Kawartha-Haliburton Children’s Aid Society v MW, 2019 ONCA 316

Appeal allowed. The Divisional Court erred by applying the wrong framework for access, including the special considerations for Indigenous children, and misstated the approach to summary judgement in child protection matters.

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The Applicant requests access to three of her children in extended care. Her children were apprehended in 2015 by the Respondent, Kawartha-Haliburton Children’s Aid Society, pursuant to the Child and Family Services Act, [“CFSA”]. The appropriateness of the extended care order is not disputed. The mother, however, did not agree to a no-access provision when she consented to a summary judgement motion for Crown wardship. The motion judge made the children Crown wards and denied the mother access to them. The mother appealed to the Divisional Court. By this time, the CFSA was about to be replaced with the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 [“CYFSA”]. The major changes to the child protection legislation made pursuant to the CFYSA, such as the transition provisions of the new legislation, the new test for access to children in extended care, the special considerations for Indigenous children, and the proper approach to summary judgment in child protection matters are central to this appeal.

The transitional provisions of the CYFSA required that, at the date it came into force, all cases not “concluded” would be considered under the new Act. This court determines that the word “concluded” is to be taken in the ordinary sense of the word and a decision under reserve means the case is not concluded. Also, the children are First Nations as defined in the CYFSA. They and their family members identify as First Nation with the Curve Lake First Nation. In this matter, the transitional provisions of the CYFSA apply, so that the test for access was pursuant to the new Act that was to replace the CFSA. The criteria for access to children in extended care has been changed by removing the presumption against access, making the child’s “best interests” predominant in determining access, and emphasizing the importance of preserving Indigenous children’s cultural identity and connection to community. The record was insufficient to satisfy the new test pertaining to the children’s Indigenous heritage (Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton v GH, TV and Eastern Woodlands Metis of Nova Scotia, 2016 ONSC 6287 [“GH”]). The Act is remedial legislation and should be interpreted liberally especially for Indigenous children. By applying the transitional provisions to cases under reserve, thereby not “concluded”, these children would not be caught in a legislative void.

The CYFSA changed the considerations for access. The test for access to a Crown ward under the old Act was strict. The onus was on the person seeking access to establish that the relationship was meaningful and beneficial. There was a presumption against access and opportunities for adoption were prioritized over other considerations. Under the new Act, the court shall not make the access order unless it is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the child. It is to undertake a best interests analysis, assess whether the relationship is beneficial and meaningful to the child, and consider impairment to future adoption opportunities only as part of this assessment and only where relevant. The Divisional Court did not properly address the issue of the sufficiency of the record because it applied the old Act.

The Divisional Court also erred by misapplying the key principles regarding the use of summary judgment to the specific circumstances of child protection proceedings (Hryniak v Mauldin, 2014 SCC 7 [“Hryniak”]). Hryniak’s fairness principle requires that exceptional caution is needed for summary judgment in the child protection context by reviewing the Charter implications of child protection proceedings. Child protection litigation engages the Charter rights of both parents and children (New Brunswick (Minister of Health and Community Services) v G (J), [1999] 3 SCR 46). The courts should be especially mindful of the reality and material circumstances of those subject to child protection proceedings. Women, and especially single mothers, are disproportionately and particularly affected by child protection proceedings (G(J)). The cautious approach to summary judgment in child protection has long been recognized by lower courts and by this court (Children’s Aid Society of Halton (Region) v A (KL) (2006), 216 OAC 148).

The proper approach to summary judgment in child protection proceedings must exercise caution and apply the objectives of the CYFSA, including the expanded best interests of the child test. This court sets aside the motion judge’s order and refers this matter back to the Superior Court on an expedited basis to determine the question of access pursuant to the CYFSA.

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