child’s parent or foster parent or a member of the child’s family

In a CBC interview with Barbara MacKinnon, the executive director of the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa, when she was asked about the privacy concerns of the children featured in the public traveling photo display, MacKinnon appears to discount the illegal nature of the exhibition contravening the law by saying "They want a permanent home more than [they] worry about having their picture in the public domain."

Source: CBC Ottawa

As a person in a position of authority within the child-welfare services sector MacKinnon appears to shrug off the need for corporations or individuals to comply with the law. MacKinnon and the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa have demonstrated a pattern of not complying with the law in the past. As a matter of fact, MacKinnon and the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa have been charged with contravening offence creating provisions of their governing legislation, the Corporations Act.

Despite the good intentions and results of the Heart Gallery pilot project, the message which appears to be given by the Society and MacKinnon in failing to comply with Ontario's laws is that it is ok to break the law as long as it serves your own interests or those you are trying to help.

One thing the Society's could do, just like any other citizens are told to do when they don't agree with a law, is to advocate for changes to it through the legislature.

For example, the Society could advocate for changes to section 45 (8) of the Act which state that forms could be signed by those the law is intended to protect, namely children and youth in care, their parents and foster parents which permits a person to make public information which has the effect of identifying them.

In 2010, it appears the Gallery has traveled to, and shown pictures of "waiting children" in violation of the law at the following Ottawa locations and dates:

Service Canada Centre, Beacon Hill: May 3 – 7

Service Canada Centre, Esplanade Laurier: May 17 – 21

Service Canada Centre, Lincoln Fields: May 31 – June 4

Service Canada Centre, City Hall: June 14 – 18

Bank of America, Call Centre: June 21 – 25

Immigration Canada: September 7 – 17

Alberta has a sight which uses fake names for children who are adoptable, and they do not post the children's picture because they are aware that it is illegal to do so. See the following link for supporting material (click here) (Opens in new window)

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