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Child welfare hearings must be sooner when kids seized: Manitoba court ruling – CP
by ahnationtalk on March 10, 2017137 Views
Source: The Canadian Press
Mar 10, 2017 12:13
By Steve Lambert
THE CANADIAN PRESS
WINNIPEG _ The Manitoba Court of Appeal has ruled that parents whose children are seized by social workers have a right to an expedited hearing if they want their kids back.
The ruling involves a couple whose child was seized at birth in December 2015, due in part to concerns over the parents’ mental health.
The parents, who cannot be identified under provincial law, hired separate lawyers and it was more than a year before there was a full hearing.
An interim hearing was held, but the Appeal Court has ruled such hearings can make matters worse by taking up more court time while all parties are waiting for a final decision.
The Appeal Court ruled in January that waiting times of 10 months or more are unreasonable and violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In its written decision Friday, the court stopped short of setting a maximum wait time, but said hearings must be held sooner when children are taken from their parents.
“A timely but fair and balanced hearing is essential,” Justice William Burnett wrote on behalf of the three-member panel.
“There are numerous factors which affect when the hearing is to be conducted but, generally speaking, when the parents are ready to proceed, an expedited hearing must be conducted.”
While Burnett did not specify a timeline, he said an expedited hearing is “a summary and less formal trial or hearing, or a summary judgment proceeding.”
A lawyer for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs told court in January that long delays are especially hurtful to indigenous families, whose children make up more than 80 per cent of kids in government care.
Children are away from their parents at a crucial stage in development and are often placed in non-indigenous homes away from their culture and language, the assembly submitted.
The chief justice of Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench has promised to reduce wait times, and recently introduced changes that prioritize cases where children are taken from their parents.
“While the new model will be a work in progress, open to necessary improvements, it is premised upon a recognition that there is a moral and constitutional imperative to deal with the delay that has for too long defined child protection proceedings,” Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said in a written statement Friday.
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