May. 30, 2002. 01:00 AM
Troubling media ban
Children have rights.
And every parent in Canada has an interest in knowing where to draw the line in disciplining them.
That's why members of the Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario, made national headlines last summer when seven children, now aged 7 to 15, were briefly seized by the Family and Children's Services because their parents believe that it is appropriate to strike them with a stick or belt.
The children are now back with their parents.
However, Madam Justice Eleanor Schnall is currently hearing a case that will decide whether the children are in need of continuing protection.
And she has ordered the media not to report details of the evidence that will be put forward.
Not during the trial, and potentially never.
Nor can the media report on an agreed-on statement of the facts.
Normally, the media can report on these cases, provided that care is taken not to identify the children or provide details which might reveal their identities.
This trial will decide important issues: How an agency like the Family and Children's Services can lawfully intervene in situations where abuse is suspected. How the courts handle such cases. And what constitutes reasonable physical force in disciplining a child.
If ever there were a case where the public should understand how the law applies in practice, this is it. Drawing a veil over the proceedings prevents that.
This ruling is especially vexing because the families themselves courted media attention last summer. But now they want the proceedings shrouded in secrecy.
Provided that the normal rules are obeyed to protect the children's identities, it is hard to see how reporting on the case would do them emotional harm.
The greater risk is to the public's constitutional right to open courts, and to a free media.