A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision confirms that, when looking into the best interests of a child, the closeness of the blood relationship is not the deciding factor:


Courts have long struggled with the diversity of family structures, and the Supreme Court of Canada weighed in on Friday on the “natural parent presumption,” upholding a Prince Edward trial court decision. The ruling provided reasons why a grandparent was more suited to serve the interests her grandson rather than the boy’s biological father.


“A court is not obliged to turn to biology and engage in a fraught determination of who may be a closer blood relative,” wrote Sheilah Martin, writing B.J.T v. J.D. on behalf of a unanimous nine-judge panel, in reasons for judgement released today regarding a case that was ruled on in December. The SCC ruling overturned a decision of the Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal.


Justice Martin also wrote that family institutions have “undergone a profound evolution” and changing social conditions, and that “contemporary shifts in parenting and family composition may undermine the relevance of biological ties.”


The SCC judge added that biological ties “may be relevant in a given case” they will generally carry minimal weight in the assessment.


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The case concerns a seven-year-old boy with autism. His parents, JD and A, were married in Calgary in May 2012 for approximately a year before A separated with JD and moved back to PEI. However, unbeknownst to father, JD, A was pregnant with W at the time and gave birth to him in October 2013. Upon finalizing the divorce in 2014, A held sole custody of W until January of 2018.


However, A struggled with schizophrenia during this time. As her illness worsened, the Director of Child Protection stepped in and apprehended W, who was then placed in temporary care and custody of the child protection or for three months and then he was relocated and put under the care of his maternal grandmother, BJT. Ultimately, the grandmother BJT was legally recognized as a parent under the auspices of the Child Protection Act RSPEI 1988.


The case then went to the Prince Edward Court of Appeal in 2020, where a majority overturned the Supreme Court of PEI’s decision and awarded custody to the child’s father.


In December, the SCC revisited the decision and allowed the appeal from the bench, reversing the PECA’s finding. The grandmother was awarded custody by the SCC back in December, without reasons, in order to allow the boy to be placed in his permanent home as soon as possible. The SCC panel published reasons for its ruling Friday.


A key issue is something I've seen make the difference in many custody disputes: which prospective parent or caregiver is more likely to foster the child's relationship with the other.


In this case, while both the biological father and the grandmother were “more or less” equally qualified to be the child’s parent, Justice Martin wrote that the “the decisive factor was which parent was more likely to foster W.D.’s relationship with the other parent.”


This factor clearly benefits the child, she wrote, “as it ensures the child is placed with the parent who will best promote the child’s emotional and psychological relationship with the other parent.” As well, any benefit from a connection to the biological parent, such as a sense of security in knowing one’s roots may be achieved through access and parenting time rather than custody.


Justice Martin wrote that she agreed with the majority of the PEI appeal court that a court may consider biological ties in assessing a child’s best interests “if they have some link to the child’s best interests.”


However, the majority “overstated the importance of a biological tie in itself when it concluded it was an ‘important, unique and special’ factor that must be a tiebreaker when two prospective custodial parents are otherwise equal."

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Canadian Lawyer on a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision regarding the best interests of the children, and proposed relocation far away from the other parent:


In a family-law case concerning parental relocation, the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed that any family violence incident is a significant factor in a best-interests-of-the-children analysis.


The SCC released its reasons in Barendregt v. Grebliunas last Friday. The family-law dispute initially concerned a mother’s application to relocate her two children from Kelowna, BC, where the father lived, to Telkwa, a community in Northern BC more than 1,100 km away. The trial judge had ruled in the mother’s favour, relying on two key issues: the couple’s acrimonious relationship, which involved a violent incident committed by the father, and the father’s financial ability to make the home in Kelowna habitable.


“The Supreme Court, I think, sends a very clear message that any family violence in any of its forms, whether it be physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, is always a relevant and important factor that Canadian courts should consider when analyzing what is in the best interests of children,” says Darius Bossé, who acted for the mother.


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According to Feeney, several of the court’s observations will assist lawyers dealing with family violence cases. She says the SCC countered the appeal court’s view that the violent incident would not impact the children, nor affect the abuser’s parenting ability, by citing evidence of the “lifetime of harms” children incur from family violence.


Another key aspect of the SCC’s findings is the statement that family-violence allegations are difficult to prove. In that context, proof of even one incident may raise safety concerns for the victim and may be important in the best-interests-of-the-child analysis, says Feeney.


The SCC found the mother not raising the abuse as a reason for the move did not undermine the trial judge’s consideration of abuse as a factor. “It’s important to be aware of the social and legal barriers to women disclosing family violence in family law proceedings,” she says.


The SCC also said the appeal court should not have viewed the abuse as a past issue. Research shows that abuse does not end with separation, says Feeney. In response to the appeal court’s finding that the mother’s and father’s relationship was improving, which it said attenuated the father’s behaviour, she adds that reconciling with an abuser does not necessarily mean the abuse is not serious.

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The requirement is officially lifted as of May 24, when kids return to classes after the Victoria Day weekend:

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development will remove the mask requirement in Nova Scotia’s public schools beginning Tuesday, May 24.
Becky Druhan, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, said today, May 19, that masks will continue to be recommended and that those students, staff, outside service providers, volunteers and visitors who choose to wear a mask will be supported.
Minister Druhan said masks helped schools mitigate the impact of COVID-19’s sixth wave. But as warmer weather approaches in June and classes can spend more time outdoors, and with Nova Scotia’s health data and school attendance data improving, Minister Druhan said now is the time to make masks optional in schools.
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