Charter arguments to start in Aylmer case

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The London Free Press/July 2, 2002
By Debora Van Brenk

The trial into the fate of seven Aylmer children hit by their parents is expected to enter a new stage today, with lawyers presenting Charter of Rights arguments over the way the evidence was gathered.

The trial will be different in another significant way as well.

For the first time, the proceedings can be published by the media.

"Judges and courts have to be subject to scrutiny, public scrutiny," said Paul Schabas, the lawyer who argued on behalf of The London Free Press and other media that Justice Eleanor Schnall's sweeping publication ban on the trial be lifted.

But it's difficult to know whether the day-to-day actions in the trial will change now that the order has been lifted, he said.

Family and Children's Services of St. Thomas and Elgin seized the seven children from their home almost exactly a year ago -- they were returned three weeks later -- and is seeking a protection order from the St. Thomas judge.

Lawyers are expected to argue whether the agency and police gathered evidence in a way that violated the parents' constitutional rights.

Testimony in the five-week trial has included evidence the parents admitted hitting their children with a belt, stick, electrical cords, clothes hanger and broken metal flyswatter.

One boy, burned by hot water, was slapped by his father on his injured thigh while squirming under a treatment of diluted bleach and ointment.

Although the case has become a banner for pro- and anti-corporal punishment camps, few knew specific information behind the CAS seizure of the children because of the publication ban.

The agency also supported lifting the publication ban.

The children's identities remain protected by court order.

Schabas said it may be reasonable to exclude members of the public from a family courtroom so child witnesses are not traumatized by a room full of people.

But there was no evidence or rationale that justified barring media coverage, he said.

Justice Thomas Granger agreed in a decision last week.

"He accepted our argument that family courts are open and should be open like any court," Schabas said.

Granger's decision is in line with the Supreme Court's ruling on similar cases.

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