Child protection wait times will be cut from months to weeks: judge
Changes are coming within Manitoba's court system that would shorten the length of time child protection matters take to get to court. A new scheduling model aims to hear cases within weeks rather than months.
The changes were delivered in a speech by Chief Justice Glenn Joyal on Friday at a child protection conference.
Joyal wrote that "the current delays are intolerable and unacceptable," and outlined a new scheduling model.
"In other words, delays of up to eight months before the Master, will be no more. Delays of up to 12-14 months in the Court of Queen's Bench for trial dates, will be no more. It should be understood that upon implementation of the new model, the expectation will be that matters will be completed in the Masters' Court within six weeks. If referral of a matter to the Court of Queen's Bench is necessary, upon referral, the Court will provide trial dates within three to six months."
Criminal law and child protection lawyer Michael Lazar describes the child protection system as "ridiculously backed-up" and he welcomes the new model. However, Lazar warns you can't fix an entire system by only making changes in one area.
"We often get either parental-capacity assessments or home assessments or in the case where there's a guardianship intervenor than a guardianship assessment. These all take time. And, unfortunately, there are very few psychologists and social workers who are providing these services right now," Lazar said
Lazar said most child protection cases are taken on by Legal Aid and its funding is insufficient.
"As a result, you have a relatively small private bar [of lawyers] who's involved in doing these cases. And of course, we can only be in one courtroom at a time. And that limits our availability, which in turn impacts the scheduling of these cases," Lazar said.
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The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs First Nations family advocate echoes Lazar's sentiments about legal aid. Cora Morgan said the system is grossly unbalanced when Legal Aid lawyers with caseloads of up to 400 clients are going against agencies with unlimited resources.
She also said parents are intimidated by the court system and need more resources in court.
'The longer they wait, the more torturous'
"Parents should have more an ability to speak in court to be able to convey that direct impact of not having their children. Because parents might do all the things they need to do to get their children back, but the longer they wait, the more torturous it is to be without their children," Morgan said.
"And that we have social programs that are going to work with the parents to ensure that they know what their rights are, they know what they need to do and they're supported in order to that. Because at the end of the day it's an intimidating process."
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In his speech, Joyal acknowledges the frustration caused by delays in the system. He wrote that his words "should not be seen as a finger-wagging rebuke of anyone" but a call to action.
And he added the changes would be coming soon.
"It must commence as soon as possible, but not a minute before it and everyone is ready and able, such so as to ensure it has every chance of success," wrote Joyal.