(This page only contains the Introduction)
Blakout.ca is an online documentary website that investigates how stories from an oppressed public can affect a democracy if voices that were silenced are facilitated and heard. It hosts film-based media, creates a rapport between the director and the public, and invites anyone who feels bullied and silenced by employees of public organizations to speak out by adding their story to the website.
Blackout.ca’s first film, Powerful As God – Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario, explores the workings of the Children’s Aid Societies (CAS). It demonstrates how and why people are silenced within the constructs of a democracy and the subsequent injury to person, community and society. By facilitating a voice for witnesses and experts who have dealt with the agency, the film traverses the cause, means and effects of silencing a population and investigates how truth can be revealed through collaborative participation between individuals, communities and the greater public.
The film delves into the workings of the CAS, revealing the dangers to society when profit, secrets and laws are used to empower abusive, unethical and oppressive behaviour by bureaucracies, individuals and industry. Through documentary media, this work endeavours to convince the public that the electorate is ultimately responsible for implementing policies that irrevocably damages lives. It asserts that when victims are silenced or prevented from speaking out or claiming their rights, society functions like a dictatorship. The film explores how the public’s political decisions impact the legislated accountability of government by its agencies. It argues that since the public elects the government, the public is ultimately responsible for the dysfunctional democracy that emerges as a result, which then panders to a profiteering elite, tolerates abuse, and ultimately exploits the very public that empowered it. Subsequently, the use of “government” in this work, implies the greater public that elected it.
When a profit model dictates the governance of social services intended to help people, such as the CAS, these agencies are vulnerable to corruption because profit (in any manifestation) is the primary incentive for an individual to abuse his or her power. When governments initiate a profit-driven incentive for agencies commissioned to help people, it results in even greater damage and higher monetary costs to society then before that profit model was instituted. In essence, it is more cost efficient for the public to invest in social services without demanding a tangible return on investment to account for that money (such as a head count of children in care), then it is to implement a traditional business model intrinsically linked to profit.
The CAS operates on a business model that rewards the agency financially for each child it apprehends. That reward is then tripled if the child is diagnosed with mental disorders and placed on drugs. Thus, more children in its care, and more children with mental health diagnosis’, means more money for the agency. If the number of children decreases, the agency receives less money – unless it can compensate for this loss by diagnosing more children with mental health disorders, regardless of whether the child suffers from it or not. Parents (both natural and foster) are discouraged from advocating for the welfare of a child because active parenting demands a financial investment by the agency that adversely impacts its balance sheet (paying for therapy, music lessons and extracurricular activities, tutoring, nutrition, dental, health, and so on). Group homes, staffed by minimum-wage earning young adults, is a cost efficient way for the agency to ‘warehouse’ children, many of whom are drugged into compliance as a way to control “normal” child-like behaviour and reduce overhead expenses associated with parenting and skilled supervision.
By diminishing the significance of emotional nourishment in a child’s life, the agency’s innate business policy of exploiting children for money encourages the recruitment of abusive foster homes whose reasons for fostering reflect the agency’s motive, encourages the dismissal of abuse claims by children in its care, discourages loving families from fostering, and disregards the needs of the child’s natural family and community. Subsequently, the investment into bettering the lives of children, families and communities is overshadowed by the agency’s financial model. The emphasis becomes not on helping the child or the family, but on apprehending children and spending as little as possible to maintain them. When a conservative business model is applied to social services intended to help people, the natural economic principle of supply and demand ensures that industry profits, political and bureaucratic seats are secured, and money intended to help people in crisis is withheld. As a result, investment into social spending dramatically increases because the damage to individual lives causes a chain reaction that lasts for generations, impacting all aspects of social services – from mental health and healthcare, to policing, crime and prisons.
