Counsel for a foster parent in a child protection matter was removed from the record based on his prior representation of the child protection agency respondent. The Court took into account the overall negative relationship between Indigenous peoples and the justice system in relation to the need to respect an Indigenous person’s choice of counsel, but held that intervention is necessary in clear cases of conflict in order to mitigate this crisis of confidence.
An Anishinaabe child [“NLJ”], a registered band member of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory [“Wiikwemkoong”], was removed at birth from the care of her parents by the Children’s Aid Society of Oxford County [“CAS”] and a protection application commenced. The child has significant physical needs that require specialized care both at home and at school. NLJ was placed with the applicant [“RF”] on this protection application proceeding, and who was, at that time, a recognized foster home and the placement was monitored by the CAS. The file was ultimately transferred to Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services [“KGCFS”] and the applicant continued to provide a foster placement for NLJ.
NLJ was made a crown ward under the Child and Family Services Act and remained in RF’s care. Wiikwemkoong passed a Band Council Resolution which provided that NLJ remain in the home of RF pursuant to a Customary Care Agreement. Wiikwemkoong and KGCFS have a “Joint Protocol” [“Protocol”] with respect to the provision of child protection services, which includes Customary Care. The Protocol outlines the relationship between Wiikwemkoong and KGCFS and their inherent right to be involved in decision making on child protection issues.
Mr. Parisé was the primary lawyer retained by the respondent society, KGCFS, for child protection matters when the Customary Care Agreement was finalized. Because of the Protocol, KGCFS is necessarily a party to that agreement. In 2016, the Crown Wardship Order was terminated following a status review application commenced by KGCFS. The existence of the Customary Care Agreement was the basis for the application. Of note, Mr. Parisé was counsel for KGCFS at the time and counsel of record in that proceeding.
The child remained in the home of RF under this Agreement until 2019 when NLJ was removed by KGCFS and placed in another customary care home. The Customary Care Agreement between KF, Wiikwemkoong, KGCFS, and the biological parents of NLJ was terminated sometime thereafter. It was at this time that Mr. Parisé started acting as counsel of record for RF. Mr. Parisé represented RF who filed a status review which was ultimately dismissed without prejudice to the applicant bringing an application under s 81(4) of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act [“CYFSA”]. RF then filed a protection application. KGCFS brought a motion to remove Mr. Parisé as counsel of record a month later, which was the first time the issue of potential conflict was raised with the Court.
On March 16, 2020, the Office of the Chief Justice released a Notice to the Public ordering the suspension of normal court operations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, RF’s application was adjourned, and with it, KGCFS’s motion. Subsequently, the Customary Care placement was revoked when the respondent mother withdrew her consent but did not seek custody at that time. NLJ no longer had a customary care placement and KGCFS commenced their own protection application without naming RF as a party. After dealing with the initial removal to a place of safety, the court remanded both matters to the same date to be spoken to in order to deal with jurisdictional issues arising out of the fact that there are now two separate child protection applications dealing with the same child, and which do not have all the same parties. The parties on both applications agreed that this motion would need to be heard first before other substantive issues could be addressed.
The jurisdiction to remove counsel is found in the inherent right of the court to determine “to whom it will give an audience” and that the threshold for court intervention should be high (Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society v BD, 2013 ONCJ 43). The test that the courts have developed for determining if counsel should be removed is whether the public, represented by the reasonably informed person, would be satisfied that no use of confidential information would occur (MacDonald Estate v Martin,  3 SCR 1235 [“MacDonald”]).
Counsel of choice is a foundational principle in the Canadian justice system. It is well established that a litigant should not be deprived of their counsel of choice without good cause. However, this principle is not absolute. The issue in this motion is whether a lawyer who acted on behalf of a society on a child protection file can now represent one of the other parties in a subsequent protection application. The Court determines in this case, that the conflict is one which should disqualify the lawyer from continuing to act on the matter and the lawyer be removed from the record. The courts owe a duty to the Indigenous people they serve to intervene in the clear cases of conflict, in order to mitigate this crisis of confidence.