Father in racism custody case says writing on child's skin is free expression

WINNIPEG - A Manitoba man says he and his wife were legally exercising their freedom of expression when they sent their daughter to school with racial slogans and symbols written on her skin in permanent marker.

WINNIPEG - A Manitoba man says he and his wife were legally exercising their freedom of expression when they sent their daughter to school with racial slogans and symbols written on her skin in permanent marker.

The man, who cannot be identified under provincial law, says Manitoba Child and Family Services violated his charter right to free expression when workers seized the girl and a younger brother from the family home last year.

"The state intervened to stop the respondent and his wife from expressing themselves to their children in a certain way and to stop the children from being the recipients of this expression," the man's lawyer, Catherine Dunn, wrote in newly filed court documents.

The case, which has made international headlines since the children were taken last year, is drawing to a close following witness testimony in the spring. Final arguments are scheduled for Sept. 25, and both sides have deposited written submissions with the Court of Queen's Bench.

The government, which is seeking permanent guardianship of the children, argues the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not allow parents to mark their children with controversial slogans.

"It is submitted that an attempt to convey meaning by using another person's body without his or her consent falls outside of the scope of expression that is protected (under the charter)," writes government lawyer Deborah Carlson.

Child welfare workers were called to the girl's elementary school after she showed up one morning with her skin covered in markings. They testified that in subsequent interviews, the girl casually and frequently used racial slurs 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, and that people who are not white should be shipped to other countries.

When investigators visited the family home, they found neo-Nazi paraphernalia. They also testified the couple were poor parents who worked infrequently and neglected the children, leaving their son in filthy diapers and failing to wake up early enough to bring their daughter to school on many occasions.

The racism concerns were only part of the reason for the children being taken, the government says.

"The respondent's charter argument is little more than a red herring, meant to deflect the court's attention from the respondent's inability to adequately parent (the) children," writes Kris Jonovcik, lawyer for Child and Family Services.

The couple, who are now separated, deny being poor parents. They say they taught their children to be proud to be white, but never preached hatred toward other races. They also say they provided the kids with food, shelter and love.

The mother accuses child welfare workers of putting words in her daughter's mouth.

"They intervened in our life based on politics and they heard stories from a ... girl who was probably terrified and who probably still is, and they put horrific words in her mouth," writes the mother. "Our home was by no means perfect ... but our children were never in danger."

The case has seen dramatic twists and turns. The mother, who now lives in another province, did not initially attend court, saying she couldn't afford to. When she eventually showed up, she was arrested on charges of credit-card fraud.

When the father testified, he admitted using Nazi salutes, telling his children that white people should not have children with people from other races, and telling them that non-whites belong in other countries. But he said his beliefs do not amount to racism, and maintained he never preached violence.

 
 
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