Easter Bunny at heart of fired foster parents’ legal action
By Michele Mandel,
First posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 09:23 PM EDT | Updated: Thursday, April 13, 2017 12:24 AM EDT
Surely this is one of those ridiculous headlines ripped from the satirical Onion: “Children taken away from foster parents unwilling to say Easter Bunny is real.”
But sadly, it is all too shockingly true. To the Hamilton CAS, belief in the Easter Bunny is an integral Canadian value. Or as executive director Dominic Verticchio explained, in all seriousness: Fealty to a fictional floppy-eared rabbit is a “North American custom and belief that everyone raps their minds around.”
And all skeptics need not apply.
So the fired foster parents, Derek and Frances Baars, have just launched a court action against the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society alleging their Charter rights to freedom of conscience and religion were violated by the agency’s insistence that they tell their foster children that the Easter Bunny is a “real entity.”
“We were committed to not lying to children,” explains Derek Baars, 36, who has since moved to Calgary where he works as a pastor. “They could expect the truth from us and we expected the truth from them.”
Baars is studying to become an ordained minister with the Reform Presbyterian Church of North America; his wife Frances, 31, works as a nanny and has a diploma in Early Childhood Education. Unable to have kids of their own, the couple wanted to be foster parents and Hamilton, with a dire shortage, was eager to have them.
The devout Christians were upfront when they signed on: They don’t celebrate Halloween and, as their glowing SAFE Homestudy Report clearly states, they “do not endorse Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny as they do not wish to lie to children.”
After a diligent screening and training process, the Baars were approved and in December 2015, they were asked to welcome two sisters, aged 4 and 3, to their rural home. The children were to be there temporarily until they could return to their parents.
It was just a week before Christmas.
“We neither confirmed or denied the existence of Santa Claus,” Baars recalls. “We gave them gifts for Christmas and they were part of our extended family celebration. They had a good day.”
He later learned the biological parents were upset there was no photo of the girls with Santa. But the foster dad insists they were never asked to do so in the communication book they exchanged about the children.
“If we had known, we would have asked the social worker to do that with them.”
In January, their new placement support worker was increasingly angry about their failure to vouch for the hopping Easter mascot. According to their filed claim, the Baars were allegedly told it was “part of their duty as foster parents to teach the girls about the Easter Bunny because it is ostensibly part of Canadian culture.”
They didn’t understand - the children were happy and the biological parents never told them “that they required or desired that the Baars tell their girls that the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus was real.” And it’s not as if they were confronting the kids and destroying their childhood fantasies; they were simply not going to fib if asked.
They assured the CAS worker that they’d buy new outfits for the girls and have a chocolate egg hunt. If that still fell short, the children could always spend Easter weekend with another foster family. Their offer was refused, Baars says, and the couple was warned their “inflexibility is a problem.” According to their lawsuit, they were given an ultimatum: “Tell the foster girls that the Easter Bunny was real or their foster home would be closed.”
Yup - they actually did just that. On March 4, 2016, the Hamilton CAS shut them down and removed the girls. They also refused to allow them to stay open to foster infants - where surely Santa and the Easter Bunny aren’t an issue yet. Now the couple worries they’ve been blacklisted and it will follow them if they try to adopt.
Hopping mad - sorry - they’ve launched their court action with the help of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
“We’re not looking for money. I’m not entirely sure what the court can even do,” Baars admits. “We just don’t want them to do to others what they did to us.”
The Baars filed a law suit; see here