The distinction between the CAS and other government agencies is its authority to apprehend children. To a loving parent or guardian, the loss of a child surpasses any dollar amount or other form of loss a person may feel. When CAS is involved, it often means that one or more children from that parent or guardian are seized by the agency and not released until the issue is either resolved or the children age out of the system. The CAS not only arms itself with money, laws and secrecy legislation, but also with the lives of vulnerable children whom it often uses as leverage to coerce, manipulate, discredit and silence the parent or guardian. If a parent or guardian disagrees with the agency’s request, decision or policy, the agency uses the child to threaten the parent. For example, Marlene Langfeld, a parent whose children were apprehended, describes a scenario when a social worker threatened access to her children if she didn’t stop crying. She recalls the social worker saying, “If you ever cry in front of any one of your children again, you will have supervised access in this building exclusively. Is that crystal clear?”1
By exploiting the emotional bond between a parent and her children, the worker leveraged Marlene’s access to her children by demanding Marlene’s emotional control. If the child sees that a parent is upset, they become ‘higher maintenance’ and thus, more expensive for the agency to manage. Keri Malcom, a mother whose son is a crown ward of the agency, described how her son would tell her he would misbehave as a strategy to be sent home. Nancy Robechaud, a foster parent for forty-years, described similar circumstances.2
Emotions are an expense that adversely impacts the agency’s bottom line. Feelings like love, caring, desperation, attachment and so on, monopolize the workers’ time, creates control issues in the group or foster home, and forces the agency to implement expensive programming. To control the expense that emotions incur, the agency will often tell the child that the parent doesn’t want them anymore, and to the parent, that the child doesn’t want them anymore.3 Dismissing emotions as an integral component to a child’s health, then leveraging the emotional bond between parent (or foster parent) and child to benefit a business model, places the child’s welfare, the parent and the community at risk.
The time lapse between when the child is apprehended, and when the issue resolved, critically affects the child’s life. In the film, Lawyer Michael Clarke comments on this process, “From the time a child is apprehended to the time of final disposition is made, takes months, sometimes years. And that’s the tragedy because what happens to a child who’s in the system is not very pleasant.”4 When a child is apprehended, the life of that child is subjected to a bureaucratic system that has proven to be as abusive to the child as it is to the parent. The social fabric of communities is destroyed by a bureaucracy that is overshadowed by a profit-driven model that has little regard for the consequences of its actions, or for the value of human life. Whether the abuse of children and families is done intentionally or not, this work demonstrates that abuse is the inevitable outcome.
There are no other government agencies in Canada with the legislative authority to abuse and leverage children for profit, then use laws and secrecy to mask its behaviour. This distinction sets the agency apart as an important case study for Blakout.ca.
Beyond Secrecy: Finding Truth through Documentary Media
The Secret Keeper
The Audience: Bringing Publics Together
A Responsible Public
Trigger to Action
Challenges Constructing the Work
1 Langfeld, Marlene. Powerful As God – Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario. Directed by Esther Buckareff. Toronto, 2011.
2 Both instances regarding Keri Malcom’s story and Nancy Robecheaud’s examples are from the transcripts.
3 McQuaid, Robert. Powerful As God – Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario. Directed by Esther Buckareff. Toronto, 2011.
4 Clarke, Michael. Powerful As God – Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario. Directed by Esther Buckareff. Toronto, 2011.
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Child and Family Services Act R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11, s. 45 (8). Accessed August 26, 2011 http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90c11_e.htm
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Powerful As God – Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario. Directed by Esther Buckareff. Toronto, 2011.
Social Work and Social Service Work Act, 1998. Accessed August 29, 2011. http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_98s31_e.htm
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Susan Delacourt, “Abortion Funding – Tory Senator Tells Canadian Women ‘Shut the **** up’”, Toronto Star, May 4, 2010
Tomás Gutierrez Alea, “The Viewer’s Dialectic Part 1”, trans. Julia Lesage, Jump Cut, no. 29 (1984)
Tonda Maccharles, “Whistleblower Under Attack,” Toronto Star, November 20, 2009.
Tonda Maccharles, “The Whistleblower”, Toronto Star, November 21, 2009