Motherisk commission must heed aboriginal concerns, lawyer says
'Unreliable' hair strand tests for drugs and alcohol used in thousands of child welfare cases
Aboriginal families need special consideration as Ontario sets up an independent commission into the Motherisk drug and alcohol testing program, according to Aboriginal Legal Services.
A review released by the province in December showed the Motherisk laboratory produced flawed results for tests done on hair strands in thousands of child welfare cases across the province.
Aboriginal Legal Service, an agency that provices legal-related programs in Toronto, says at least one quarter of the families affected by the Motherisk program are aboriginal.
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"We have concerns that people will be harmed, that people will make exaggerated statements about what might come out of this [independent commission]," said program director Jonathan Rudin.
It also found the lab's hair testing evidence in child protection proceedings has serious implications for the fairness of those proceedings.
The province said it is now moving quickly to establish an independent commission.
While needed, the commission could be especially traumatizing for aboriginal families, Rudin said.
"Aboriginal people who have not only lost their children through child welfare but probably have a history of involvement in child welfare and likely residential schools — all those issues need to be considered," he said.
Aboriginal Legal Services wrote a letter to the Minister responsible for the commission expressing the need for supports specifically for aboriginal families.
"We want these things considered right off the top," Rudin said. "We think it's really important to get this right from the beginning, rather than try to fix things as we go along."
Ontario is providing a toll-free number for anyone who may be "potentially impacted" by the flawed Motherisk lab results.
"Anyone who believes that they may have been impacted by a Motherisk test can call 1-855-235-8932 for short-term counselling assistance and to request that their name be provided to the commissioner," Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur said in a news release.