Family's pastor takes the stand
Garrulous fellow is also part-time real estate agent
ST. THOMAS, Ont. - The pastor from the fundamentalist Christian church whose spanking practices lie at the centre of a controversial child-protection hearing finally took the witness stand here yesterday.
He is the last of the key witnesses to testify at this phase of the hearing, which is being held in voir dire -- a sort of trial-within-a-trial held to determine the admissibility of much of the evidence here -- before Ontario Court Justice Eleanor Schnall.
The pastor was preceded to the stand by the lead social worker in charge of the case when seven youngsters, in an event much publicized at the time, were apprehended by a local children's aid society and temporarily placed in foster care last summer, her immediate supervisor and the executive-director of the society, and the parents of the involved children.
An immense publication ban that has thrown a blanket of secrecy over the entire proceeding precludes detailed reporting of the man's evidence, his demeanour while testifying, and, until his evidence is complete, identifying him by name.
It is worth noting, however, that even a perfect stranger wandering in from the street -- impossible, actually, since the public is barred from the courtroom --without a scrap of knowledge about the case likely would have immediately recognized him for the garrulous fellow he is, a preacher who is also a part-time real estate agent.
He spoke dramatically, authoritatively and at a bone-rattling rate of speed.
Unlike many of his congregants, including the youngsters' parents, the pastor spoke fluent, easy English.
The parents are descendents of Canadian Mennonites who fled to Mexico to maintain their cloistered lives without state interference.
Their first language is low German, a dialect which is a mix of Dutch, German and Russian-Prussian, and they are accompanied by translators.
Taken through his evidence-in-chief by Michael Menear, the lawyer for the father, it can be said in a general way that the pastor described both the events of last July 4, when the youngsters were torn crying from the bosom of their family, and the views of his Church of God Restoration in nearby Aylmer on the use of corporal punishment.
The pastor will be cross-examined by the society's lawyer, Alfred Mamo, in what may well be a lengthy and aggressive session, when the hearing resumes next Wednesday.
The voir dire portion of the case is expected to be nearly over by next Friday, when a media appeal of Judge Schnall's sweeping gag order will be heard in Superior Court in London, Ont.
Originally scheduled to last only 10 court days, the case has been dragged out already over four weeks.
The judge has complained frequently at the delays, attributing much precious lost time to media lawyers who appeared before her on two occasions to argue against the ban or its widening.
But in fact, she herself has hardly been a slave to the clock.
Yesterday was typical.
With court slated to begin at 10 a.m., and all the various parties in place at that hour, Judge Schnall walked into the courtroom 20 minutes late.
The 15-minute morning recess lasted 24 minutes; the judge was 15 minutes late returning from the lunch break, while the afternoon recess was five minutes beyond schedule.
She offered no explanation, as most often she does not, for any of her late arrivals.
Not counting the time she spent in chambers with lawyers at the end of the day -- amusingly, they were discussing the pressing scheduling matters -- court actually sat yesterday for about four hours and 10 minutes, with the parties sitting in the courtroom for another 49 minutes awaiting the arrival of the judge.
The day before, court sat for almost five hours, with the parties kept cooling their heels for a total of 56 minutes waiting for Judge Schnall.
When the voir dire portion of the case ends, the judge will then rule on whether the actions of the society's workers that sweltering day last summer breached the parents' Charter rights to security of the person and against unreasonable search and seizure, as Mr. Menear and Valerie Wise, the mother's lawyers, allege.
They are seeking to have virtually all the evidence tossed out, and the proceeding itself halted.
Depending on Judge Schnall's decision, and pending the result of next week's appeal, some, all or none of the evidence may be permanently under ban.
Hanging in the balance is what kind of life the family will have.
The society is seeking to allow the children to remain at home, but only under a year-long supervision order which will see them subject to regular monitoring.
The parents and the children, through their own lawyer, say they were never at risk and want to live free of society scrutiny.
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