CASE CONFERENCING (What a Parent Needs to Know)
By Ray Ferris
When one reads the preparation advice for case conferencing that is recommended by PAPA INBC, it is hard to imagine that this is preparation for some negotiating meeting with a benevolent and helpful agency, which is supposed to find every means of keeping children at home wherever possible. It is hard to imagine it will be a dialogue with an agency that is charged with looking after the best interests of children and with giving parents every help possible. No indeed, it is more like a preparation for a war, or some other violent contest.
Instead it is like two people preparing to fight a duel. One is not there to discuss a peaceful solution. One is there to discuss the choice of weapons, the venue, the seconds and the furnishing of a surgeon. If it is preparation for a war, often it is not like discussing an armistice, or an avoidance of conflict. With the Ministry of Children it is more like discussing the terms of surrender rather than truce.
The advice of PAPA INBC seems to be very confrontational and mistrusting. Come in full armor and never let your guard down. This begs the question as to whether parents are justified in taking such an extreme position. I think that the answer to this has to be that in many cases it is justifiable. It does not matter whether it is true in most cases, or in just a few. An organization like MCFD which tolerates even a few cases like that of Ayn Van Dyk and other recent cases simply cannot be trusted. One can never let ones guard down, because you don't know until you get there how aggressive the Ministry is going to be. One should of course hope for the best, but always prepare for the worst. Many people might think that Youth and Child Representative, Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been too confrontational in dealing with MCFD. But what choice has she had?
Having said that, I have to say that much of the advice of PAPA INBC is not going to do you any good. He said that you should take a copy of the CFCSAct with you to the meeting. If so, have you read it and do you truly understand it? Even if you have, there is no guarantee that any of the social workers, or even the lawyers present have read the Act. Even the judge may not have refreshed himself/herself on it for years. It certainly seemed that Chief provincial Judge Thomas Crabtree did not know very important sections of the Act when he made an illegal order in the Bayne case. Even if the lawyer and the judge know the Act well, you have to remember that most judges will go with the establishment if they possibly can. It saves them a lot of bother. So they are quite capable of cherry-picking the Act to use only the bits and pieces that suit them. They are also quite capable of cherry-picking the evidence to find ways and means of supporting the Ministry (MCFD) if they can. And of course ministry lawyers can cherry pick everything and ignore the rules of evidence, secure in the knowledge that the bench will be supportive of anything feasible.
So take the Act to the meeting if you wish but don't think for a moment that anyone is going to let you quote from it. Everything is stacked against you and your only hope is to have the kind of top drawer lawyer that you cannot afford anyway. PAPA INBC made a comment something like. "if you are allowed to speak to the court." Now why on earth should you not be allowed to speak to the court. Your lawyer speaks for you and if you have no lawyer, you have no choice but to speak for yourself. Actually it is sometimes an advantage to have no lawyer, because judges are sometimes more sympathetic to an unrepresented person and will allow them more informality. More informality? Oh how terribly formal and stifled in process the family courts have become. The legal profession will tell you that it is the only way to preserve the purity of the process, the pursuit of truth and a just outcome. This may well be the truth --- if you manage to live long enough to benefit from any result. No, the real truth is that for at least 200 years the long drawn out processes generate the most revenue for those in the profession.( Read Bleak House by Charles Dickens.)
Tomorrow – Part Two Case Conference