Two former foster parents are taking the Children's Aid Society of Hamilton to court, alleging that their two young foster children were removed from their home because they refused to tell the kids that the Easter bunny was real.
Derek and Frances Baars have filed a court application against CAS, which alleges the organization violated the Baars' charter rights based on their religious beliefs as members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
The dispute led to CAS shutting down the couple as prospective foster parents. Derek Baars told CBC News that he feels like CAS "was imposing their will upon us."
"It was emotionally draining," he said. "It was frustrating and confusing."
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According to a legal documents filed by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) — which is a conservative non-profit legal organization that specializes in Canadian constitutional law — the Baars fostered 3 and 4-year-old sisters starting in December of 2015.
'There is no such thing as white lies or innocent lies.' - Derek Baars
The sisters had been temporarily separated from their biological parents, with hopes for them to return sometime in the future.
According to the documents filled by the JCCF on behalf of the parents, problems arose around Easter of 2016, when a placement support worker "insisted that the Baars must inform their foster girls that the fictitious character known as the Easter Bunny was a real entity."
Baars says he and his wife refused on religious grounds.
"We believe that Christianity is objectively true, that it's based in history, and therefore truth-telling in every area of life is important – no matter what the area is," he said in an interview.
"There is no such thing as white lies or innocent lies. It was crucial that we knew we were telling the children the truth and they had the right to expect us to tell the truth."
Finding a middle ground
The Baars' legal application contends that CAS violated their freedom of conscience and religion under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"By threatening to close down the Baars' foster home, the respondent sought to compel and coerce the Baars to tell their foster children that the Easter bunny was real, in violation of the Baars' religious beliefs against lying and saying the Easter bunny is real," the application reads.
The allegations in the court file have not been tested in court.
Hamilton CAS Executive Director Dominic Verticchio told CBC News that he could not discuss the specifics of the case, now that a court action has begun. A statement of defence has not yet been filed.
Verticchio did, however, speak generally about these kinds of cases, saying issues related to characters like the Easter bunny and Santa Claus in foster homes aren't terribly common, and that they are usually addressed through training at the outset of the fostering process.
"When you have children placed outside their homes … I think there should be a balance between being respectful of the foster parent's beliefs, but also the kids," he said.
"You've got to find a middle ground."
In the court documents, the Baars allege that their CAS worker was concerned that the Baars would not treat a prospective same-sex adoptive couple for the sisters "well" — and that this became part of the reason for shutting them down as foster parents.
"The Baars were deeply offended by these unfounded allegations," the documents read.
Hoping to set a legal precedent
In the end, the children were removed from the home in March of 2016.
Baars says that he and his wife have launched this charter application to ensure that they would be able to act as foster parents elsewhere. The pair are currently living in Alberta.
The JCCF has argued cases as an intervenor in the past, involving people with evangelical Christian beliefs as well as for anti-abortion groups who felt their rights had been infringed upon.
JCCF President John Carpay told CBC News that they are also trying to set a legal precedent for these kinds of matters.
"Our main concern here is accountability, and to not see this sort of thing happen again."