That, in the opinion of this House, the Government should authorize a proclamation to be issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada amending Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to: (a) recognize the fundamental right of individuals to pursue family life free from undue interference by the state and (b) recognize the fundamental right, responsibility and liberty of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, and urge the legislative assemblies of the other provinces to do likewise.
Mr. Speaker, I am both pleased and disappointed this morning to be leading the debate on a topic that is so important to families all across Canada.
I wonder if it would make any difference to the members of this House and to the people of Canada if they knew that the state had more power than parents to determine what is in the best interests of children. I wonder if it would make any difference to all of us here and to parents if they realized the unlimited power of the state to take children away from parents without any real evidence whatsoever. Today I will present evidence that parents have only time consuming, expensive legal recourse if their rights are abused because of the legislation and the bureaucracy working against parents and that the government is clearly abusing their powers.
Here are some concrete examples, or should I say horror stories.
Until February 1995 Charles and Sandra Butler home schooled their children, ages 11, 8 and 5, which is permissible in Newfoundland as long as the curriculum is accredited by the district school board. The Butlers followed a home school curriculum developed by the Seventh Day Adventist Church that the local school board had refused to accredit. The family had no history of neglect or abuse.
The department of social services decided that the Butler children were in need of protection under the province's child welfare act on the grounds that the Butlers had neglected to provide adequately for the education of their children. The Butlers' three children were apprehended even though the five year old was not required by law to go to school. Social workers expanded their list of grounds for taking the children away from their parents to include concerns about the children's health and education, possible physical and/or emotional abuse and the religious zealotry of their parents.
A judge granted social services temporary custody of the children for a four month period. The Butlers were forced to hire a lawyer and appeal the judge's orders on the grounds that, first, the judge applied an improper standard of proof; second, he relied on inadmissible evidence and hearsay; third, the hearing violated the principles of fundamental justice; fourth, the parents were not properly informed of the nature of the hearing; and fifth, the parents were not given an opportunity to call evidence.
In December 1995, more than 10 months after their kids were taken from them, the court granted the Butlers' appeal and ordered the children be returned immediately to their parents.
In her conclusions the judge found that the Butlers' parental rights under section 7 of the charter of rights and freedoms had been violated.
She also concluded that the children's academic abilities seemed normal for their age. They appeared well adjusted. They were physically healthy. They were rarely sick. There was absolutely no evidence that the parents physically or mentally abused their children.
She also agreed that the bureaucrats had not handled the case in a manner in keeping with the principles of fundamental justice.
The Butler children had to spend more than six months in foster care. This government-enforced separation of children from their parents was devastating for the kids, the family and the family's relationship with the community in which it lived. All of it was totally unnecessary. A proper investigation by government bureaucrats at the outset would have arrived at exactly the same conclusions that the judge did in court.
The abuse here was by government bureaucrats, not the parents, even though the judge concluded that the Butlers had parental rights under the charter. Had parental rights been in the charter it may have actually resulted in the bureaucrats conducting a proper investigation before scooping the Butlers' kids and keeping them separated for six months.
There are many horror stories. Here is another one. In June 1995 a Nanaimo couple's three children were taken from them by social services. Terry and Lisa Neave's two-year old daughter was taken to hospital for testing and treatment of a choking disorder. One day before the transfer a paediatrician taught Mrs. Neave a jaw-thrust manoeuvre that would clear her daughter's air wave when she was choking. The manoeuvre involved raising the child's jaw with a hand at her neck.
At the children's hospital in Vancouver, Lisa Neave and her daughter were assigned a double room with another mother and sick child. Mrs. Neave performed the manoeuvre on her daughter during a choking episode. The other mother reported what she thought was abuse to the hospital authorities. Mrs. Neave was required to explain her paediatrician's instructions to a social worker and to the head of the hospital's child protection unit. The head of the child protection unit concluded that Mrs. Neave had an unusual form of child abuse in which a parent fabricates an illness for their child. Without checking with the Neave's paediatrician or family doctor, the next day social services apprehended all three of the Neave's children.
Even though no one had ever seen Mrs. Neave abuse her children, a judge ruled that Mrs. Neave was a high risk to her children. The Neave's family doctor and paediatrician tried to contact the social worker. They reported that their calls were not even returned. The children were not allowed to come home until December and Mr. Neave still had to act as supervisor over his wife.
In January the results of the court ordered psychiatric assessment of Mrs. Neave concluded that Mrs. Neave's only psychiatric problem was caused by her children being taken away from her and by the RCMP investigation. In February the court orders imposed by the department of social services were set aside. The Neave's children had lived away from home for five months. Their legal bills exceeded $10,000. All this could have been avoided if the social worker had simply called the paediatrician and confirmed the instructions Mrs. Neave had received.
Having parental rights included in the charter of rights and freedoms may have prevented this travesty of justice and this emotional nightmare.
There are many other examples like this that I could relate to members. These ought to be of grave concern to all Canadians. Unfortunately, the charter of rights and freedoms only protects an individual's rights and freedoms, it does not provide the legal framework for this balancing of parental rights, children's rights and the rights of the state.
