Saturday, November 19, 2005

from Wales out of Nova Scotia: the CWC is born

The careworkers’ coalition session at Regal Park Motor Inn was both informative and at times highly emotional. Ill-informed as ever, I’d never heard of the Mullighan inquiry into the sexual abuse of children in state care until this day. Interestingly, tonight’s meeting marked an anniversary of sorts, as it was on this day twelve months ago that the Commission of Inquiry (Children in State Care) Act 2004 was proclaimed and came into operation. I’m not sure it was entirely coincidental.

All the relevant details of that commission of inquiry are here. Apparently it was triggered by the death of a child in state care. An initial perusal suggests that the inquiry will deal largely with historical matters, whether allegations were dealt with adequately in the past, and whether adequate records were kept. Sounds reasonable enough, but an unfortunate reference to compensation by certain government ministers has created an incentive for people to come forward with stories of abuse. According to a hand-out from the meeting, more than 700 people have presented complaints to the Mullighan inquiry, and some 60 of these have been referred to the police. The time-frame of the inquiry has been extended twice. Is there a possibility that a witch-hunt might develop?

And this brings us to the special guest of the meeting, Dale Dunlop, a lawyer who acted for careworkers under fire in Nova Scotia. The handout summarises:

From 1993 to 2005, the Canadian Privince of Nova Scotia spent over $150 million, firstly investigating and compensating 1500 alleged victims – and then compensating falsely accused carers. there was not a single conviction, let alone a single charge being laid [this should surely be the other way around?] against over 400 accused carers.

So the task of the coalition is to prevent this situation from being repeated, to nip the situation in the bud, before hundreds of innocent care-workers are falsely accused. As the hand-out says, ‘Compensation is the main incentive, followed by persons seeking attention’.

Now, listening to all this, I was certainly gobsmacked, but I wondered about where my situation fitted into the aims and objectives of the new coalition. Compensation wasn’t an issue in my case, and it was unlikely to be covered by the Mullighan inquiry. Which was just as well, as I’d already been charged, and so my case would spoil hopes of a spotless record…

However, the question-and-answer session afterwards made it clear that the coalition’s brief was broad. They wanted as members anyone who’s been accused or was under investigation or was a friend or relative of someone under investigation or who just had a concern about justice in this issue.

A hulking great well-dressed gent came up from the floor to speak about his case. He was too emotional to get far into the detail, but apparently he and his partner had been foster carers for nine years. The girl under their care had been two years old at the beginning, but after nine years an accusation was made, by whom it wasn’t clear. He wasn’t guilty, he assured us. He was charged without ever having been questioned, which sounds familiar, and in the past several months he’s made four court appearances, without feeling that he’s gotten anywhere. He’s on bail, like me, and part of his bail conditions are that he’s not allowed to spend any time in the company of children under a certain age. He’s tried to get this condition clarified or amended, to allow him to be in the company of a child when accompanied by another adult, but all to no avail. This has meant that he’s not allowed to see his own grandchildren, or children, I’m not sure which, he was clearly unaccustomed to public speaking, he blustered and choked and finally broke down, and the silence in the hall was complete.

Later, others related bits and pieces of their stories, and a pattern was emerging, of lengthy procedures, with-holding of information, and assumptions of guilt (people being described as offenders rather than alleged offenders, accusers being described as victims rather than complainants, etc – which of course is exactly what was put in the police report in my case), though most of these people were talking not of the police or the courts, but of the relevant government department’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

The handout provided details of the careworkers’ coalition’s rules as an incorporated body. They’re quite similar to the rules of La Luna Housing Co-op Inc, so it’s fairly familiar territory for me. Though it was difficult to get her undivided attention at the end of the meeting, I approached the founder of CWC, Julie Halifax, who was most sympathetic and interested to hear of another case before the courts. We exchanged details, and I offered my services, as a person with some skills, in speaking, writing, computing and the like. She seemed delighted at all this and promised to be in touch soon. We'll see.

At a side-table there were a couple of copies of what one of the speakers described as a 'little book' on the UK experience, written by Richard Webster. In fact it was a huge tome, and the copies disappeared before I could properly peruse any, but I intend to order one out of my next pay.

Webster's website is a great find for we urbane sceptics. As he shows, even the beeb is not immune from telling it like it most certainly isn't, and the suffering this causes can't be exaggerated.


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