In a groundbreaking decision last summer after a 147 day trial, Mr. Justice Paul Walker of the British Columbia Supreme Court found that B.C.’s child protection authorities had negligently permitted a father to sexually abuse his children while the youngsters were in the custody of the Ministry. The Court found that the government’s failure to protect the children was “egregious, negligent, and a breach of duty” and government social workers showed a “reckless disregard to their obligation to protect children.”
The evidence before Mr. Justice Walker included expert evidence from Californian Dr. Claire Reeves who had been an expert witness at the 90 day family law trial that preceded the action against the Ministry by several years. Dr. Reeves’ expert opinion played a significant role in the original finding that this father had sexually abused his children.
The parties agreed that her expert evidence from the family law trial would be admitted in the trial alleging negligence against the Ministry. Throughout the lengthy proceedings the father adamantly denied abusing his children, an assertion supported by several expert witnesses, but to no avail, as the court found he had abused them and he was barred from seeing them.
The father, who acted for himself, missed the deadline to file an appeal, however, three years later the Court of Appeal permitted him to proceed with an appeal, based on new evidence that appeared to establish that Dr. Reeves’ evidence was fraudulent. The credentials she touted, including a Doctorate in Clinical Counselling, Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology, Bachelor of Science in Family Mediation, and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, were “purchased” from so-called “diploma mills”.
Her assertion that she had testified as an expert on child sexual abuse on numerous occasions in a variety of courts also appeared to be untruthful. The substance of her trial opinion was based on a theory of child abuse that had long been discredited, even by the expert who originally proffered the “child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome”.
This week, in a 411 paragraph decision, the Court of Appeal (JP v. British Columbia 2017 BCCA 308) held that Dr. Reeves’ fraud impacted the integrity of the entire judicial process, leading to a gross miscarriage of justice. The trial findings that the father was guilty of sexual abuse of his children were thrown out and a new trial ordered. The scathing denouncement of BC’s child protection authorities was also dismissed, the appeal court finding that the alleged misfeasance was the product of procedural unfairness.
What is startling about this case is that the Rules of Court and related case law clearly set out the requirements for the admission of expert evidence, rules and law that were flagrantly ignored by the litigants and the trial judge.
The waste of court time and the related costs in this case are staggering, as the trial occupied months of court time. In my view this case screamed out for the appointment of an “amicus curiae” or “friend of the court”, a lawyer who does not represent the parties, but assists the court with information that bears on the case. The admissibility of evidence issues, other procedural flaws, and the duration of the proceedings should have been red flags for the court.
For the parents of the children in this case, more trial dates are expected. What remains to be seen is whether the mother will file a second negligence lawsuit against the Ministry, which will ultimately depend on the findings in the new family law trial.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang