A child welfare agency in Ontario, Canada removed two girls from a foster home, causing potential trauma, because the Christian couple who cared for them refused to lie about the existence of the Easter Bunny.
A court judgement in the province declared that the Children's Aid Society (CAS) violated the foster parent's right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression when the children were taken from their home and their fostering agreement terminated over the couple's refusal to promote the existence of the mythical bunny, the National Post reported.
Derek and Frances Baars sued the Children's Aid Society last year, saying that despite their belief that all lying is wrong, a CAS worker insisted they proactively tell two girls in their care, aged three and four, that the Easter Bunny was genuine.
The Baars, who are Christians and members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, did not seek any money, only a court declaration that their rights were violated and that they not be blocked from future fostering.
And Justice Andrew Goodman of Ontario's Superior Court of Justice did just that in his 62-page judgement released on Tuesday.
According to the judgement, in 2016, the CAS removed the children, ended the Baars' ability to foster other local children and probably interfered with the couple's ability to foster children in Alberta.
Goodman said the CAS's actions were 'capricious,' as well as 'not in the children's best interests' and potentially reveal an 'underlying animus' by the group and its staff.
Francis Baar, the former foster mother, welcomed the judgement, saying: 'We are very thankful for it, that we've been vindicated. Our names have been cleared and we don't have that hanging over us any more.'
According to the National Post, the CAS claimed that the children were not removed over the foster parents refusing to lie about the bunny, but for refusing to support the birth mother's wishes and failing to be respectful of cultural needs of the children.
'Nothing can be further from the truth,' Goodman wrote. 'It appears that the society would not be satisfied with anything other than confirmation from the Baars that they would lie about the Easter Bunny.'
The court heard evidence from child experts that the CAS removed the children with only one day's notice, in an act that was a 'potentially traumatising event', the judgement said. This was despite the fact that the couple were providing a stable and caring home for the children.
Goodman pointed out that there are times – such as physical or sexual abuse – when foster children must be removed from homes, but not over the existence of the Easter bunny.
He wrote: 'Given the disruption that these young children had already faced in their lives, there is no doubt that there was a need for stability, permanency and care in their lives. It is very clear from the evidence that the children were being cared for, that the Baars were providing them with stability and were turning their minds to the facets of care required for the children's development and happiness.
'However, by taking the children away on such short notice, the Society took that away from them and contributed to the turmoil these children had already faced in their short lives. As (a CAS case worker) states in one of her case notes, "is it more important to have the Easter Bunny or permanency?" The Society very clearly chose the Easter Bunny.'
The Baars made their position against lying – including over the existence of Santa Claus – clear to the CAS before being accepted as foster parents, the court heard.
The court also heard how the birth mother was happy with the way the Baars provided Christmas celebrations in 2015, and made no mention of the Easter Bunny despite a series of exchanges between the two parties.
The executive director of the Hamilton CAS, Dominic Verticchio, apologised to the Baars through the National Post for what happened.
'We recognise what our mistakes were,' Verticchio said. 'We respect the decision of the court... and we have to ensure it doesn't happen again.
'I apologise for what the foster parents went through. I can't change the past but I can change the future.'
The Baars are now in the process of applying to adopt a child in Edmonton, where they now live, and hope the ruling helps their application move smoothly through the bureaucracy.