A children’s aid society in northern Ontario fired its lawyer this week after the Toronto Star revealed he described a 14-year-old girl as a “sexually mature young woman” in court documents pertaining to a sexual abuse case. The statement prompted outrage and disgust among many legal experts and social workers who engage with vulnerable youth.
Toronto lawyer Gary McCallum wrote in a statement in 2018 for an ongoing civil matter that a girl who is 14 or 15 years old is not a “child,” and instead should be considered a “sexually mature young woman,” according to the affidavit obtained by the Star.
The case revolves around a woman who is suing the Kenora-Rainy River Districts Child and Family Services over allegations that she was sexually abused by her foster father during the 1980s when she was a child under the case of the organization that preceded it.
On Monday, the executive director for Kenora child and family services, Bill Leonard, issued a press release condemning McCallum’s statements, and confirming that McCallum had been fired.
Leonard described McCallum’s statements as “appalling and intolerable” as well as “abhorrent.” He also reiterated that the agency considers anyone under the age of 18 to be a child. Under Canadian criminal law, the legal age of consent is 16 years old, with some exceptions if the youth are close in age.
McCallum told the Star that he would not comment on the matter as the case is “currently being litigated.”
Loretta Merrit, a lawyer who represents people who have been sexual abused, told CTV News on Monday that McCallum’s statement pointed bigger issues within the Children’s Aid Society.
“If the Children’s Aid Society didn’t know [the statement] was being made, that would be quite surprising. It would mean that the lawyer was acting without his client’s authority or instructions, which would be unusual,” Merritt told the news outlet. “If they did bless a statement like that being made, that’s even more concerning.”
Last November, the Ontario government announced plans to scrap the role of the child advocate, the child welfare watchdog, and will fold it into the provincial ombudsman and auditor general.
“We're taking away one of the strongest safeguards that we have for these young people,” Judy Finlay, a former child advocate for Ontario, told CBC. “These vulnerable young people who usually have histories of trauma, usually don't have a voice, or have difficulty raising their voice — we're pulling that resource away from them.”
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