Government as kidnapper
I'm a little behind on my work this week, so instead of writing new blog entries, permit me to share two of my Canadian Lawyer columns from the archives. Here's one about the astonishing mass seizure of children from a peaceful community in Texas, all based on a phoned-in hoax:
Acting on a tip from a frightened girl, Texas police raided a ranch belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, seizing 437 children. A 16-year-old named Sarah had phoned for help, saying she had been beaten and raped by her 50-year-old husband.
Her calls were enough for Judge Barbara Walther to issue a search warrant for every house on the church’s 1,700-acre ranch. In went the police with heavy weapons and SWAT vehicles, seizing every single child — boys, infants, everyone.
Texas Child Protective Services immediately got to work placing the children in foster homes. Walther rejected an application to have breastfeeding infants remain with their mothers. “Every day in this country, we have mothers who go back to work after six weeks of maternity leave,” she said, though she did not explain what that had to do with removing these particular infants from their mothers’ custody. Walther said she had “made a determination that the environment those children were in was not safe.”
Things must have been bad to break up every family. What evidence did Sarah give when she was rescued? Well, the police didn’t find “Sarah.” They traced those phone calls to a 33-year-old Colorado woman named Rozita Swinton, who had been arrested before for similar hoaxes.
Most rumours about the ranch seemed to fall apart. The CPS did not find any girls under 16 who were married — the legal minimum in Texas, the same as Ontario. Bruce Perry, the psychiatrist who testified for the CPS, claimed the sect was “abusive.” But, under cross-examination, Perry admitted he had never studied the FLDS, and based his professional “diagnosis” on media reports. He also said that when he examined the children they were happy and healthy. He could find no sign of physical or sexual abuse — but he still testified that the polygamous sect’s religious beliefs were “unhealthy.” Based on that flimsy evidence, Walther held an emergency two-day mass custody hearing, with over 100 lawyers jammed in her courtroom. The parents were obviously all kooks, so why not have a group trial? The media cheered.
Imagine the apoplexy if a judge decided to try “all those Muslims” in Guantanamo in a two-day circus. There are 437 kids in Walther’s holding pen, but only 280 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. And how are the prisoners’ respective religions treated? In Guantanamo, Muslims are served halal meals, meet with imams, and can pray five times a day. Walther permits her prisoners to pray only under the supervision of CPS monitors, who make sure prisoners don’t discusses their custody cases. Mothers are allowed 60 minutes a day with lawyers, and children are allowed just 30 minutes.
But the most grotesque thing was the cattle-style custody hearing itself. That a search warrant dealing with a single, fabricated allegation turned into a mass custody trial is a civil rights scandal. But instead of assessing each child’s situation and giving each family the right to meet the case against them, Walther treated them like ants in a colony. There were literally hundreds of lawyers in her courtroom circus, most in an adjacent room, unable even to get the judge’s attention to lodge an objection. So much for due process.
The American Bar Association wouldn’t stand for the 280 Guantanamo prisoners to be tried en masse. But there were no harsh words for Walther.
Remember the Branch Davidians in Waco? That raid, too, was based on trumped-up rumours of child abuse. Oh, there’s child abuse in Texas, all right.
Only in America? No: here's one about out-of-control child welfare agents in Canada:
There is no greater punishment the state can mete out than seizing a child from a parent.
It was how the Soviet Union kept its foreign diplomats in line — their children had to remain back home in Russia as hostages, lest the parents’ temptation to defect prove too great. Seizing children is so punitive we don’t even do it to convicted criminals — not even murderers. Unless there is specific proof of harm or imminent harm to a child, even bad parents have the right to be parents.
But what is the definition of harm? In an era when hurt feelings can receive five-figure damage awards, and when political apologies for ancient slights have become routine, harm isn’t just limited to physical abuse — it’s now political.
Just ask the Winnipeg mother who had her two children seized this summer by Child and Family Services because her seven-year-old daughter went to school with a swastika drawn on her arm. That daughter, and her two-year-old brother, were snatched away.
The definition of “abuse” under Manitoba’s Child and Family Services Act lists three species: sexual exploitation, physical injury, and anything that results in “emotional disability of a permanent nature in the child.” Needless to say, it was that last section that the do-gooders used to seize the mother’s kids.
There is no medical textbook extant that lists political views, even radical or racist views, as an “emotional disability.” It is an anti-intellectual gimmick to characterize things we don’t like as illnesses in need of a cure. But that’s easier than convincing our political opponents of the error of their ways. Again, look at the Soviets.
Anyone who didn’t support the Communist utopia was obviously mad — it was a logical truism.
Nazism — or, as the mother calls it, white supremacism — is foul. Of course it is — just like radical ideologies of the Black Power movement and of Islamic supremacism. And, yes, the swastika is a symbol of hatred and death — at least since the Nazis purloined it 80 years ago. The hammer and sickle and the crescent moon have been responsible for far more death than the swastika, but it’s doubtful a display of those emblems would have resulted in a state-sanctioned kidnapping. T-shirts of a murderer named Che Guevara are practically standard-issue on campuses across North America. And Charles Manson’s name, if nothing more, was rehabilitated by a second-rate singer named Marilyn Manson. If offensive political symbols are the new litmus test for child abuse, we’d better start building more orphanages.
It seems the real target of Manitoba’s Child and Family Services was not the mother but her husband — a man she describes as a “bigot,” an unusual insult from a white supremacist. Winnipeg police spokesman Pat Chabidon did the rounds, ensuring the media knew the husband “was a subject of interest in a hate-crime-type investigation in 2005,” though no charges were laid.
Since when do police make public comments about child welfare matters, giving briefings about the accused? Actually, “accused” doesn’t quite fit — he wasn’t accused of anything? The police couldn’t charge the father, let alone convict him. But who needs such technicalities as a trial and conviction — why not jump straight to the punishment? That’s not justice, that’s government vengeance.
For those who are content to see a white supremacist punished this way — or, rather, to see two innocent children punished this way — they should realize that when the definition of “abuse” can leap from real harm to political harm, anyone can be targeted. In 2002, seven children were seized from a home in Aylmer, Ont., when a 27-year-old Children’s Aid Society operative, armed with a BA in psychology and plenty of self-righteousness, determined that spanking was child abuse and seized the lot of them. In Germany, even home-schooling has been deemed to be child abuse. The mayor of Altensteig filed a lawsuit against the Landahl family, demanding custody of their five home-schooled children. They fled to the U.K. rather than risk conviction.
Harvy Frankel, the dean of social work at the University of Manitoba, praised the seizure of the Winnipeg children. “We should be reassured that this is child welfare practice as it should be,” he said. Then again, Frankel’s area of expertise is “integrating clinical practice and social justice.” He believes child welfare is all about politics.
So neo-Nazis can’t have kids, and spankers and home-schoolers are on notice, too. How much longer before mere critics of this system are targeted, too?