March 01, 2016 - 6:00 AM
VANCOUVER - A couple say they believe social workers in the British Columbia Children's Ministry are carrying out a "personal vendetta" against them for fighting to keep a Metis toddler they've raised as foster parents since birth.
The couple, who cannot be named, were in the B.C. Court of Appeal on Monday asking a judge to temporarily block the ministry from moving the two-and-a-half-year-old girl to Ontario to live with older siblings she has never met.
"They have absolutely zero respect for the child's needs. They're mad at us and they've made it clear," the foster mother said outside court.
The case has raised cultural issues. The child's foster mother is Metis, while the caregivers in Ontario are not.
To comply with the ministry's instructions, the girl's foster parents started bringing her to a transition house over the past week.
The foster father said they haven't been given a firm deadline for when the child will be removed from their care on Vancouver Island.
The judge reserved a decision in the case.
Last week, a B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed the couple's petition to stop the move, finding it was an abuse of process because a similar petition filed by the foster parents had already been dismissed.
The couple has filed an appeal of that decision but it may not be heard for some time, which is why they're asking for the interim order.
Under the law, the director of the Children's Ministry is the child's sole guardian and has unilateral discretion to determine what is in her best interests.
Jack Hittrich, the foster parents' lawyer, argued the"best interest test" is not being followed by the ministry. A family law principle states that decisions must be child-focused and seek to address interests from a child's perspective, and not that of the government or foster parent, he said.
"Should she be ripped from the only home and the only parents she has every known ... and be traumatized by being moved to total strangers?" he asked the judge.
Hittrich said provincial law contains gaps that act as obstacles to keeping the child in B.C. No adoption procedures are currently underway for the girl, he added, because a section of the Adoption Act says foster parents cannot adopt.
But the act also does not contain any explicit criteria for considering biological siblings as rationale for moving the child, he said.
Leah Greathead, a lawyer for the ministry, said the law clearly sets out the role of the foster parent as a paid caregiver who only assumes temporary care.
She disputed Hittrich's characterization of the couple as "de facto parents," saying the situation is analogous to a nanny who is paid to spend time with a child. Just because they bond, does not mean the nanny has a right to assume permanent care, she said.
"They are not a parent in law," she said of the couple.
"They are expected to love and bond with the child in their care and then to assist in transitioning."
Earlier, Hittrich told the judge there is growing support for the foster parents' case. He said on Friday, children's representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond wrote to the ministry seeking a review.
The girl's biological father has also filed an affidavit stating he and his wife only consented to continuing care by the ministry on the condition the foster parents be allowed to adopt their child.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016