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STTJ: Documents in St. Thomas, Ont., spanking trial found defective by judge

Date: MAY-29-02
Source: St. Thomas Times-Journal
Keywords: child protection, danger of abuse, evidence
Posted: JUN-03-02
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by St. Thomas Times-Journal
The Canadian Press

Documents in St. Thomas, Ont., spanking trial found defective by judge

ST. THOMAS, Ont. -- The parents of seven children who were taken from their southwestern Ontario home as part of a Family and Children's Services investigation were not allowed Wednesday to change part of their story as recorded on court documents.

Lawyers Michael Menear and Valerie Wise, representing the mother and father, had applied to amend documents contained in pleadings -- the response by the parties to allegations set out in the Children's Services investigation.

The parents, working with their lawyers, sought to remove two sentences from one of the documents.

Although the sentences were read out in court, Judge Eleanor Schnall cautioned they could not be reported as they fell under a publication ban because they formed part of the evidence.

The children were taken from their home in Aylmer, Ont., 50 kilometres southeast of London, Ont., early last July after child-welfare authorities expressed fear for their safety.

The children, four boys and three girls, were placed in foster care and returned later that month to their parents, fundamentalist Christians who are members of the Church of God.

Parishioners at the Church of God maintain the Bible gives them the right to discipline their children using corporal punishment.

The hearing is considering an application by Family and Children's Services of Elgin County to find the children in danger of abuse and determine what measures should be taken to protect them.

Although Schnall has ruled the media can remain in the courtroom, all evidence has been placed under a publication ban and witnesses may not be identified until they have finished giving their evidence.

Then, only general reporting of what topics they testified on and not specific details, may be reported.

A statutory ban prohibits identification of the children, their parents or photographing them.

Alf Mamo, lawyer for Children's Services, opposed the request by the parents' lawyers to change the contents of the document.

"This is very disturbing," he said.

Mamo described the tactic as "engineering going on to dilute the evidence."

Menear denied there was any engineering taking place and that it wasn't unusual to amend these types of documents.

Schnall ruled the documents were defective, since they weren't signed by the parents, but by counsel.

Because the parents' first language is German, the documents should have been prepared, signed by the parents and endorsed by a translator, Schnall said.

In the end, a new document was prepared with the help of counsel and translators and signed by the parents.

The first witness was a child protection worker who described her qualifications, manuals and policies used by the agency. The worker testified about her role in the investigation.

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