October 3, 1999
What about the rights of parents?By TED BYFIELD
The Edmonton Sun
Call it paranoia if you like, but Alberta parents have cause these days to wonder if the next knock on the door will be the cops and social workers coming to arrest them and take away their kids.
There have been three cases in the last month, each a little less justifiable than the last.
The first seems inarguable. A couple showed up at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital with a three-month-old baby so dehydrated and malnourished, a doctor testified, that the child couldn't cry.
The parents last week came to trial for criminal negligence. Sounds reasonable, if that's all there is to it, except they couldn't be accused of hiding the evidence. They brought the baby in.
The next case seems considerably less conclusive. Several Edmonton parents were warned by police on June 6 to keep their youngsters off the street after they ran in front of an ambulance.
Ten weeks later one was killed by a van, riding his bike in a back lane. Shortly after attending a memorial service for their child, the parents were arrested for negligence. They, too, came up last week.
Finally, and most dubious of all, two police cruisers and three van loads of social workers arrived at the farm of Steven and Ruth Shippy, west of Rimbey, on Aug. 27 and began gathering up five of their seven children while the parents were absent on an errand with the two younger ones.
Alerted on their cell phone by the eldest, the parents rushed home to find their screaming kids being herded into the vans. Reason: They were being hauled off to Red Deer to be tested for diabetes. They tested negative and were allowed to go home.
But the Shippys were also charged with negligence. Here's why. They belong to a Christian sect that doesn't believe in medicine. Last Christmas, their eldest son died of diabetes. The Shippys and their neighbours all declare there were almost no prior symptoms, that the boy was out playing the day before he died.
A doctor in Red Deer declares there must have been symptoms, so the parents must be charged. The head of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists says the doctor's wrong, that diabetes in children is easily mistaken for flu, even by physicians.
Now if these three cases were the only cause for parental concern, perhaps it would be paranoia. But they aren't. Consider what's called the "global picture" and you easily get the impression that the state is trying to take over the family. For instance:
- The Supreme Court next year will take up an Ontario case that would deny parents the right to spank their children. So if you slap your youngster to stop him from persistently running on the street, you will be charged with assault. If he runs on the street and gets hit by a car, you'll be charged with criminal negligence.
- Canada, without the required approval of all the provinces, has nevertheless signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which prohibits a parent from denying a child reading material of any kind, or of preventing him from watching whatever movies or television he chooses to look at. It also denies the parent any right to restrict whom the child associates with. Some law professors contend that such treaty obligations have the effect of law in Canada. The courts will decide.
- Elections Canada in November will conduct a poll in which all Canadian children will be asked to decide which "child right" they consider most important. Point to note: Child rights cannot be exercised by children themselves. In such cases, the state acts on the child's behalf.
- The federal government is developing a multi-billion-dollar program in which an appointed "child czar" will "help" with the raising of children. We're to get that instead of reduced taxes.
If you feel nervous about all this, call Eric Lowther, the Reform MP for Calgary Centre. He says you have every right to be nervous, that the family is definitely under attack.
But call him soon. Because Joe Clark, the Tory leader, let it be known last week he'll probably be taking Eric's seat from him in the next federal election. Joe feels the constituency needs a man with more liberal views.
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