I maintain this is why parental rights and responsibilities need to be included in our charter. Child abuse by the state is just as abhorrent as child abuse by parents. There needs to be a proper balance between the rights of parents to raise their children and the right of the state to interfere. That is why M-33 is here today.
My main point is this. Parents have a responsibility to provide their children with the necessities of life. As long as parents meet this fundamental responsibility to their children governments should respect the fundamental right of parents to raise their children free from undue interference by the state.
Cindy Silver, a Vancouver lawyer, points out that the dignity and worth of both individuals and families in a free society were prominent in the Canadian Bill of Rights, but any reference to the family was omitted from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She says that omitting the reference to family in the charter of rights and freedoms contributed significantly to the demise of family autonomy and the devaluing of the family in law and legislature.
My Motion No. 33 would correct this oversight and return a proper balance between parental rights and responsibilities and help reaffirm the state's proper role in family life in Canada.
Section 15 of the charter states every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal benefit of the law without discrimination. Ms. Silver correctly points out that because the charter includes age as a prohibited ground for discrimination this effectively changed the constitutional status of children, making them equal to adults under the law.
Making children equal under the law and omitting family and parents from our Constitution has put child rights groups in charge of the political agenda and left parents with little or no defence.
Here is what is happening as result. In 1991 Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a document which tried to address all the concerns raised by child rights groups around the world. Ms. Silver states: “As a result, the UN convention confers both protective rights and choice rights, thereby establishing a presumption that children should be able to act autonomously whenever possible”.
Ms. Silver then outlines the choice rights that governments now endorse for all children in Canada regardless of what parents think is good or bad for their children. Article 13 states the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and the ideas of all kinds, whether orally or in writing, in the form of art or through any media of the child's choice.
Article 14 states the right of freedom to thought, conscience and religion. Article 15 states the right to freedom of association. Article 16 states the right to privacy. Article 19 states the right to be free from all forms of physical and mental violence. Article 19 has been interpreted by the UN convention review committee to include freedom from simple spankings by a loving parent to help correct a child's behaviour from time to time.
In June 1995 the review committee criticized Canada for failing to repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code, the section that provides a defence for parents who use corporal punishment, reasonable under the circumstances, to correct their children's behaviour.
While the UN convention and the review committee's recommendation have no legal force in Canadian law, this does not prevent the no spanking lobbyists from pushing the government to change the law. Nor has the federal government been an innocent bystander. The government has been providing funds for these anti-spanking, anti-parental rights lobby groups to do research and to launch court challenges to advance their cause. That is wrong.
Parents and families are left to defend themselves from this intrusion by the state while government provides moral and financial support to lobby groups that would diminish parental rights and family autonomy.
Ms. Silver's paper states: “Since 1992 the federal government has allocated $459 million toward conforming Canada's law and policy to the provisions of the UN convention. Part of this amount was used in 1992 to create the children's bureau of Health Canada whose mandate is to ensure consistency with the UN convention and co-ordination for all federal program and policies for children”.
All this is expenditure of human and financial resources by the government to implement a UN convention that has not even been debated or approved by members of parliament.
Dallas Miller, legal counsel for the Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada, describes the negative aspect of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in an action paper he prepared for home schoolers.
It states: “Although several of the provisions offered generally positive, non-offensive platitudes, a substantial portion of the convention undermines parental rights. These threats to the family generally fall into three categories: first, transfer of God given parental rights and responsibilities to the state; second, the institutionalization of rebellion by vesting children with various fundamental rights which advance notions of the children's autonomy and freedom from parental guidance; third, the establishment of bureaucracies and institutions of a national and international nature designed to promote the ideas proclaimed in the charter of the United Nations and to investigate and prosecute parents who violate these children's rights”.
Mr. Miller has analysed each article in the UN convention and he highlights how the charter could be used to undermine parental rights and responsibilities. Here are just a few examples he cites. Article 3: In an article concerning children the courts, social service workers and bureaucrats are empowered to regulate families based on the bureaucrats' subjective determination of what is in the best interests of the child. That is happening in Canada.
Article 4: Signatory nations are bound to undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of rights articulated in the convention.
Article 13: Little children are vested with the virtual absolute freedom of expression and under this provision parents could lose the right to prevent their children from interaction with pornography, rock music with profane lyrics or violent television shows.
This is terrible that this is allowed. Children are guaranteed freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Children have the legal right to object to all religious training from their parents.
Article 15: This article declares the right of the child to freedom of association. Children could claim a fundamental right to join street gangs, cults or racist organizations over parental objections.
I have many other things I would like to present and that is why I have introduced Motion No. 33. I feel strongly about the issue, as more than 6,000 petitions support my efforts to strengthen protection for parental rights from undue interference by the nanny state.
Parents must have the freedom to do what I think is in the best interests of their children. If the government thinks they are wrong, section 1 of the charter guarantees the government can only interfere in accordance with reasonable limits prescribed by law that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
In conclusion, my motion proposes to institute a proper balance between children's right, parental rights and the rights of the state. I would like to respectfully request at this time, with the consent of the House, to make Motion No. 33 a votable item.