Abundance of lousy parents makes drawing line tough


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Just how odious, immoral or illegal does your behaviour have to be before the state has the right to seize your children?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/05/2009 (5055 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Just how odious, immoral or illegal does your behaviour have to be before the state has the right to seize your children?

Who gets to decide, on the sliding scale of poor parenting, which actions are merely troublesome and which violate a basic principle of our society, that of the safety of children?

That’s the essence of a hearing unfolding at the Manitoba Law Courts, as an alleged white supremacist battles Child and Family Services for the permanent guardianship of his two young children.

The young man argues his constitutional right to freedom of expression and religion have been violated. CFS argues the children faced emotional abuse and possible physical abuse as the eldest child, an eight-year-old girl, freely expressed racist beliefs, including the conviction that whites had the right to kill blacks.

She was sent to school covered in swastikas and other racist markings. Her mother has since confessed she showed poor judgment in allowing the girl out in public looking like a walking ad for white supremacy.

The mother also recently admitted that her skinhead beliefs date back to her own junior high school years.

There is no question the beliefs and actions of the parents are repellent. They fall far beyond the acceptable in our multicultural society. These children were being raised to hate, plain and simple. And yet…

CFS social workers have painted an appalling picture of the step-father who, in addition to an alleged affection for the teachings of Adolf Hitler, drank excessively, used illegal drugs, sometimes kept the daughter up until midnight and often couldn’t be bothered to wake up the girl to go to school. All that makes him a lousy father.

Mom, by all evidence presented so far, wasn’t much better although at least she could keep a job.

But is that reason enough to seize the children?

“The question is: What’s the threshold?” asks Prof. Arthur Schafer, director of the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics. “The threshold is relatively high. We’re reluctant to step in for emotional abuse.”

Schafer feels there are a number of elements at work in this case.

“We start from the default position that parents know best,” Schafer says. “These people are pathetic failures. But you don’t take away their children for being pathetic failures.

“I can certainly see how you could make your children a walking time bomb. This is a good test case because it’s hard to conceive a more loathsome set of circumstances by a more loathsome set of parents.”

But Schafer feels we wander into dangerous territory when we decide one set of taught beliefs is more offensive than another.

“Millions of Canadian children are brought up to hate homosexuals,” he says. “Children go to school telling their classmates they’ll burn in hell because they haven’t been baptized. You’d have to seize the children of every devout Christian, Muslim, Jew if you don’t want children being taught things that other people might find offensive.

“Crikey, there are families where you’re not allowed to show emotion. Do you take those kids, too? Where do we put all these kids?”

Very few of us would support teaching a child the “appropriate” method of killing blacks. We’re horrified that these kids lived in an apartment where White Pride flags served as curtains. And, we’re sickened at the thought of a girl leaving the house with marks of hatred inked onto her body.

But let’s face it: If the mother hadn’t stupidly sent the kid to school with her arms and legs defaced, CFS likely wouldn’t have come near this family. The kids were well-fed and clothed, showed no signs of physical or sexual abuse, were not left unattended by their parents and had an extended family network.

Their apartment was a pigsty but that isn’t unique.

I wouldn’t want my child going to school with a skinhead in the making, nor do I do anything but despair for a child inculcated with hatred. The alleged behaviour and leanings of the parents is nauseating.

But is it child abuse?

And if it is, what else do we roll down the slippery slope in order to save children from the beliefs of their parents?


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