The BC Court of Appeal has thrown out a BC Supreme Court ruling that found the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) had allowed a toddler to be molested by its father, despite prior reports of abuse by the man.
In the unanimous decision, a three-judge panel found the lower court justice had, in a family court ruling — the first of two cases he presided over in the matter — relied on unqualified expert evidence to come to the conclusion that the father had committed child abuse.
The judges also found that there was no evidence to support the lower court judge’s findings that a social worker committed misfeasance in public office and that the director of child welfare breached a fiduciary duty to the children.
“The evidence is clear that the director prioritized the safety and well-being of the children by obtaining and following expert reports about the parenting abilities of the parents,” wrote Justice Daphne Smith.
As a result, the entire family court matter that gave the mother sole custody and took away the father’s access has been set aside and a new trial ordered.
The case against the MCFD has also been set aside.
Back in July 2015, BC Supreme Court Justice Paul Walker issued a scathing ruling finding that the ministry had recklessly disregarded its obligation to protect a woman identified as J.P.’s children by failing to investigate claims of abuse, and later granting him access to the kids.
Both the father, identified as B.G., and the province had appealed that ruling.
The father has strongly denied the allegations, and argued that Walker, who had presided over a prior 2012 case involving the family, had relied on problematic “expert” testimony in his finding of sexual abuse, and that the original trial had relied on him proving innocence rather than the other side proving guilt.
In its decision, the Court of Appeal aggreed with the father, raising serious questions about the credentials of an expert witness called on by the mother.
Evidence from that witness, Claire Reeves, was heavily relied on by Walker in his family court ruling.
Reeves received her degrees from what the father’s lawyer called “unaccredited diploma mills,” and the court found she was not qualified, and more of an advocate than an expert.
The province had appealed on the grounds that the judge “ignored the relevant evidence” that social workers had been focused on the best interest of the kids, and that evidence at the time supported the ministry’s assertion that B.G. could provide safe parenting, while J.P. required psychiatric intervention before she could care for her children.
In a statement, a lawyer for J.P. said they are completely disappointed with today’s decision, and plan to apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In response to the decision, Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy said her thoughts are with the four children involved in the case, and that the MCFD will take some time to review the decision.
In a Facebook message, the son of disputed expert Claire Reeves said his mother has retired, and is ill and not granting interviews.
Allegations of assault
In a 2012 family court ruling, Walker granted J.P. sole custody of her children after he found that B.G. had sexually and physically abused their three eldest children.
J.P. and B.G. had four children between 2002 and 2008.
The father was arrested in 2009 for assaulting J.P. and their five-year-old daughter.
He filed for divorce and sole custody that year, and not long afterward, J.P. told social workers that three of the children reported that their father had sexually abused them.
Walker’s 2015 ruling found the ministry never investigated the claim, and instead had seized the children.
It also found the ministry had defied a court order requiring the father to be supervised during visits, granting him unsupervised access in 2010.
Walker further ruled that B.G. had sexually abused his youngest child, who was 14 months old when the allegations were made.
The VPD investigated the sex abuse claims, but in February 2010, determined there was no evidence to support criminal charges against the father.
B.G. had argued the mother was mentally unstable, and has consistently denied all allegations of abuse.
In his 2015 ruling, Walker found that at one point a social worker called the officer in charge of the VPD’s sex offences unit and questioned J.P.’s motives, mental health, and validity of her allegations.
-With files from the Canadian Press