The Honourable Justice Susan Lang released her Independent Review of the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory yesterday. The full report can be downloaded here.
The report, simply put, is damning. Justice Susan Lang found that between 2005 and 2015, the Laboratory produced results that were neither adequate nor reliable. The Laboratory operated in a manner that was not consistent with internationally recognized forensic standards. The Hospital for Sick Children did not provide meaningful oversight of the Laboratory. And finally, the use of the Laboratory’s results in criminal and child protection proceedings has serious implications for the fairness of those proceedings and warrants an additional review.
I have been thinking about the results of this report for most of today, trying to understand what I am feeling and why I feel that way. At the end of today, I can only describe my feelings as follows: disgust and anger. It makes me feel sick. It makes me feel like I should quit this work.
Prior to this Review coming out, some lawyers who work in this field dismissed the “controversy” as being a “sideshow”. The theory is drug-testing results are rarely, if ever, the sole reason for taking a child away. Often, the drug testing results are only one reason among many for removing a child from his or her parents. To be brutally honest, this type of reasoning makes me feel sick.
The legitimacy of the child protection system demands accuracy and reliability in evidence. It demands respect for parents and respect for the difficult decisions courts need to make every day in child protection court. When the court removes a child from a family, it needs to do so on the basis of the most accurate information possible. The parent needs to know that the justice system – the courts, Society counsel, parents counsel – care enough to ensure that evidence is reliable and accurate. To do otherwise is unfair and disrespectful.
As a lawyer who has acted for parents, it sickens me that parents counsel are often put in a position where they are unable to argue vigorously for their client. “Efficiency”, lack of funding, and the imperative of “the best interests of the child” mean that there are enormous indirect pressures on counsel not to “rock the boat”. One of the consequences to these pressures is a failure to question expert evidence such as the reports produced by the Motherisk laboratory. We could and should have done more.
For me, this Review serves as a reminder to me that my role as parents lawyer is to advocate vigorously for my client. It is to advance a position, no matter how unpopular it is. It is to test the Society’s case. It is to challenge conventional thinking. And it is to do so without shame or apology. It is hard work, and I wonder how long one can continue in this fashion without support and encouragement.