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A change is gonna come

Doreen Nicoll's picture
Sam Cooke's song, "A Change Is Gonna Come," offered hope during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, it reminds me that it's a long, slow, sometimes tiring walk to freedom and I need to remain focused on the goal -- an equitable world.

Ontario can improve children's lives by limiting divorce conflict and settling Crown wards class action

| January 6, 2016
Ontario can improve children's lives by limiting divorce conflict and settling Crown wards class action

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In this third and final installment from the series Improving the Lives of Ontario's Children, human rights lawyer Eric Letts would like the Wynne government to implement some simple changes to prevent unnecessary conflict and litigation between separated and divorced parents. Letts believes that regardless of family status, all children in Ontario should believe in a better future.

According to Letts, providing a health card for each parent when a child resides at two homes is a practical, inexpensive solution that can minimize parental conflict. He maintains that:

"The other provinces and every private health insurance company will provide two health cards for children with two homes. Ontario refuses and is currently litigating against following this norm at the human rights tribunal.  Meanwhile separated parents are struggling and litigating in family court how to share Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) cards between two homes."

This was a contentious issue in my own 2006 divorce. During my divorce trial I was asked by my husband's lawyer why I refused to give him the health card when he had the children. She asked me if I thought my ex would lose the card. My answer was simple and to the point, yes I did think he would lose the card. In fact, that morning upon entering the court room my ex-husband's lawyer asked him for some important documents that she had given him and he told her that he had lost them. After I reminded the court of that discussion, questioning around exchanging health cards abruptly ended.

I was awarded sole custody of our five children and was responsible for taking them to the doctor, eye doctor and walk-in clinic so I was the parent that needed access to the children's cards. Not only was I afraid that my ex would lose the cards, I was certain that he would not return them to me after weekend visits. Where there has been a history of abuse, issuing each parent a card is a simple and inexpensive solution. Issuing two cards also has the benefit of removing some of the power and control that the abuser has over his ex-partner and their children.

There are also situations not involving abuse where it makes sense to issue two health cards. For the past three years Larry Tysick has had overnight visits with his seven-year-old son every Wednesday and alternate weekends. During that time Larry has been denied access to his son's OHIP card. The situation will take on more importance when Larry's son begins playing hockey on visitation weekends.

While Larry would be willing to share the OHIP card, his ex-wife is not. Larry is at the point where he feels he has no other recourse than to file a motion. Numerous studies have shown that this kind of ongoing parental friction and stress has very negative impacts on the cognitive, emotional and social development of children of divorce. The provincial government could end this unnecessary parental conflict and vastly improve the lives of children and youth by issuing a second OHIP card to separated parents.

Busing children to and from school is another issue that could be solved by provincial intervention. In 2012, an Ontario Human rights tribunal ruled that the London District Catholic School Board had to pick children up at both their homes. This put an end to the board practice of making parents that live separately negotiate or litigate which home gets school bus service. Despite that landmark ruling the Wynne government refuses to take a province wide approach to solve this problem. Instead, parents are forced to re-litigate the same issue school board by school board wasting resources and legal fees for litigation that ultimately leads to the same outcome.

On July 22, 2015 the law firm Koskie Minsky filed a class action suit against the province of Ontario for regulatory negligence. The suit claims the Ontario government systematically failed to take all necessary steps to protect the legal rights and claims of children in its care.

The class action includes all persons who became Crown wards in Ontario on or after January 1, 1966, the date that the Province of Ontario voluntarily accepted legal responsibility and guardianship of Crown wards. Those named in the suit were victims of criminal abuse, neglect and tortious acts as children, and as a result of which, were removed from the care of their families and placed under the care of the Province of Ontario. These children were also victims of abuse, neglect, and tortious acts while they were under the age of 18 and in the care of Ontario.

As a result of the crimes and torts committed against them prior to and during their Crown wardship, the class members were entitled to apply for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and to commence proceedings for civil damages.

Children who were Crown wards in Ontario did not have their tort and Crimes Compensation Board claims pursued while in the government's care. But, instead of settling the ongoing class action to resolve the issue, in November 2015 Premier Wynne changed the law to:

  • Remove the limitation period for all civil proceedings based on sexual assault -- and, in certain cases, sexual misconduct or assault -- so that survivors can bring their civil claims forward whenever they choose to do so.
  • Eliminate the limitation period for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to make a compensation application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

Letts believes that:

"These steps, while perhaps positive moves forward, is not the proper way of correcting the situation for former Crown wards who were let down by the provincial government.  Wynne has heralded herself a champion of victims of violence when in reality the victims were re-victimized by having to begin the proceedings again independent of the class action suit."  

We can improve the future for Ontario's children by ending child support clawbacks; streamlining child support adjustments that would allow the FRO to access annual tax returns; limiting unnecessary litigation by issuing two provincial health cards; arranging school bus service that meets children's needs; and honouring the class action suit filed on behalf of children who were Crown wards and did not have their tort and Crimes Compensation Board claims pursued while in the government's care.

Premier Wynne espouses values of conciliation and inclusiveness. Here's the chance to put those beliefs into practice to ensure a better future for all of our children.

This is the third, and final, article in a series focusing on changes the Wynne government needs to implement in order to improve the lives of children in Ontario.

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