May. 31, 2002. 01:00 AM
Caseworker testifies in spanking trial
With children's aid a few weeks when assigned to family
ST. THOMAS — The chaotic events of the day seven children were seized from their fundamentalist Christian family were recalled yesterday by the social worker in charge of the case.
The caseworker for the Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and Elgin talked in quiet and measured tones about her actions and the Ontario government and agency policies she was following.
The trial, in its fourth day, is to determine whether the children are in need of continued protection.
The case worker, now 28, told the court she had only been working full-time for the agency for a few weeks when she took over the family's file from another worker who had left the agency.
The three girls and four boys, now between 7 and 15 years old were dragged kicking and screaming last July 4 from their home in nearby Aylmer. They were returned three weeks later under a court-sanctioned agreement.
The case attracted national attention because it pitted the belief of the parents — members of the Church of God — that the Bible sanctions the use of instruments in corporal punishment, against the agency's position that such methods of discipline are abusive.
Yesterday court heard how the caseworker came to be at the house, how the police became involved, and what was happening inside the home as other members of the Church of God gathered on the front lawn to impede the apprehension.
She explained how she reached the conclusion she should act that day and not defuse the situation by leaving to return later.
As the mother and father listened to a whispered translation into Low German, the dialect spoken by their community that has members in Manitoba and Mexico, the caseworker testified about her interaction with them during the day of the apprehension and in the intervening months.
Her testimony cannot be reported under a sweeping publication ban imposed at the start of the trial by Madam Justice Eleanor Schnall.
She ruled that because of the importance of the issues involved in the case, she would permit the media to report on its progress in general terms.
But details of the evidence are being kept under wraps on the grounds publication could cause emotional harm to the children and jeopardize fairness.
Lawyers representing the parents are challenging much of the evidence gathered by the society on the grounds that it was obtained in a way that violates a number of constitutional rights. One clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms calls for such evidence to be excluded if that's found to be the case.
Schnall has decided to hear the evidence and rule at the end of the trial on what can be admitted, and what the media can report.
Usual procedure in family court is to ban publication of any information that would identify the children, and by extension the family. Schnall has gone further in ordering that witnesses not be identified by name, or photographed or sketched, until they have finished testifying.
The case is expected to break new ground on issues such as what constitutes unreasonable force in disciplining a child, and whether a child protection worker can interview children without a parent's consent.