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June 27th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A Canadian dad will likely lose his children in part because he’s overweight.  The man hasn’t been named by the Canadian press because the case involves minor children.  Read about it here (New York Daily News, 6/21/12).

The man has two children who lived with their mother until last year when they were taken from her due to a drug overdose.  At that time, the father weighed 525 pounds and the children were placed in foster care.  Since then he’s trimmed down to 360 and has sought custody of the children, but an Ottawa court recently cleared the way for him to be stripped of all parental rights and his children adopted.  And apparently, it’s all based on the opinion of a single doctor who observed the man and decided he couldn’t be a proper dad.

A doctor involved in the case recently filed a report saying the man’s weight may interfere with his life too much to make him a competent parenting.

“(The father) has struggled with obesity for years, which impacts significantly on most aspects of his life including (his) functioning as a parent,” the doctor wrote, according to CTV.

“He was short of breath or winded in simply walking short distances about the clinic and he lacks both the mobility and stamina required to keep up with young and active children.”

There’s just one problem with that, though.  The man hasn’t seen his kids in a year, much less parented them.  The doctor is guessing that the man can’t parent properly without ever observing whether he can or can’t.  In short, based on one doctor’s opinion, a court is poised to take away a father’s parental rights, without ever concluding whether he is a fit or unfit parent.  It can’t conclude that because it doesn’t know.  It doesn’t know because it can’t know.  It can’t know because it has no record of his actual behavior as a parent.

The man has never abused or injured his children and there’s not even an allegation that he has.

Now, it’s true that the man has smoked marijuana in the past, but here’s some top secret information for the court – millions of fit parents smoke pot.  They have for many years.  Pot usage doesn’t disqualify a person from being a good parent.  If it did, the foster system would drown in tide of children.

What’s also true is that the man apparently has been known to have violent outbursts in the past, but, like smoking pot, that doesn’t disqualify anyone from being a parent either, and shouldn’t.  Ask any parent – or anyone else for that matter – if he/she’s ever lost their temper.  Into the bargain, his anger has apparently been directed at the child welfare officials who are so bent on taking his kids.  Why should that be a surprise?  And in any case, do we really want to take children from every parent who’s ever “lost it?”  Not a chance.

So what we have is a man who’s never been found to be unfit as a parent.  He may or may not have some issues that ultimately may or may not preclude him from being a good parent.  We don’t know.  But in the absence of such knowledge, the default position must be that he’s allowed to care for his kids.  If he proves so badly unequal to the task, then he can lose his rights and the kids can be adopted.  Until then, the state should keep its hands out of his private life.

Here’s Ottawa Sun columnist Anthony Furey on that topic (Ottawa Sun, 6/19/12):

This is just one more notch on the belt of pushy government. It’s about the system trying to micromanage how we live. You can’t carry plastic bags in Toronto. You can’t drink a 600ml soda in New York City. You can’t get fat or they’ll take your kids away…

Can advocating for child well-being go too far? The public is still outraged at the story of Jessie Sansone, the Waterloo father who was arrested and strip-searched because his daughter drew a picture of her father holding a gun.

The education system interpreted this to mean he was dangerous. The police have since apologized for the strip search, but have not admitted wrongdoing.

Sure, it’s bad to be fat. There’s no rationalizing that away. It could impact your ability to excel at parenting. You can’t play with your kids as well. You’re perhaps not preparing the healthiest meals.

But these aren’t reasons to take children away from their parents. These are simply very real challenges that many people face today.

According to a 2011 report, a quarter of Canadians are obese. Should we be investigating those families to see if their obesity is restricting their child-rearing abilities, then take their children away? Absolutely not.

Should an amputee unable to run lose their children? Should a disabled person with mobility issues have their child taken away? For that matter, should a lean but lazy person lose their children?

To ask those questions is to answer them.  There’s a simple dynamic at work here – states arrogate power to themselves whenever possible, and when it comes to children, it seems it’s always possible.

And of course it’s no coincidence that the parent who’s losing his children is a father.  The legal system finds every imaginable reason to separate fathers and children and this is just one more.  Still, the fact that this man has been denied the right to even attempt to be the fit, loving father he wants to be is uniquely disgraceful.

The dad admits his own record isn’t spotless and he’s had a few run-ins of his own with the law, he says he’s cleaned up his act by taking anger management courses and no longer smokes marijuana.

“Nothing can be compared to my kids. If I lose my kids for good, it’s over for me,” he said.

And of course foster care is far from a panacea.  Study after study show foster care to be far worse than parental care even when the parents are somewhat abusive.  But family courts have a way of overlooking that inconvenient fact.  In this case, it looks like the children will be placed for adoption and a father will be left hugging air, and all because no one could be bothered to give the guy a chance to prove whether he could or couldn’t parent his own children.

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