Letter to the Motherisk Commission

July 7, 2017

VIA ELECTRONIC EMAIL (judith.beaman@motheriskcommission.ca)

Commissioner Judith C. Beaman
Motherisk Commission
400 University, Suite 1800A
Toronto, ON M7A 2R9

Dear Commissioner Beaman:

Re: Motherisk Commission

We recognize that the Commission has taken on a formidable challenge in reviewing cases and seeking legal remedies for families torn apart by Motherisk’s falsified drug and alcohol testing program. The 939 files received by the Commission to date however, do not capture nearly enough of the total number of parents and children potentially harmed by this scandal. We have become increasingly distressed about the overwhelming absence of accountability to and engagement with many of these parents. Since we work first-hand with mothers whose lives have been shattered by the forced separation from their children through the Ontario Child Protection System, we are aware of the marginalization, stigma and system trauma afflicted on parents by these events, as well as the intergenerational damage they can cause. We are also aware that mothers, compared to fathers, are disproportionately impacted by this form of institutional harm, underscoring the gendered ways the Motherisk scandal has unduly discriminated against women. We are writing this letter because we are deeply concerned that the Commission’s activities have understated how extensive the harms can be for parents to have their children removed, and have not adequately addressed what these severe consequences mean for the work and ultimate success of the Commission. We see this as a structural failure of the Commission that requires immediate action for the process to move forward in a credible and just way for all families.

Below are some of the critical issues that we urge you to immediately address in your role as

1. More support and resources for marginalized parents to come forward to the Commission. Parents interacting with child protection agencies are often among the most disenfranchised and discriminated against members of our society, and are significantly more likely to be from Indigenous or Black communities. The Commission needs to be accountable to those parents most affected by this scandal. We know that only 134 parents to date have requested file reviews, which is a very small fraction of the estimated number of parents potentially affected. We request a clear strategy for “Phase 2” of your file review process and an explanation for how the Commission can more effectively engage with parents dealing with severe marginalization following the loss of their children. More specifically, we need information on how the Commission will provide the necessary support and resources to include parents who are street-involved, who use drugs, who do sex work, or who are in prison. To our knowledge these parents are not being reached by the Commission’s existing services, and without specific provisions to significantly reduce access barriers for these parents, your mandate cannot be effectively pursued.

2. Expand the Commission mandate to include financial settlements for all affected birth parents. There is a need for far greater acknowledgment of the gravity of harm created in the lives of families unlawfully separated by this scandal. To begin repairing this harm, practical steps must be taken to address the present and future needs of affected parents, including a formal request by your Commission to the Wynne Government to expand the mandate to provide comprehensive financial settlements for those affected. Public awareness of financial settlements would also be a significant motivator for parents, including those most marginalized, to come forward and seek justice for their painful past experiences.

3. Allocate time and resources to acknowledge the damage done to families by the Motherisk scandal in public forums. Public awareness needs to be substantially increased about immediate and intergenerational impacts of the unlawful removal of children from their parents. The suffering, stigma, and socioeconomic consequences faced by these families, as well as other families separated through the Child Protection System, are largely invisible to mainstream society. A new series of public forums held by the Commission where affected parents, parent/youth advocates, grassroots organizers, and experts can speak would present a meaningful way to increase awareness and visibility of these issues. While damage already done to families affected by the Motherisk scandal cannot be remedied, these public forums would enable affected families to feel more understood, included and respected in Ontario society.

4. Involve parents with experiential knowledge in the Commission’s leadership and advisory roles. We are deeply concerned by ongoing missed opportunities to meaningfully involve parents in the Commission’s leadership and advisory structures. It is critical to re-assess your approach and immediately work to involve parents with experiential knowledge of the Child Protection System in your decision making processes. Further immediate steps should be taken to ask potentially affected parents what supports they need from the Commission in order to request and more actively participate in “Phase 2” file reviews, including a reconsideration of the types of evidence formally reviewed so parents no longer feel re-traumatized by the review process. Not taking these steps is harming your ability to effectively pursue your mandate and is alienating parents who do not feel they can trust or participate safely in the process.

