The Gazette (Montreal)

Friday, April 05, 2002

Outrage over judge's comments

Social groups file formal complaint over remarks on welfare mom

Montreal Gazette

A Quebec judge who was previously accused of making insensitive comments about Indians has angered social groups by questioning the ability of a mother on welfare to look after her 7-year-old son.

During a routine custody hearing earlier this year, Quebec Superior Court Justice Frank Barakett suggested that a mother of three living on social assistance doesn't provide the best role model for her children.

"If I were the judge (who was to settle the child's future), I wouldn't place a child in a house with two people who live on welfare benefits," he said, according to transcripts of the January hearing in Quebec City.

"I'm thinking of the well-being of the child with a suitable father who can impart values other than to stay at home and collect welfare."

Barakett was hearing preliminary proceedings in the case and is not the judge who will decide where the 7-year-old eventually lives.

The case involved Françoise Morin, who was seeking custody of her eldest child. Her lawyer was seeking a routine delay in her case because she had just given birth to a child whose father also relies on government assistance.

Morin, who was not in the courtroom, reacted angrily to the comments. "Because you are on welfare doesn't mean you can't take care of your children," she told LCN, TVA's all-news network.

Barakett could not be reached for comment.

The case sparked angry reaction from a coalition of poverty and women's activists, who say they filed a formal complaint Wednesday with the Canadian Judicial Council, seeking an inquiry and a reprimand of the judge.

Jeannie Thomas, executive director of the Canadian Judicial Council, said yesterday she had yet to receive the most recent complaint and wouldn't comment specifically about the case.

The council, composed of Canadian chief justices, doesn't reprimand justices and can only make recommendations to Parliament about whether a judge should be removed from office.

The judge isn't new to controversy. Indian leaders filed more than a dozen judicial complaints over comments he made in October 2000. During a custody hearing involving a Micmac woman and her non-Indian husband, Barakett allegedly told the woman to put her children on heroin to make them happy and that powwows and other rituals were little more than child-like myths.

© Copyright  2002 Montreal Gazette