B.C. mom asks court to change terms of government-led review of child abuse case

VANCOUVER — A judge should fix a "one-sided, less-than-objective" government review into the case of British Columbia social workers who granted unsupervised visits to a father who had sexually abused his four children, says a lawyer for their mother.

Jack Hittrich said the mother, identified only as J. P., has lost all confidence in the government as he petitioned the B.C. Supreme Court on Friday to put boundaries around the internal review.

"This government, unfortunately, cannot be trusted and this process is fundamentally flawed," Hittrich told Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson.

The province appointed former civil servant Bob Plecas to lead the review in July, asking him to look into the policies and human resource concerns raised in a blistering B.C. Supreme Court ruling released just days earlier.

Justice Paul Walker found that government social workers knowingly violated a court order banning the father from unsupervised visits.

The workers labelled the mother as crazy and discounted tearful efforts to convince them that her children had been sexually abused by their father until she sued the province for refusing to investigate, court heard.

Hittrich asked Hinkson on Friday to refine and narrow the review's terms of reference to ensure that Plecas would not be allowed to challenge the factual or legal conclusions made by Walker.

Within its current, "unfettered" structure the review leaves room for intrusion into the judiciary, which could result in abuse of process, said Hittrich.

He also alleged the Ministry of Children and Family Development had launched the review in "an attempt to spin."

"This is not just a general review of child protection practices," he told court. "This is a very specific review which arose in the wake of public criticism."

He said the mother would have believed the government was sincere if the review had been assigned to B.C.'s independent child advocate, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

The B.C. government is appealing Walker's ruling and the hearing is scheduled for five days in June next year.

Government lawyer Leah Greathead made submissions to the judge that Hittrich's arguments were a "misapprehension" of what Plecas had been asked to do in the review.

She said there's never been any intention to "retry" the case.

"The ministry has an obligation not just to the petitioner and her children but to many children in British Columbia," she said. "And for good public policy reasons, has chosen to see what happened here."

The mother previously filed a complaint with B.C.'s privacy commissioner, who ruled the ministry didn't break any rules when it shared the family's files with employees involved in the review.

Plecas was supposed to submit his report by Oct. 13, but his work has been delayed by the mother's complaints to the commissioner and the court.

Hinkson has reserved his decision.

Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

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