Racist symbols on child a form of battery

A judge has ruled that a Manitoba couple can’t have custody of their children because they were endangering them when they taught them neo-Nazi beliefs and wrote racist slogans on their daughter.

WINNIPEG — A judge has ruled that a Manitoba couple can’t have custody of their children because they were endangering them when they taught them neo-Nazi beliefs and wrote racist slogans on their daughter.

“Writing and drawing racist expressions and symbols on one’s child is not just bad parenting. Those interferences with a child’s person are batteries,” Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Marianne Rivoalen wrote in her decision.

“Advocating genocide and the wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group are crimes in this country. These children have a right to be protected from these things.”

Rivoalen’s decision came two years after the children were seized by child welfare workers after the eldest showed up at her elementary school with racist slogans and symbols drawn on her skin in permanent marker.

No one in the case can be identified under provincial law.

Child and Family Services applied for permanent guardianship. The agency alleged the parents’ racist beliefs and actions caused the children to suffer emotionally. During the custody hearing, social workers testified the girl frequently used racial epithets to describe blacks, Asians, aboriginals and other minorities.

One worker told the court the girl calmly described how black people could be killed with a ball and chain. Others said the girl talked freely about her parents’ beliefs that non-whites should be forced to leave Canada. The workers testified to seeing Nazi paraphernalia in the family home.

The father admitted to using Nazi salutes and telling the children that only white people belong in Canada. But he told the court his beliefs do not amount to racism and he never preached violence. He argued he had a constitutional right to teach his beliefs to the children.

The judge rejected that argument.

“I find that this attempt to convey a meaning by using a child’s body as a canvas falls outside the scope of expression that is protected under . . . the charter. A . . . child does not have the legal capacity to consent to racist markings being inscribed on her body.

“(The mother) sought celebrity, sacrificed her children’s dignity on the altar of sensationalism and achieved some notoriety. That was a pathetic cry for attention.”

The mother, who now lives in another province, attended court infrequently, saying she could not afford the travel. She accused social workers of putting words in her daughter’s mouth and said she never taught her children to hate.

The father quickly decided to appeal the decision.

“He’s naturally very disappointed in the decision. He wants to have both children returned to his care,” said his lawyer, Catherine Dunn.

As the case garnered growing media attention that focused on the allegations of racism, Kris Janovcik, the government’s lawyer, took pains to stress other concerns. The father rarely worked and the home was filthy, Janovcik said. Neither parent was emotionally equipped to provide a proper home, he suggested, and the children were so neglected the girl frequently missed school because her parents wouldn’t wake up in the morning.

Rivoalen also addressed those issues. She said the racist markings alone wouldn’t be enough to justify taking the children away permanently. The squalor of the home and neglect of the children — evidenced by a lack of speech development in the younger child — compounded the issue.

“The living conditions . . . could be fairly described as ranging from inappropriate for young children to deplorable. They lived in squalor and filth,” the judge wrote.

The children have been living with a distant relative who has a background in child care. Rivoalen approved the government’s plan to have them continue living there.