B.C.'s Children's Ministry is defending its actions in a case that involved a father who a judge ruled in a civil case sexually abused a child while the toddler was in the care of the ministry.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled earlier in 2015 that the province's child protection service was negligent when it gave the father unsupervised access to his children after the three eldest made disclosures of sexual abuse.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development filed its reasons for appealing the decision this week.

The factum, submitted to the B.C. Court of Appeal, says that social workers relied on several experts including a pediatrician, psychologist and an expert on parenting when granting the unsupervised visits.

Allegations about the father were investigated by Vancouver police in this case, who concluded there was "no evidence to support J.P's allegations that B.G. molested their children." As a result no criminal charges were laid in this case.

The document says the judge who ruled in the case made errors in law and ignored key evidence when he condemned the ministry's actions.

Stop 'keeping secrets for Daddy'

The factum paints an ugly picture of the mother referred to only as J.P., citing an incident when she pepper-sprayed her ex-husband, brother and sister-in-law in the home where the children were staying.

As a result the children were moved to a foster home.

Social workers were also concerned about her repeated attempts to interview the children about their father's abuse.

The document says during a supervised visit she "forcibly held (her daughter) in her lap while telling her that (she) needed to tell the truth and cannot keep secrets. J.P. stated that (her daughter) was 'keeping secrets for daddy,' and that her actions were 'ruining our lives.'"

The government says J.P. refused to meet with social workers to talk about the "traumatizing effect that J.P.'s behaviour would have on a five-year-old child."

Mother's lawyer responds

J.P.'s lawyer Jack Hittrich says he will file a full response to the province's appeal in April.

In the meantime he highlighted his concerns to CBC News.

Jack Hittrich

Jack Hittrich, the lawyer for the children's mother, calls the province's position absurd. (cbc)

"What is astounding about this factum is that the central findings of fact are completely ignored," said Hittrich.

"They chose to align themselves fully with the (father)," says Hittrich, but the ministry denies that.

"In this case mom does everything she can to protect these children. The more she cries the more she's labelled as crazy!"

Concerns mother would harm children

The factum argues the judge was wrong to rule social workers acted in bad faith, suggesting the evidence shows they properly assessed the risks posed to the children, and made decisions based on the information available at the time.

They feared the children were endangered by their mother, and at one point concern was raised by a police investigator that the mother might even kill the children.

The ministry's appeal argues that at that time experts advised it was unlikely the children had been sexually abused, and that their mother needed mental health intervention before she could safely regain custody.

Social workers had no way of knowing a judge would later rule that the father had abused the children and the mother had no mental health issues.

The province says the actions of social workers were unfairly judged in hindsight.

By June of 2011 the director of child welfare was aware the three eldest children had made disclosures of sexual abuse, but their statements were inconsistent, and Vancouver police had found no physical evidence to support charges.

Ministry relied on expert findings

The judge ruled social workers did not properly assess the risk to the children, but the document says the ministry relied on several reports, including:

  • Pediatrician found no physical evidence of sexual abuse.
  • Child psychologist found low probability that sexual abuse occurred.
  • Parental capacity expert concluded sexual abuse was unlikely.
  • Child psychologist concluded sexual abuse was unlikely.
  • Parental capacity expert recommended father get custody.
  • Child psychologist recommended father get custody.
  • Parental capacity expert said mother required mental health intervention.
  • Child psychologist found mother required psychiatric assessment.

The document says the mother refused to go for a recommended psychiatric assessment while the father followed orders to work with a parenting coach, who wrote positive reviews.

The trial judge ruled the VPD investigation was flawed and the experts the ministry relied on were not reliable, and social workers ought to have known that.

The ruling found one ministry employee's pervasive distrust of J.P. influenced others, and his failure to include sexual abuse allegations in a key document amount to misfeasance.

But the province says the evidence does not support such a serious finding.

The document says the plaintiff's view that a "multi-institutional conspiracy" led social workers to make a decision that ultimately allowed a father to molest his toddler in the ministry's care is simply not supported by evidence.

Being wrong does not mean negligence

But the factum does not dispute that sexual abuse occurred after the father was granted unsupervised access.

"Whether the sexual abuse in fact occurred is a much different question from whether social workers reasonably and in good faith" says the document.

"The fact that the trial judge eventually concluded … that the director was 'wrong' in her assessment of risk does not render all actions of the director that preceded … negligent and malicious."

The province declined to comment on the appeal because it is still before the courts.


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Clarifications

  • Additional links and information have been added to this story about findings of sexual abuse involving the father in this case.
    Jan 13, 2016 11:32 AM PT