5. Focus on justice and systemic change. The Commission has a rare opportunity to influence important systemic change for parents who use drugs and their rights to care for their families. To prevent the perpetuation of harms afflicted on these families by forced separation, we request the Commission seek a transformative change in how systems approach work with parents who use drugs, such that positive drug results, even if accurate, are no longer considered a reliable marker of a person’s ability to parent. We also urge a fundamental shift away from seeing the child protective system as a primary source for keeping children safe. While families do experience crises, there needs to be intersectional action on poverty and racism as major barriers making it difficult and stressful to parent in this province. Far greater
availability and access to community support services are also critical for the purpose of preserving
families. Finally, we request that the Commission recommend a dedicated provincial office to respond to and be an independent voice for parents with children in the care of child protection agencies or who are at risk of child protection intervention. An office with this mandate could have offered support, rights based advocacy and ultimately, timely recourse for parents concerned about the accuracy of Motherisk testing, which would have dramatically diminished the scope of this scandal.

We honour the time, energy, and courage of those families seeking justice who have come forward to the Commission with their stories. We ask that you take steps to respond to our concerns by mid-July 2017. We are ready and willing to help as needed.

Thank you for considering this submission,

Sincerely, on behalf of Community Action for Families

Sheryl Jarvis
Suzanne Fish
Kathleen Kenny

Cc. Amrit Mangat
Accessibility Directorate of Ontario / Ontario Women’s Directorate
11th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1E9

VIA ELECTRONIC EMAIL (amangat.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org)

Endorsed by:
African and Caribbean Council on HIV / AIDS in Ontario
Ahmed Bayoumi, Professor, Institute of Health Policy, Management & Evaluation, University of Toronto
AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area
AIDS Committee of Durham
AIDS Committee of Toronto
AIDS Committee of North Bay
All Saints Church Community Centre, Providing Resources Offering Support, Toronto
Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network, Ontario
Canadian HIV / AIDS Legal Network, Canada
Carol Strike, Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
Elizabeth Fry Society, Phyllis Haslam Residence, Toronto
HIV / AIDS Regional Services, Kingston
Maggie’s Sex Worker Project, Toronto
METRAC Action on Violence, Ontario
Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, Toronto
South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Toronto
Toronto Harm Reduction Workers Union, Toronto
Women and HIV / AIDS Initiative, Ontario

Child Welfare News – Summer/Fall 2017

Foster Care as Punishment: The New Reality of ‘Jane Crow’
New York Times – July 21, 2017
By Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver

“In interviews, dozens of lawyers working on these cases say the removals punish parents who have few resources. Their clients are predominantly poor black and Hispanic women, they say, and the criminalization of their parenting choices has led some to nickname the practice: Jane Crow.” Read More…

When Should a Child Be Take from His Parents?
The New Yorker – August 7, 2017
By Larissa MacFarquhar

“However disrespectful and invasive she is, whatever awful things she accuses you of, you must remember that child protection has the power to remove your kids at any time if it believes them to be in danger.” Read More…

Live in a Poor Neighborhood? Better Be a Perfect Parent.
New York Times – August 22, 2017
By Emma S. Ketteringham

“The problem is not that child services fails to remove enough children. It’s that the agency has not been equipped to address the daily manifestations of economic and racial inequality. Instead, it is designed to treat structural failings as the personal flaws of low-income parents.” Read More…

Foster care damages the health of mothers
The Conversation – November 1, 2017
By Elizabeth Wall-Wieler

“We found that among mothers who had a child taken into care, the number of mothers with depression, anxiety and substance use diagnoses was much higher in the years after their children were placed. ” Read More…

‘Living death’: Study suggests having kids in foster care bad for mothers
CBC News Manitoba – November 5, 2017

“Our research shows that the simple act of having a child taken into care can actually worsen these outcomes,” she said. “And so without the supports to try and prevent mother’s health from deteriorating, the stress of having a child taken into care can itself become a barrier in being able to be reunified with her child.” Read More…

Birth of a Family – Why Home is Important to Building Community for Canada’s Indigenous People
CBC Docs – November 19, 2017
By Tara Williamson

“There are currently more Indigenous children in the child welfare system than there were at the height of the residential schools’ era. Racist policies and attitudes of superiority are ingrained in the systems and structures meant to “protect” native children. There is still an underlying assumption that Indigenous mothers, families, and communities are not as good at raising our children as foster families, and ultimately the State.” Read More…

Stories From Inside the Child Welfare System – A Jezebel / Rise Magazine Series

‘In One Day I Had Lost Everything That Mattered to Me’
September 20, 2017

‘I’ve Always Been a Lioness When It Comes to My Children’
October 24, 2017

‘They Told Me They Knew What Was Best for Him’
October 13, 2017


Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth – Mandate

Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth – Mandate

The duty of the Office, as simply stated in the Bill, is to:

