Several demonstrations held to protest CAS action

The next chapter in the Aylmer, Ont. child-seizure saga is due to be written Nov. 2.

That’s the date when interested parties return to the courtroom for an “informal settlement conference,” to determine whether the situation can be resolved without resort to a formal trial. A June 6 raid saw about a dozen police officers remove seven children, aged six to 14, from a home in this southern Ontario town.

The apparent reason for the action, instigated by the local Children’s Aid Society, was that the children’s parents, who are members of the Church of God, wouldn’t promise to cease using an inanimate object, such as a switch or stick, on the youngsters in discipline.

After the CAS later questioned another family, more than 100 Church of God women and children fled Canada, out of fear that they too might be targeted for similar actions. Most have since returned to this country; however, some have left permanently, with a few resettling in Germany.

“That’s how significantly church members feel about the situation,” said Ryan Kidd, an organizer with the newly founded Family Aid Society. “They didn’t want to deal with it, thinking, ‘If they’re going to take our kids, we’re going to leave the country.'”

The seized children were returned to their parents after about a month in foster homes. However, a series of what some saw as draconian conditions were attached to their return, including the parents’ agreeing not administer spanking and the CAS having the right to unannounced inspections.

The imbroglio has sparked several demonstrations in Ontario, including a “family rights” event held at Queen’s Park in Toronto in early August, during which figures including Family Coalition Party leader Giuseppe Gori addressed the crowd. Organizers stressed the issue was more far-reaching than just spanking, by encompassing freedom, family rights and the proper role of government as well.

And on Sept. 6, more than 100 people demonstrated outside an Aylmer courthouse, where an initial hearing was taking place on the matter.

“Some positive media coverage has been had from three demonstrations we were part of,” said Kidd.

“I don’t know effective they were, but one positive result was that I was on a talkshow on (a Toronto television station), and the host and the callers were sympathetic to us. About 70 per cent of those who called in on the phone poll were in favour of parents’ rights to use corporal punishment in a loving manner.”

Kidd added that the demonstrations also served as a rallying point for those concerned about the issue.

“We’ve made a lot of contacts with people and learned of cases that are similar – sometimes less serious, sometimes more serious. So these are not dealings isolated to the Aylmer family. They’re going on all over the province, especially in Elgin County, where the CAS seems to be very active against families and doesn’t have much respect for the integrity of the family.”

Perhaps ironically, an Ontario Superior Court justice on July 6 upheld Section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which gives parents, teachers, and guardians the right to responsibly use spanking as a form of discipline on children under their care.

Although declaring he is against spanking and urged Parliament to reconsider the law, Justice David McCombs said he was not prepared to throw out Section 43 at the behest of the Children’s Foundation, which initiated the action.

However, the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law launched an appeal beginning Sept. 10, with a decision not expected for another six months.

“I think you find that, like a lot of cases, there’s an elite in the government that holds this (anti-spanking) ideology, but the majority of individuals in Ontario and Canada respect and understand the need for parents to have the right to discipline their children,” said Kidd.

Most provincial politicians, meanwhile, are reluctant to get involved. “Everyone I’ve heard responses from has been very hands-off,” said Kidd.

“‘This is not our jurisdiction. It’s before the courts. We can’t comment.’ But this passing the buck really is (the politicians’) issue because they’re the ones who pass the laws that give the CAS rights to act in the way it does. It’s not by accident that this happened. They need to take responsibility and change the laws so families can again be respected in Ontario.”

Unusual twists to the situation happened when the Aylmer Church of God pastor, Henry Hildebrandt, was charged with violating a gag order that prohibited identifying the seized children, after their images had allegedly been posted on the internet. Hildebrandt denies placing the pictures there.

And two former Aylmer Church of God members, who left the town six years ago for California, were charged with involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to a child in September after their 11-month-old daughter Julia died from meningitis on July 6. Medical authorities in San Bernadino, Calif. claimed the child’s illness was easily curable.

When all is said and done, family- and parent-rights proponents hope that a situation won’t happen in Canada as happened in Scotland in September.

There, the Scottish Executive proposed a ban on both spanking of children under three and the use of an object in discipline. Spanking was also to be banned in nurseries, playgroups and by registered childminders.