On December 15, 2017, I blogged on judicial references to Santa Claus.
Well, the jolly man in red suit has made another (figurative) courtroom appearance: this time in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Santa Claus figures prominently in the decision in Baars v. Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton.
There, the applicants, who were foster parents, refused to utter or affirm the existence or role of Santa Claus (and the Easter Bunny) in relation to foster children under their care. As a result, Children’s Aid removed the 3 and 4 year old sisters that were in their home, and closed the applicants’ foster home.
The Applicants applied to the court for a declaration that the Children’s Aid Society violated their freedom of conscience and religion, their freedom of expression, and their right to be free from discrimination., and a declaration that the closure of their foster home was unreasonable, discriminatory and contrary to their fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Applicants advised Children’s Aid that they do not endorse Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny because they did not want to lie to children. Children’s Aid took the position that the foster parents should honour their foster children’s cultural practices. Children’s Aid then arranged for the removal of the children from the home, and closed their foster home.
In deciding the case, the court was careful to note that the ruling did not purport to address certain questions:
This ruling is not about whether parents or guardians ought to promote or discourage the practice of advising young children about Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. It is not about the existence or utility of proclaiming Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny as a part of the secular celebratory rituals that arise at Christmas or Easter respectively. It is neither about offering commentary over the veracity or validity of one’s belief nor offering any commentary on general parenting or guardianship skills. This decision does not purport to advance any criticism or endorsement in relation to Christian or other religious beliefs or values.
The court concluded that the children were removed from the home in direct response to the applicants’ refusal to lie to the children about the Easter Bunny. This was an infringement on the applicants’ freedom of religion, and their freedom of expression.
As a remedy, the court ordered that Children’s Aid note in the applicants’ file that the decision to close the foster home violated the applicants’ Charter rights. If the applicants sought to be adoptive or foster parents in the future, there should be an inquiry into the applicants’ suitability with the court’s ruling in mind.