VANCOUVER - Social workers recklessly disregarded their obligation to protect children who were sexually abused by their father, even granting him unsupervised visits during which he molested his toddler, a British Columbia judge has ruled.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Walker has delivered a scathing ruling in favour of a mother who sued the province for refusing to investigate her kids' reports of sexual abuse.
The mother's lawyer said Wednesday that social workers wrongfully seized her children and accused her of mental illness and coaching her kids to make false allegations.
"The more she cried, the more she was deemed to be unstable," said Jack Hittrich. "One only has to think through what it would be like to discover your young children were sexually abused and no one believed you. Then your very advocacy is used against you to label you mentally unfit."
Hittrich said the ruling is the first in Canada to find a child protection agency responsible for misfeasance in public office, and it could result in millions of dollars in damages.
The judgment released Tuesday details the mother's "unyielding" efforts over several years to persuade the children's ministry to act on the allegations.
The mother, identified only as J.P., and father had four children between 2002 and 2008.
In 2009, the father was arrested for assaulting J.P. and their five-year-old daughter and uttering death threats. He then filed for divorce and sole guardianship of the children.
Soon after, the mother told social workers that her three eldest children were reporting that their father had sexually abused them. The ministry never assessed or investigated the allegations, according to the judgment, and seized the children in late 2009.
Despite a court order that required the father to be supervised during visits, social workers allowed him to have unsupervised access in spring 2010.
Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux said Wednesday that her staff were still reviewing the 341-page decision and declined to answer specific questions on the case.
"I'm very concerned about it. It's a very serious decision and it will be considered thoroughly and seriously," she said, adding child protection is "difficult" work.
"Our social workers are asked to make very gut-wrenching decisions about whether or not to remove a child from their parents' loving arms, and they have to and do take their legal responsibility in doing that work very seriously."
Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan said the government must immediately determine if any other B.C. children face similar risks.
"The government chose to investigate the mother and disregard her concerns. That's outrageous," he said.
"If they don't listen to the courts, that certainly means they are not listening to the people as well. They weren't listening to the mother on this case and a young child had her life ruined forever."
Walker granted the mother sole custody of her children in 2012 after finding that the father sexually and physically abused their three eldest children. She filed her lawsuit against the province while the custody hearing was underway.
The decision says Vancouver Police investigated the sex abuse claims. The father has denied any allegations and has never been charged.
At one point, a social worker called an officer in charge of the police department's sexual offences unit to disparage the mother's motives, mental health and the veracity of her concerns, the decision says.
Sgt. Randy Fincham said the department is currently reviewing the judgment and that protecting children is a top priority for the force.
— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly reported the ministry had been found guilty of malfeasance instead of misfeasance.
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