Yes, they were.
In the fall/winter of 2011, following the launch of the documentary, release of the trailer, website and online film(s), the CAS filed a formal complaint with Ryerson University in regards to the work (see their intent to complain here). At the very least, they wanted Ryerson to distance itself from the thesis by putting a disclaimer in the film (see outcome of CAS complaint). On their list of complaints was the issue that the CAS had not been invited to contribute to the documentary. While their participation is not a criterion for a documentary on the subject, it was, in fact, repeatedly sought out.
An estimated twenty current employees of the Children’s Aid Society were invited to participate, including supervisors, managers, workers, internal lawyers and executive directors. In addition, family court judges, employees of the Ministry of Children and Youth (including then Minister Broten) as well as executive directors from agencies who work closely with the CAS (Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW), Office of the Children’s Lawyer, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, and the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare) were also invited. All currently employed public workers, who held any position of decision-making authority regarding outcomes and policy at the Children’s Aid, declined the invitation.
Several key bureaucrats, in top executive positions, feigned enthusiasm to ‘fish’ for information by initiating ‘friendly’, leading and lengthy phone calls, during which time he or she agreed to be interviewed. When the follow-up date approached, they employed the same approach as the CAS and the Ministry had – stonewalling all correspondence with silence. Others cancelled multiple interview dates, using excuses to prolong the interview appointment (contradicting comments they made earlier), until it became impossible to reschedule yet another date without completely kiboshing post-production. A family court judge warned me I could be sued (fined and jailed) if I facilitated a voice for witnesses who felt victimized by the Children’s Aid. When I argued that we live in a democracy where victims of injustice own the right to speak out, he replied, “Not where the CAS is concerned.” The judge advised me that I must conceal the witnesses’ identities on camera by not displaying their full name and mask (or blur) their faces (each witness made that decision for him or herself). Multiple calls and emails to the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare (a special research project that incorporates the CAS into its mandate that was personally initiated by the Minister) were finally answered by an employee at the Commission, who responded to the invite by saying, “Good luck getting anyone to speak to you! Nobody is going to speak to you. Not here, or anywhere.” (Note, I did meet cooperative, well-meaning people at the CAS, the Ministry and other agencies, but they were too terrified of losing their jobs – or never finding a job elsewhere – to contribute to the work. This concern was echoed by former employees and social workers who did contribute.)
If CAS is that powerful then I have to commend you in not being afraid of the repercussions to produce what you have. Otherwise your gonna be screwed in getting a job anywhere once people know who you are and that your a trouble maker. We will be sure not to hire graduates from Ryerson.
Theresa Daly’s comment supports the culture of fear, enforced silence, job loss and blacklisting in the industry, that current (and former) CAS workers were faced with, if they accepted the invitation to participate in the documentary. Tannis Smith, a former employee of the CAS and seasoned social worker with a Masters degree in Social Work, was fired from the board of directors at Dilico Children’s Aid for the sole reason that she accepted the invite and contributed her experiences to the documentary. She recalls the Executive Director of Dilico telling the board members, “It’s either her or me.” The board chose to accommodate the ED.
The agency’s response to the invite and the documentary mirrors the grievances documented in the work. It reflects a culture of fear, bullying and incompetence. Subsequently, by incorporating 26 witnesses into the film (and individual stories through the website), the documentary seeks to demonstrate that “the truth” is not solely held by an agency that refuses to participate (then complains it was never asked), but, ultimately, the truth is revealed through collaboration with communities and individuals who demonstrate the courage to share their experience.
Ironically, the CAS did, in fact, participate in the documentary and continues to do so. Their response to the invitation and the research work has been documented, including their complaint to the University. Dilico’s firing of a diligent, experienced and insightful board member has been noted, as has Theresa Daly’s comments on the website. While the CAS declined to participate the first time they were asked, the community is hopeful that recently appointed Minister Hoskins will accept the festival’s invitation as an important opportunity to collaborate with the public he serves.