JE and KE v Children’s Aid Society of the Niagara Region, 2020 ONSC 4239

Application for judicial review allowed. The Board’s conclusion to deny adoption by the Applicants was unreasonable. The best interests of the Child, who is identified as Métis, require that she not be uprooted from the only family she has ever known.

Indigenous Law Centre
Indigenous CaseWatch Blog

This is a successful application for judicial review from the Child and Family Services Review Board in Ontario [“Board”]. The three year old child in question [“Child”], upon her birth, was apprehended almost immediately by the Children’s Aid Society of the Niagara Region [“the Society”] and she was placed with approved foster parents, KE and JE [“the Applicants”]. KE and JE applied to the Society to adopt the child. DC-G and MG [“the Respondents”] also applied to adopt the Child. Neither family had any biological relationship to the Child although DC-G and MG had previously adopted two of the biological mother’s seven children by different fathers.

The Society’s investigation of the biological father raised the possibility that his paternal grandmother had been associated with Québec Métis. On further enquiry, the paternal grandmother advised the Society that she believed her father had “Indian blood” but this had never been confirmed and her parents were dead.

The Society approved the application of JE and KE and declined the application of DC-G and MG. The Society regarded the continuity of care and averting the risk of harm from disruption by moving the Child to another family, when there were no care-based reasons for doing so, as the dominant and overriding considerations in this case. DC-G and MG brought proceedings before the Board seeking to review the Society’s decision. The Board reversed the Society’s decision and directed the Society to place the child for adoption with DC-G and MG.

The Applicants are white, live in Ontario and are members of a Mennonite Brethren church community. The Respondents are also white, live in Ontario and are members of the Roman Catholic church. Neither faith has a particularly open or positive attitude toward LGBTQ issues, although both sets of parents applying to adopt the Child were clear that they would love and support the Child regardless of her eventual sexual or gender preferences.

It is obvious, given the evidence, that the Child would, as submitted by the Society, wish to remain with the only parents and family she had ever known rather than be uprooted and sent to live with strangers. While the weight to be given to this view would have been up to the Board, it was unreasonable not to consider the Child’s view at all. There was uncontested evidence before the Board that the Child had, over the course of three years living with the Applicants, developed a strong bond with the Applicants, their seven year-old son and the Applicants’ extended family. It was also uncontested that the Child had never met, or knew of the existence of, the Respondents or their adopted children. The Respondents suggested an openness to maintaining a relationship with the foster sibling, but there was evidence of openness on the Applicants part to maintain a relationship with the Child’s half-siblings also, which was not considered.

The Board belittled the Applicants’ efforts to learn about Métis culture as doing the “bare minimum,” but ignored the fact that the Respondents, on the evidence, had done effectively nothing prior to the hearing to learn anything about Métis traditions. In contrast, the Board relied exclusively on the Respondents’ prior involvement with Algonquin culture regarding one of their already adopted children. But, the burden of the Act is to recognize the distinct heritage and culture of Aboriginal peoples. First Nations, Inuit and Métis people are distinct peoples and the Board’s decision failed to recognize this (LE v Simcoe Muskoka Child Youth and Family Services (CFSYA s 192), 2019 CFSRB 86). As well, the Respondents’ education and adoption of Algonquin culture appears to have been developed over time after they had adopted their Algonquin-affiliated child. The Board, in taking the approach it did, held the Applicants to a standard that, by its own terms, was not met by the Respondents.

This Court found that the Board put too much emphasis on one couple’s past support of an Algonquin child that they had adopted. This was seen as “super-weighting” the relevance of Indigenous identity to adoption, which the Court found to be an inappropriate interpretation of Ontario’s current legislation (amended in 2017). It also bears emphasizing, given the Board’s approach to this case, that these mandatory and discretionary factors are not just abstract concepts; the extent of their applicability in a particular case must be rooted in an assessment of the evidence. They also noted that this was relatively unrelated to the alleged Quebec Métis heritage of the Child since the new legislation requires a distinction-based approach.

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