"Maybe leave the kids at home?" The headline for the June 3, 2010 Globe and Mail article detailed the unexpected presence of the Children's Aid Society (CAS) at the G20 protests, a 24-hour-a-day "collaborative partnership" with Toronto's four CAS organizations and the Integrated Security Unit.
That article described scenarios of a parent arrested or children lost in the crowds. In the article, CAS spokesperson Dave Fleming explained that if involved, "our focus will always be for a child to go with a relative, but that's not always possible."
It undoubtedly created a sense of unease, the presence of the CAS felt as a threat to our most vulnerable ranks, parents and children. It left those with children wondering why CAS would be present at G20 protests.
Why were those making the choice to protest considered a higher risk to their children? Being allies to marginalized groups, but more likely to put our own children at risk?
Regardless of the motivations, the scaremongering and implied threat, the CAS are mobilized to be involved at the G20 protests. In an interview with rabble.ca, Fleming tried to clarify the CAS role.
"In many ways it's business as usual in a very unusual time," he said. "We have 90 staff doing intake, investigating child abuse and responding to calls. We've given some of our staff briefing on the G20, what may happen and the procedures. We do have a few staff assigned to G20 calls from Monday through to the Sunday."
Fleming explained that the CAS will not be in the perimeter or protest areas but did not say exactly where staff will be, nor would he say how many staff were assigned to the G20.
"We have children brought to our attention all the time, like a single parent is taken to hospital or a parent is arrested and there's no one to care for the child. We regularly get referrals like that. So in the case of the G20, if it did turn out that people were arrested for a criminal offense, if there isn't a family member there to care for the child, we will be contacted."
But unlike the Globe and Mail article, in regards to children lost or separated from parents Fleming states, "It's not the same scenario if it's a lost child. The police are going to try to find that parent. They'll do their utmost to assist in that situation. That could obviously happen anywhere."
According to Fleming, a file will be opened on any child referred to CAS.
"We'll have the police give direction to parents on how to contact us. We'll look for alternate caregivers such a guardian, the name of someone who can care for the child. Those workers who are assigned will actively be seeking out relatives or friends. If that is not possible, the child will be in foster care."
For CAS to release the child, documentation will need to be filed which could be especially worrying to non-status and marginalized families.
"We can't not document, we have to keep a record for everyone's sake. That file includes normal information with the facts including the parent's names, address and yes, we'd need to see photo identification."
Fleming was not clear on the follow-up processes with files started at the G20 beyond stating that, "In cases where we have no concerns, the file will note that we've investigated, that the kids are well cared for, everything was fine and it was a simple matter."
Fleming did not clarify what concerns would be or what follow-up investigations would look like. In regards to non-status families Fleming said, "In terms of immigration issues our concern is the child. We don't become involved with those issues. We need to make sure that kids are safe. We do not actively contact immigration."
While Fleming did note that he respects the right to protest, he feels children should not be involved at the G20.
"You never know what these things will turn out to be. As a parent I'd have concerns. I'd have good intentions but not everyone has the same thoughts. I would think twice before taking my kids. The protests have been known to become violent and that would be a concern for anyone there."
Fleming did not comment on the reasons why organizations and individuals are protesting the G20 meetings nor the diversity of events. But given that G20 protests are facing 15,000 police officers and security guards, police horses and dogs, sound cannons and tear gas, as well as CAS involvement, rabble.ca spoke with John Clarke representing the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.
"Movements of resistance should involve children," says Clarke. "They are involved in the issues. The immediate assumption is that children should be kept out of politics, but they will not be insulated from the agenda of austerity that the G20 and its local representatives are developing and beginning to implement. Their voices have to be heard as part of the community that is fighting back."
The face of poverty in Canada could arguably be that of the child. The results of the neoliberal policies that cut our social services such as the Special Diet in Ontario can be felt in the intimate spaces of the home. When children are so affected, should they not be visible in the movement against these policies?
Clarke's approach is empowering families to make informed choices on safety, knowing that their presence is supported.
"A serious movement obviously wants to make sure that questions of the immediate physical safety of children are taken seriously. It is necessary to assess events and ensure that people with children are able to make informed choices as to participation and that plans take safety into full account."
Clarke didn't say necessarily which marches would be ‘family friendly' but his focus was on the June 25th Justice for our Communities mobilizations. Over the course of the week his main safety concern was the way in which police would respond to the protests.
"People have to assess the best ways and times to include children in actions. Any mobilization has an element of risk that it will face police attack but there are some that pose a greater level of risk. If parents with children are to make a choice, a movement has a responsibility to make adequate arrangements for childcare, as an alternative to bringing children to actions."
Toronto Community Mobilization Network will have information available on childcare for parents, but currently it appears that childcare is only available on June 25 at the Parliament Branch Library.
For those that choose to involve their children in certain marches, Clarke says the way in which to avoid CAS involvement in the case of an arrest or injury, is to have clear instructions available on who is available and authorized to assume guardianship of that child.
"Speaking in terms of the 25th mobilization, we are making sure child care is there as an option, we will make sure that all parents who do decide to bring children understand the issues and risks and every effort will be made to make sure that the clearest instructions exist as to who should take the children in the case of arrest or injury. One element of the marshalling we do will be devoting to assisting parents with children."
The G20 protests are not without risk. Clarke suggests that parents involved at the G20 are encouraged to make informed decisions, while the rest of us need to be protective of the most vulnerable in our ranks.
"I speak for a poor peoples' organization and that leads me to say that it would be a terrible thing and a disgrace on us if one child ended up with the CAS," he said.
TCMN Childcare on June 25 is available at the Parliament Library, 269 Gerrard St. East. From 12- 8pm. Information can be found here.
TCMN Protest Schedule (includes expected level of police interference) can be found here.
Lara Purvis is a freelance writer and activist located in Ottawa, Ontario. She is currently completing her MA in Global Development Studies at Queens University. Shushan Araya is an Ottawa-based sex educator and activist with No One is Illegal Ottawa.
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