JEO v MD, 2020 ONSC 6106

The Court dismissed an appeal from a customary care provider seeking sole custody of a child with access to her natural parents at the care provider’s discretion. Under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, Customary Care Agreements are to be preferred even to child protection proceedings in the case of Indigenous children. It would be inconsistent with this regime to allow an individual to bring a custody application that could result in a court order collapsing such an agreement, thereby disregarding the voluntary parental participation and Indigenous community input that defines it.

Indigenous Law Centre CaseWatch Blog

 This appeal concerns the intersection between a Customary Care Agreement [“CCA”], and the application by an individual for custody of a child under the Children’s Law Reform Act [“CLRA”]The Appellant seeks to lift the stay imposed by the motion judge on her application under the CLRA for sole custody of an Indigenous child, with access to the child’s natural parents at the Appellant’s discretion. The errors that the Appellant alleges mainly focus on the motion judge’s use of s 103 of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 [“CYFSA”] as the authority for the stay that was imposed.

Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services [“KGCFS”] had been involved with the child’s parents since 2000 because of issues relating to domestic violence and substance abuse. Older children of the parents were being cared for by a relative in the community. Two other children were made Crown wards in 2009. In 2013, the mother’s file was reopened when KGCFS was advised that she was pregnant again.

Once born, the child was apprehended by KGCFS, which brought a protection application and placed her in the Appellant’s home for fostering. The Appellant is married to the child’s paternal great uncle. In 2014, a Wikwemikong Band Council Resolution was passed, resolving that the child would be in the care of the Appellant. This was done by Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve [“Wikwemikong”], the child’s First Nation, in “exercising its inherent authority and responsibility for the care of children of their community” and so that KGCFS could grant the Appellant a subsidy for care according to the custom of the Band/First Nation.

 A CCA was made and came into force in 2015. As a result, the protection proceeding that had been initiated was withdrawn. Parties to the CCA are the mother, the father, Wikwemikong, the Appellant, KGCFS, and the Children’s Aid Society. The CCA was described as a “Long-Term” CCA which could be in effect until the child reached the age of 18 years. The CCA states that the Appellant, who is a Wikwemikong resident, is to be the “customary care provider.” She is given authority to consent to medical, surgical, dental, educational, psychological or diagnostic treatment and anesthetic care that a qualified medical or dental practitioner might recommend.

In 2018, the Appellant brought an application for full custody of the child under the CLRA, stating concerns with the parents. KGCFS may have had some concerns relating to the Appellant, but she had been working with them on a voluntary basis and that she wanted to terminate the CCA. The motion judge considered various sections of the CYFSA relating to the protection of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children. He reasoned that if a CCA was entered into, then it would be by agreement, and should be accorded deference as “a complete code for the resolution of child protection cases in appropriate circumstances.” The motion judge read CCAs into s 103 of the CYFSA as a valid reason for a stay of a custody application under the CLRA, as to conclude otherwise would be to diminish the importance of CCAs. To permit the custody application to continue would also invite the court to disregard the intent of the parties in setting up the CCA, which constituted a voluntary meeting of minds.

 The motion judge stayed the appellant’s CLRA application for custody pursuant to s 103 of the CYFSA, and is subject to a correctness standard on appeal (Housen v Nikolaisen, 2002 SCC 33). To assess the order made by the motion judge, the terms of s 103 of the CYFSA must be considered, its purpose, and legislative intent in child welfare legislation. Section 103 of the CYFSA dictates the pre-eminence of child welfare legislation, where child welfare proceedings have begun or an order has been made in those proceedings, and a person seeks custody under the CLRA. This section underscores the well-established principle that child protection legislation will take precedence over the jurisdiction granted to courts by other provincial legislation dealing with matters of custody (Fortowsky v Roman Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Essex (County), [1960] OJ No 600 (CA)). Section 103 protects the integrity of the child welfare placement by ensuring that no other court can substitute its decision for that of the child protection court (Children’s Aid Society of St. Thomas and Elgin County v CZ and JH, [2003] OJ No 4177 (CA)).

CCAs act as an alternative to child protection proceedings and serve as an expression of Indigenous community values in the sphere of child protection. In the circumstances of the CCA in this case, it would have been appropriate to exercise the court’s discretion to stay the CLRA application. That is not to say that any and all CCAs will equally merit the protection of the court against CLRA applications. The motion judge, however, committed no error in imposing a stay of proceedings on the Appellant’s CLRA application.

Dilico Anishinabek Family Care v Her Majesty the Queen (Ontario), 2020 ONSC 892

Motion for stay dismissed. The applicants have not discharged their burden to show that they, or Indigenous children, will suffer irreparable harm if a stay of the Minister’s Directive and Designations is not granted.

