Canadian couple lose appeal against continuing child custody order – claim to speak in tongues to a stuffed lion which responds with the word of the Lord

On 1 June 2018 the Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed the appeal of a religious couple, against an order that their child, “CJ”, was in need of protection such that the child would be placed in the continuing custody of the Director of Child, Family and Community Service (Department).

At trial, the couple refused legal aid assistance and maintained that their legal counsel was the Lord Jesus Christ. They also appeared to “speak in tongues” before the Court – including to a stuffed toy lion – that they claimed responded with the words of their counsel, the Lord.

Background facts

CJ’s parents were devout Christians.

The circumstances leading to the Department’s involvement were set out in the following terms:

  1. There were allegations of domestic violence between CJ’s parents, that involved alcohol and physical violence.
  2. During her pregnancy, CJ’s mother insisted on a home delivery without medical attention, despite the urging of medical advice against that approach.
  3. During CJ’s delivery, it was necessary for 911 emergency assistance to be dispatched and for CJ’s father to deliver CJ on the instructions of a paramedic.
  4. Following a voluntary care agreement being put in place, CJ’s father became upset regarding a requirement in the agreement that he remain alcohol-free.
  5. Throughout the course of raising CJ, CJ’s mother refused, despite medical advice, to feed CJ anything other than breast milk, with the result that, when weighed, CJ had lost about 100 grams over 4 days.
  6. CJ’s father became continually aggressive with staff of the Department, including by sending an email to a social worker which referred to God and the social worker’s conduct as wicked and corrupt.
  7. CJ’s father also sent an email to counsel for the Department that referred to the Lord and which could be perceived as threatening.
  8. Both of CJ’s parents were, after CJ’s birth, criminally charged for a disturbance at a Church and during their arrest CJ’s mother ‘rolled around on the ground and would not cooperate’.
  9. Both of CJ’s parents continually alleged that they wanted to ‘cleanse the Church of evil and demonic influences’.
  10. CJ’s mother testified during a Court hearing that she wanted CJ to have a hyphenated first name including “Jesus” and a middle name of “JoyoftheLord”, and that she was also applying to change her full name to “Risen Lord Jesus-A Refinersfire-Deanne Christ”.
  11. During the trial at first instance, the following issues regarding CJ’s parents were raised:

First, they refused legal aid assistance and maintained that their legal counsel was the Lord Jesus. Second, the parents verbalized words that were not discernible to the court; they appeared to be speaking in tongues. They spoke in tongues to their stuffed animal, a lion, and claimed that through this lion they were hearing directly from their counsel the Lord. Third, when cross-examining witnesses, the appellants advised each witness that it was their lawyer Jesus Christ asking the questions through the voice of the parent

Issues for determination and decision of the Supreme Court

An order of the type made by the trial judge was only open under the relevant legislation upon a finding that:

  1. CJ needed protection (and, only then, could an order be made which was in CJ’s best interests); and
  2. The nature and extent of the harm that CJ had suffered or the likelihood that CJ would suffer future harm was such that there would be little prospect that it would be in CJ’s best interests to be returned to the child’s parents.

CJ’s parents were self-represented at first instance and on appeal.

On appeal, the parents alleged errors of law, including that they had been treated unfairly and discriminated against by the trial judge and that the trial judge erred by failing to identify reasons for the judge’s decision and had failed to consider relevant considerations required by law.

CJ’s parents sought an order returning CJ to them immediately.

In dismissing the parents’ appeal, the Supreme Court found that the parents had not proven discrimination on the ground of their religious beliefs (or, indeed, because of their mental health) and that there were legitimate concerns – expressed in the trial judge’s decision – based upon sufficient evidence, that allowed the trial judge to come to the conclusion that a continuing custody order was necessary.

The Supreme Court did lament that the case was a difficult one and encouraged the Department to engage in a process of finding an extended family to adopt CJ, but only if other options proved to be inappropriate.

The full decision is available here: A.J. v British Columbia (Director of Child, Family and Community Service) 2018 BCSC 903.