First published at Global News on March 9, 2018.
Not wanting to make your kids believe in the Easter Bunny doesn’t disqualify you from being a parent, after all.
So says an Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling in a case involving former foster parents Derek and Frances Baars, and the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton.
The Baarses had been fostering two sisters, aged three and four, for just shy of three months when the girls were taken and the foster home was closed by CAS. The episodes came after the foster parents refused to comply with a demand from a CAS caseworker to instill in the girls a belief in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
The devoutly Christian couple was celebrating all other aspects of the holidays — including the hunt for chocolate eggs — but wouldn’t lie about the mythical figures associated with them. As a kid, I cared less about who delivered the chocolate than I did about the fact that there was chocolate, but CAS had a different view.
While explaining to your kids that Santa and the Easter Bunny make annual house calls may be an innocent enough lie, it is a lie nonetheless. And parents are under no legal obligation to tell it. So why should foster parents be?
The only relevant questions should have been whether the Baarses were able and willing to care for these girls, and provide a home for them. They exceeded all requirements in the application process, and it’s worth noting that their faith beliefs — including their beliefs about the Easter Bunny — were known to the agency when they were approved to run a foster home.
What should have been about stability for children became an ideological litmus test about a lagomorphic humanoid confectioner.
That litmus test, we now know, is unconstitutional.
In an interview on my show, Derek Baars said the decision by CAS was rooted in “the idea that the government has this hold over you as to what you may or may not — and actually what you must say — in your home.”
The court ruled that the Baars’ constitutional religious freedoms had been violated because CAS effectively tied parenthood to a belief system, irrespective of other aspects of care that are inarguably more consequential.
Neither the Baarses nor the girls had any issue with the foster relationship, making it all the more egregious that CAS opted to create one.
“There is no doubt that there was a need for stability, permanency and care in (the sisters’) lives,” Justice Andrew Goodman wrote in his decision. “It is very clear from the evidence that the children were being cared for.”
Goodman charged that in taking the children away, CAS “contributed to the turmoil these children had already faced in their short lives,” saying that in the choice between whether the Easter Bunny or permanency was more important. “The Society very clearly chose the Easter Bunny.”
The children’s agency attempted to justify its seizure of the children by claiming it was enforcing the wishes of the girls’ birth mother. Despite looking through all of the caseworkers’ notes, the judge found no evidence that the mother had ever indicated any preference — let alone a strong one — about holiday myths.
It really appears that a CAS worker went to extraordinary lengths to impose her own will on two loving parents. And onto the next home for the girls.
Child protection is important, as is the need for a robust agency that can remove children from harm.
Though the court’s ruling on this case is encouraging, it still concerns me that a CAS worker can act on an inkling to “protect” children from something as benign as not believing in stories they’ll outgrow in a few years, regardless.
Would CAS have expected Jewish or Muslim foster parents — who don’t believe in or celebrate Christmas or Easter at all — to set up a Christmas tree and lay out Easter eggs? Are certain religious belief systems off-limits for foster parents entirely?
No one can argue there isn’t a need for foster parents, so alienating those with strong faith values is a poor step.
In fact, when I look at the families in my own circles who have fostered or adopted, all but one are religious. In most of these cases, it was their religious beliefs that compelled them to take on the role of foster parents in the first place.
Anyone who makes this sacrifice deserves better than what the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton did to Derek and Frances Baars, whose lawsuit wasn’t about money, but rather about granting them a clean record and putting a guideline in place so this doesn’t happen to any other families in the future.
They hope to adopt in their new home in Edmonton. God bless them — and all foster parents.