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NP: Judge might impose ban on reporting spanking trial

Date: MAY-28-02
Source: National Post
Keywords: child seizure, child protection, publication ban
Posted: JUN-03-02
Aylmer Case Index

May 28, 2002
Judge might impose ban on reporting spanking trial
'Emotional harm'

Christie Blatchford
National Post ST. THOMAS, Ont. - The so-called "spanking trial" centring around last summer's controversial seizure of seven children by a local child-welfare agency here may be held behind closed doors.

Slated to begin yesterday and last two weeks, the trial before Madame Justice Eleanor Schnall of the Ontario Court was detoured by extensive legal arguments over whether the media will be allowed to report on the proceedings.

At the heart of the case proper is whether the children, whose parents are members of a fundamentalist sect called the Church of God Restoration, are in need of protection or supervision by workers from Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and Elgin County.

Aged six to 14, the youngsters were taken kicking and screaming from their home in the nearby town of Aylmer last July 4 by social workers and police and temporarily placed in foster care -- allegedly, the parents and church officials said, because they believe in corporal punishment.

Officials with the agency, constrained by confidentiality provisions, have been unable to publicly explain what led them to take the drastic action, though there have been hints that workers' concerns go beyond spanking.

The parents later signed an agreement promising to refrain from corporal punishment until the trial was over and the children were returned to them three weeks later. But last December, frustrated by the delay in getting the case resolved, the parents issued a press release announcing that they would defy the court order.

The Church of God adheres to strict biblical doctrine that holds that a rod should be used to discipline children.

But at the heart of the media issue is the ability of the press, as the surrogate for the public, who are routinely barred from such proceedings, to report on the case.

Section 45 of the provincial Child and Family Services Act grants a presumptive right for the media to report on such cases unless a judge "is of the opinion" that publication "would cause emotional harm" to the involved children.

Though Judge Schnall late yesterday ruled that reporters may attend the trial, she has yet to decide whether they will be able to write about the case, even subject to the normal prohibition on identifying the children or their parents by name, or whether all coverage will be banned -- perhaps forever.

Even yesterday's arguments pro and con, as well as the positions taken by the various parties who have standing in the case, are subject to a sweeping interim publication ban imposed yesterday by the judge, pending her decision, which could come as early as today, on a permanent ban.

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