Indigenous Law Centre CaseWatch Blog

This motion is for a stay. These proceedings involve a long-standing jurisdictional dispute between two representative Indigenous groups in northwestern Ontario over who should be permitted to provide child and family services in the City and District of Thunder Bay. The Minister of Children, Community and Social Services [“Minister”] issued designations authorizing three children’s aid societies to provide the full range of child and family services in Thunder Bay. At the same time, the Minister issued a directive providing that: a) Dilico Anishinabek Family Care [“Dilico”] will provide services to all Indigenous children and families other than Indigenous children from First Nations affiliated with Tikinagan Child and Family Services; b) Tikinagan will provide services to children and families from Tikinagan-affiliated First Nations; and c) the Children’s Aid Society [“CAS”] of Thunder Bay will provide services to non-Indigenous children and families [“Directive and Designations”].

Dilico was incorporated in 1986 by the Robinson Superior Treaty First Nations and granted authority in 1994 by a group of 12 First Nations to provide child protection services to Indigenous children and families in Thunder Bay. Dilico has operated as a designated CAS since 1995 under what is now the Child, Youth and Family Services Act [“CYFSA”]. Initially, Dilico’s designation restricted it to exercising powers as a CAS only over those members of the Dilico-affiliated First Nations residing in the City and District of Thunder Bay, together with powers over all children residing on specified reserve lands. In 2012, Dilico entered into a memorandum of understanding [“MOU”] with the Thunder Bay CAS. Under the MOU, Dilico assumed child protection jurisdiction over not only Dilico-affiliated First Nation children, but all Indigenous children in Thunder Bay.

Tikinagan Child and Family Services [“Tikinagan”] was incorporated in 1984 through the efforts of the 49 Chiefs of Nishnawbe Aski Nation which represents many First Nations across northwestern Ontario. In 1986, Tikinagan was given approved agency status by the Ministry and, in 1987, received its designation as a CAS. Tikinagan’s geographical area includes most of northwestern Ontario including parts of the District of Kenora and the northwest portion of the District of Thunder Bay. Tikinagan has the authority to offer the full range of child and family services within its territorial jurisdiction.

Dilico and the Fort William First Nation brought applications for judicial review seeking to set aside the Directive and Designations of the Minister on various constitutional and administrative law grounds, which will be heard at a later date. The applicants’ also motioned for a stay of the Directive and Designations; below are the reasons for the dismissal.

The court must consider three cumulative factors in determining whether to grant a stay: 1) whether there is a serious issue to be tried; 2) whether the moving party would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a stay; and 3) whether the balance of convenience as between the parties favours granting the stay, in the sense that the harm that will be suffered by the moving party if the stay is not granted outweighs the harm that will be suffered by the responding party if it is (RJR-MacDonald Inc v Canada (AG), [1994] 1 SCR 311 [“RJR-MacDonald”]).

Cases involving child welfare or child custody require a modification to this approach to the three-part RJR-MacDonald test. The overriding consideration in such cases is the best interests of the child. In this matter, the Minister, the Thunder Bay CAS and the two Indigenous CASs operate within a statutory framework which makes the best interests of the child paramount. Section 1(1) of the CYFSA provides that the “paramount purpose of this Act is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children.” The applicants have, asserted grounds for judicial review of the Directive and Designations which are not frivolous. There are serious issues which can only be resolved in a full hearing. The applicants have, therefore, satisfied the first aspect of the RJR MacDonald test.

The Court concluded that the applicants have not discharged their burden to show that they, or Indigenous children, will suffer irreparable harm if a stay of the Directive and Designations is not granted. This conclusion is sufficient to dispose of the motion. However, there are other factors which tip the balance against a stay in any event. The public interest also includes a public interest in the legitimacy of public institutions. The public interest therefore includes a high level of respect for the decisions of the legislative and executive branches of government. The courts have limited institutional competence to interfere with those decisions. The courts have a supervisory role to play, but should be wary of usurping legislative and executive roles, particularly where they lie at the policy end of the decision-making spectrum (Hupacasath First Nation v British Columbia (Minister of Forests), 2005 BCSC 345; RJR-MacDonald).

At the end of the day, the balance of convenience weighs in favour of refusing the stay and, pending the disposition of the applications for judicial review, advancing the goal of providing child welfare services to Tikinagan-affiliated children and their families in a culturally appropriate manner. The applicants’ onus of showing that the balance of convenience favours granting the stay has also not been discharged.