Ottawa Citizen
Friday, April 05, 2002

Grandparents need more rights under child-protection laws

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

Judges have been quoted in this column recently, criticizing delays in the child- protection system that keep children too long in "limbo" while decisions are being made.

In some beliefs, limbo is a place for the unbaptized and there's no punishment there. There's another place called purgatory where lost souls are supposed to endure punishment before being allowed into heaven. Children separated from their parents, allowed to see them only at the whim of the protection system, are in purgatory. What worse punishment (torture?) than seeing themselves rejected again as they are returned to the system after every visit?

The man on the other end of the telephone Wednesday wanted to know why he can't save taxpayers a lot of money by providing care for his five grandchildren while problems are sorted out. "That's what families do. They help each other."

He's in St. Catharines. The children are in Sudbury. They were taken into custody two years ago. Grandfather isn't arguing with the reasons for taking the children out of the home. He's concerned about their placement in foster care when they have willing relatives wanting them.

People in child-protection cases can't be identified, and child-protection agencies don't talk about individual situations. What we have here is Grandpa's side of the story, and it sounds familiar.

He and his wife are in their early 60s and healthy. He's a retired auto worker. They have a four-bedroom house. Two years ago their son stayed with them for several months while sorting out a domestic violence issue in Sudbury. He was under a restraining order and couldn't go home. As soon as the court problem was cleared, with no conviction, the father was welcomed back into the home by the mother.

That didn't sit well with child protectors. The children were removed. It isn't the removal of the children that disturbs the grandparents, but the storage of them.

"I've got a long memory," says grandfather, "and I can think of nothing more traumatic as a child than being separated from my family. So my wife and I offered to take them. We have submitted to three home inspections."

They recently made a trip to Sudbury to visit the children. They are aged one to six and the older children have spent time previously with the grandparents.

"We have been told we are too old. That we would interfere with the children's interaction with the parents. Think about that. A visit a week isn't much interaction to interfere with. I was invited to hire a lawyer and sue."

Grandparents have few rights under current law. It's one of the issues family advocates are trying to change and is included in recommendations made in 1998 by a joint Senate-Commons committee. Those suggestions have been shelved, but will be under discussion again this weekend as Senator Anne Cools and MP Roger Gallaway host a symposium on Parliament Hill.

Limited seating is still available. Call 992-2808.

Looking for logic?

Ian Flann is a logical fellow and watching the power struggle tearing families apart got him looking for answers. He sent his questions to Ontario Attorney General David Young. They concern issues he considers "bizarre."

He refers to one of these columns in which it was reported Ontario is going back into the debtors' prison business, and jailing men for failing to keep up with court-ordered support payments. He combines that with news that convicted criminals are getting early releases to relieve crowding in jails.

"Is there a benefit I'm overlooking?" he asks. "I support making men responsible for their families, but I don't see how these practices advance that end."

He offers Mr. Young some background on debtors' prisons. In 1844, England abolished imprisonment for debts below 20 pounds. In 1869, it passed the Act for Abolition of Imprisonment for Debt, regardless of the amount.

"It appears Ontario is one and a half centuries behind the times." Mr. Flann's question to the AG: "Do you support the early release of criminals to make room for men that the Family Responsibility Office classes as debtors?"

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca Read previous columns at www.ottawacitizen.com

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