The Court issued a temporary order for twin children to be returned to the care of their mother on terms of supervision. Among other things, the Court interpreted the interplay between the federal Bill C-92 and Ontario’s Child, Youth and Family Services Act as establishing an augmented best interests test that overrides the hierarchy of placement for Indigenous children in Bill C-92.
An Indigenous mother [the “Mother”] does not deny that her twins were in need of protection but that it is in the children’s best interests to be returned to her care on terms of supervision. The Court interprets the interplay between Bill C-92 and the Child, Youth and Family Services Act as establishing an augmented best interests test as the paramount consideration that overrides the hierarchy of placement for Indigenous children set out at section 16(1) of Bill C-92. A rote application would be to the detriment of the best interests of the Indigenous child, which detracts from the legislation’s overall goal of promoting substantive equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
The Mother is a member of Constance Lake First Nation and has extended family residing there. The Mother does not know the identity of the twins’ biological father, as she was homeless and had relapsed with drug addiction when they were conceived. Although she is addicted to opiates, she has been on a methadone program for three years. She has not used opiates since discovering she was pregnant. The Mother came to the Society’s attention following her voluntary participation in the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children prenatal program in the month prior to the twins’ birth, when a call was made by an employee of that program.
The Mother’s post-traumatic stress disorder stems in large part from unrelated events that stink of racism. In 2017, a man was stalking and harassing the Mother. No charges were laid and, instead, Mother was told by police that they would warn the man to stay away from her. Police neither warned off the man, nor was any report filed about the Mother’s complaint. Police failed to advise Mother of the man’s 56 prior convictions including sex offences and an assault on his own 18-month-old child. When the man later attempted to rape the Mother, who fought him off and fled, he called Sudbury Regional Police who charged her with Break and Enter and Assault.
Although she initially intended to take the matter to trial, the Mother found the situation overwhelming and pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of unlawfully entering a dwelling house. Two subsequent instances of questioning by separate police agencies about the same violent assault from which Sudbury Region Police failed to protect the Mother from, triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder such that she found herself suffering from hallucinations and fears that she was being stalked and watched.
The Society appears to rely upon these events to suggest that the Mother has a history of domestic violence. The Society also allege that the Mother has been disengaged with them and with the medical officials, and that her partner has been “overbearing” and aggressive in his demeanour. Their approach appears high-handed rather than collaborative, despite the assertion that there is cultural sensitivity.
The Court has to start with the premise that a biological parent is entitled to parent his or her child. All parents start as first-timers; no inference should be drawn that a new parent cannot adequately care for his or her child. Three factors clearly do impact the Mother’s ability to care for the children: 1) her anxiety and attendant issues; 2) the significant burden of caring for twins in general; and 3) the additional therapeutic needs of these children (Baby A needing physiotherapy to address the congenital club feet and Baby B needing physiotherapy to address the muscles in her neck).
The best interests of the Indigenous child, however, are the paramount consideration in determining the placement of that child. The hierarchy of placements is to be followed where it is consistent with the Indigenous child’s best interests in the context of promoting substantive equality between the Indigenous child and other children.