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NP: Thou shalt not name the Pastor

Date: JUN-28-02
Source: The National Post
Keywords: child-welfare mindset, section 43, cross-examination
Posted: JUL-04-02
Aylmer Case Index

Thou shalt not name the Pastor
Cleric takes stand but court ban covers everything

Christie Blatchford
National Post

You've heard of the love that dare not speak its name? Meet the Church of God pastor whose name cannot be spoken.

He spent a second day in the witness stand yesterday here at the child-protection hearing whose evidence cannot be told, lest it harm the seven children who also cannot be named, but who last summer, when they were suddenly seized by the local children's aid society and temporarily torn from their home, had their names posted on a Web site and were photographed and interviewed until the cows came home.

The cows, presumably, could be named, as the protection of their identities is not part of Ontario Court Justice Eleanor Schnall's sweeping publication ban, which is the root of all this absurdity.

But back to the young pastor, who spent the entire day -- this is not so onerous as it sounds, for the court operates on Schnall time, which is to say, with the case set to resume at 9 a.m. sharp yesterday, Madam Justice pulled up to the courthouse in her little Beetle smartly on the stroke of 9:22 -- in cross-examination at the hands of Alfred Mamo.

He is the lawyer for Child and Family Services of St. Thomas and Elgin County, the agency for whom the social worker-who-apprehended-the-children-but- cannot-be-named toils, and he went at the pastor with relish yesterday.

Judge Schnall's ban allows for a general description of the issue each witness testifies about, so it can be said that the pastor was grilled in the main on the spanking practices of the fundamentalist Christian church, the Church of God Restoration, of which he is the spiritual leader and to which the family in question belongs.

This is an issue central to the case.

At bottom, the church supports spanking with the Biblical rod or reasonable facsimilies as part of a parent's disciplinary repertoire, while the children's aid, like all modern children's aid societies, is vehemently opposed to it, particularly if the parent uses what has come to be pejoratively termed "objects," which are pretty much the sorts of things that mothers and fathers, in the bad olden days, used to reach for when their young 'uns persisted in blowing snot bubbles out of their dear runny noses at the kitchen table and the like.

Child-welfare agencies, like the pastor, are preachers, and they preach the gospel of time-outs, whereby, for instance, the little beggar blowing his schnozz into his cereal would be addressed in a civil manner befitting his full worth as a person, asked politely to cease and desist, and, if he refuses, encouraged to make his way to his room to work through his acting out and anger issues.

Interestingly, Canadian law, most recently upheld in January of this very year by the Ontario Court of Appeal, allows parents the right to use reasonable force for the purposes of correction on their children.

This is found in Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which theoretically puts a limited aspect of family life beyond the reach of the criminal law. It was this section which the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law, supported by the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, unsuccessfully sought to have the Ontario appeal court strike down just six months ago.

But law, schmaw: The ruling did not alter a whit the collective mindset of the child-welfare profession, whose members continue to advocate against corporal punishment with the sort of alarm Baptists reserve for dancing.

As Steve Bailey, the executive director of the St. Thomas children's aid told the hearing not long ago, in one of the rare evidentiary tidbits the judge exempted from her gag order, "Corporal punishment is not a philosophy we would support in the community."

In effect, spanking has come to be seen by those in the social work business rather like smoking -- perfectly legal, but morally reprehensible nonetheless and thus fair game for Draconian measures.

Was this part of what drove the society to do what it did with this family one sunny afternoon almost exactly a year ago?

Mr. Bailey, in his evidence, was asked if most of his agency's clients hail from the lower end of the socio-economic scale. He allowed that many of them did.

Later, in cross-examination, he also agreed that at the time of the children's apprehension, staff at the agency were aware that most members of the Church of God in this part of southwestern Ontario claim low German, a guttural mix of Dutch, German and Russian-Prussian, as their first language; that many came to Aylmer from Mexico, and that many are poorer than the average bear.

The family, in short, was a little different, and not only in the traditional Mennonite garb they wear.

Like the beleaguered nicotine outcasts they resemble, they persist in engaging in a legal practice against the best wisdom of a professional elite -- surely the worst of Canadian crimes.

By God, they were lucky they only lost their children for a few weeks.

Copyright 2002 National Post

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