Seizure trampled rights, church tells court

Lawyers for members of the Church of God ask the judge to reject nearly all evidence.

Note: This church is independent and not affiliated with the Church of God congregations.

London Foreign Press/May 29, 2002
By Jonathan Sher

St. Thomas -- Family and Children's Services trampled on the rights of an Aylmer family when it seized seven children, the parents' lawyers argued yesterday.

A trial that some thought would examine practices of Aylmer's Church of God and the limits of corporal punishment, will first address issues that could change the balance between the social agency and parents accused of abuse.

The parents' lawyers argued the court should toss out virtually all evidence because of the way it was collected.

Their argument was opposed by lawyers for the children and the agency, the latter saying such a move would place abused children at the mercy of their abusers.

"You are relegating the child to being a chattel to be used by the parents as they see fit," said agency lawyer Alfred Mamo.

While the agency is seeking protection for the children, it is no longer asking the court to remove them from their home. Instead, the agency asked the court to order 12 months of supervision and conditions that would include a ban on corporal punishment.

Opening statements were brief because of a publication ban. Justice Eleanor Schnall ruled she'll hear all evidence before deciding what, if any of it, will be made public. Media can attend the trial, but can only report scant details about who testified and the general nature of testimony.

The ban was opposed by the social agency, whose lawyer compared it to a "veil of secrecy." The public should scrutinize the acts of the agency and the family, Mamo said.

Supporting a full ban were lawyers for the children and the parents, the latter doing so even though the church has long claimed the parents wanted publicity.

As recently as December, Aylmer Pastor Henry Hildebrandt posted the following appeal for publicity on a Web site that espouses church views:

"It is obvious that a matter of this magnitude deserves public attention. It has been a continuous appeal by this family to the church that this matter be publicized."

While lawyers were barred from speaking of the alleged facts yesterday, they were permitted to lay out legal issues.

Many issues were triggered by the event that brought the family and church on to the international stage -- on July 4, 2001, police and the agency, confronted by church members, removed the children from their home. They were returned July 26, 2001, pending the end of the case.

Mamo outlined many of the legal issues:

  • Did the child agency act legally when it seized the children?
  • Does the agency have the right to ask questions of parents in an abuse investigation, and can the agency draw a negative inference if the parents refuse to reply?
  • When parents allegedly abuse a child, must they consent before their child can be questioned by the agency?
  • After the agency apprehends children, can it interview them without parental permission? Should statements by parents or children after apprehension be admissible?
  • Can parents refuse to file documents or provide answers to questions that would incriminate them?
  • If the agency apprehends children in a questionable way, must the court exclude evidence of abuse that is gained as a result?

Mamo made clear the agency is seeking to protect the children from what it deems excessive corporal punishment. "Children who are hit with an object need to be protected," Mamo said.

The issue of medical neglect will play a supporting role, he said.

The question of a ban was argued Monday, but not allowed to be published until after yesterday's proceedings.

"It is undisputed that this case has gained a notoriety through no fault of the children," Schnall said in her ruling.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.