1.”provide an independent voice for children and youth including First Nations children and youth and children with special needs by partnering with them to bring issues forward”; and

2.”encourage communication and understanding between children and families and those who provide them with services”; and

3.” educate children, youth and their caregivers regarding the rights of children and youth”

As of March 2016:

  • Increased Mandate
  • Includes an investigation branch now


  • Youth focus – advocate for youth only
  • Children and Youth must call themselves (don’t hear from parents)



  • Anyone can call on behalf of children and youth
  • Hear mainly from parents
  • Cant reverse any prior decisions
  • Make recommendations – in hopes they will be adopted


Parental Voice

  • No voice for parents in and of themselves, but do work with parents calling on behalf of their children

Provincial Advocate Contact:


Irwin Elman

Meet the Provincial Advocate

In October of 2007, the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth was established with the passage of Bill 165 by the Legislature of Ontario. On July 14, 2008 an all party panel of the Legislature appointed Irwin Elman to provide leadership to the new Provincial Advocate Office as it strives to promote the voice of children and youth across Ontario.


Of Interest on the Advocates Website:

Serious Incidents Report http://provincialadvocate.on.ca/documents/en/SOR_Preliminary_Report_022016_En.pdf

Experience of Black Youth Survey


Child Deaths


Mandate letter progress: Children and Youth Services

The Minister’s response letter to Premier Wynne, outlining the results achieved on key mandate priorities in 2014-15.

January 11, 2016

The Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Room 281, Main Legislative Building
Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A1

Dear Premier:

I am pleased to advise you on the progress we are making on the items outlined in my September 2014 mandate letter. Our success at the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) is achieved in collaboration with partner ministries, other levels of government and the public and private sectors.

Progress for the children and youth of Ontario is built on the foundation that all components of society have a role to play in supporting positive child and youth outcomes. I am pleased to report that our work at MCYS is garnering national and international attention, as other jurisdictions are looking to us for best practices in helping children and youth reach their full potential.

Child Welfare

  • We continue to work with children’s aid societies (CASs) to emphasize prevention so that, wherever possible, children can remain with their families with appropriate supports.
  • We have doubled the number of adoptions and permanency placements in recent years, and we are introducing new subsidies and supports to ensure even more kids have access to forever families.
  • We have increased our focus on transparency and accountability by introducing cyclical reviews and common performance measures for all CASsand through the passage of Bill 8, which gives the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth investigatory functions over CASs.
  • We continue to work with the Ministry of Education, school boards and CASson improving the educational outcomes of children and youth in care, and are now rolling out a provincial IT system for CASs to improve safety for children across the province.
  • We will continue to raise public awareness of the duty to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
  • We continue to work with our partners to improve the child welfare system and outcomes for children, building on the advice of the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare and other inputs.


For responses regarding poverty, the law in conflict with our kids, autism, indigenous child and youth services…..




Today during Question Period, Monique Taylor, the Ontario NDP’s critic for Children and Youth Services, demanded Premier Wynne  keep her word to change the child welfare system, and take immediate action on the Katelynn  Sampson inquest’s core recommendation, “Katelynn’s principle.”

“On Friday, the inquest into Katelynn Sampson’s death led to 173 recommendations.  The most important was to overhaul the child welfare, judicial and education systems to hear and value children’s voices and wishes,” said Taylor, MPP for Hamilton Mountain.

“As the judge in the initial case stated, ‘alarm bells were ringing but no one was responding.’  Will the Premier do the right thing and immediately implement Katelynn’s principle, the core recommendation of the inquest?” asked Taylor. 

Eight years ago, seven-year-old Katelynn Sampson was murdered by two caregivers who previously had children removed from them by the Children’s Aid Society (CAS).  Taylor recounted  that on a note written before she was found, Katelynn had written 62 times, “I am A awful girl that’s why know one wants me.”

“It is undeniable that Katelynn was failed in every possible way during her short life,” Taylor said. “She was failed by a broken system that didn’t properly protect our most vulnerable children.  A system that didn’t respond when half a dozen calls concerning Katelynn in the months before her death were made.”

 Taylor reminded Premier Wynne of her promise to take action to change the child welfare system.

“The Premier has said that once she has the information and evidence necessary, she would make change.  The information is in front of her. The time for change is now,” said Taylor. 

“Will the Premier immediately ensure that children are at the centre of child welfare in the province and that their voices are heard and valued?”