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
Commissioner:

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
jar.sheryl@gmail.com
Suzanne Fish
suzannefish@ewb.ca
Kathleen Kenny
kathleen.kenny@gmail.com

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