Understanding the work of the Commission
In 2015, the Ontario government asked the Honourable Justice Susan Lang to conduct an Independent Review of the methodology and science used by the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (“MDTL”) when conducting hair strand testing for drugs and alcohol. Justice Lang found that the testing conducted by the “MDTL” was unreliable for use in court cases. She also recommended that a second review be implemented to examine individual cases affected by the hair testing conducted by the “MDTL”. Read more about Justice Susan Lang’s report.
The Government of Ontario, through Order in Council, established the Motherisk Commission on January 15, 2016 and appointed Justice Judith Beaman as Commissioner. To read the Order in Council, click here.
The mandate of the Commission was established by Order in Council on January 15, 2016. As a major part of its mandate, the Commission will lead and establish a Review and Resource Centre to conduct legal reviews of individual cases and to provide support for affected persons. To read more about the Commission’s mandate, click here.
According to the terms of the Order in Council, the Commission has established a Review and Resource Centre. The Review and Resource Centre will primarily provide the following services:
- Identify and review individual child protection cases identified as “high priority” – cases that remain open at an Ontario child protection agency and where the child has not yet been placed for adoption;
- Review all individual child protection case where a request is made by a member of the public who may have been affected by hair testing done by the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (“MDTL”);
- Offer support and assistance to families affected by flawed hair strand testing;
- Engage with parties and stakeholders who would have an interest in the effective operation of the Review and Resource Centre and the completion of the Commission’s mandate.
The Commission will finish its work two years after the date of the Order in Council, which is January 15, 2018.
I think that Motherisk hair-strand testing was involved in a case: how can the Commission assist me or someone I know?
An “affected person” is any person affected by a test conducted by the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (“MDTL”). These persons may include:
- The person whose hair was tested
- Any other family member of the person whose hair was tested
- The child or children of the person whose hair was tested
- The sibling of any child or children of the person whose hair was tested
- Any person who, through adoption or other care arrangements (customary care agreement, kinship placement, or a custody order) has a relationship with the child or children who was the subject of a case where a person’s hair was tested.
- Any other person who offered a plan for a child or children who was the subject of a case where a person’s hair was tested.
- The band or native community of a child or children who was the subject of a case where a person’s hair was tested, where that child or children is an Indian or native person as defined in the Child and Family Services Act.
Anyone who was involved with an Ontario child protection agency and had a hair test conducted by the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (“MDTL”) should contact the Commission about supports and services.
My hair was tested at the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (“MDTL”) at Sick Kids Hospital and it came back that I was using drugs and/or alcohol. The child protection agency took my kids away. When can I get my kids back?
Please contact the Commission to start a legal review of your file.
The Commission has established a legal review process for high priority cases and cases brought to our attention by individual applicants. If, after the legal review process, the Commissioner determines that the results of the “MDTL” substantially impacted your child protection case, the Commission may assist you with obtaining a legal remedy, including referring you to a lawyer for advice about your next steps.
Your child may still be an “affected person” and may be eligible for services through the Commission. Your adult child should contact the Commission to determine whether we can help.
I'm not sure if Motherisk testing was involved in a case: some other questions related to hair strand testing services and child protection cases
In some cases, even if your hair was collected for another laboratory, it may have been sent to the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (“MDTL”) for the test. We have a list of people whose hair was tested by the “MDTL” and the list includes people whose hair was collected by another laboratory. The list is incomplete because the “MDTL” did not keep complete and comprehensive records of their testing. We can request additional documentation from the other lab if the records that we have are unclear or inconclusive about where the testing was done.
In cases where it has been determined that the “MDTL” conducted the hair test, the Commission will provide services according to its mandate. However, if another laboratory collected your hair and it was not sent to the “MDTL”“MDTL” for testing, you will not be eligible for services through the Commission.
I’m not sure if my hair was tested at the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (“MDTL”) or another laboratory. What should I do?
Please contact the Commission for assistance.
I lived in another province and a child protection agency in that province had my hair tested. Will you look at my file?
Unfortunately, we are unable to provide services if you received a hair test outside of Ontario. The Commission only has the authority to look at cases involving an Ontario child protection agency.
Some concerns that you may have about getting in touch with us
Is the Motherisk Commission connected in any way to Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies or other Ontario child protection agencies?
No. We are completely independent of any provincial child protection agencies. Where a case has been identified for legal review, the Commission will obtain information from the relevant agency. However, the Commission does not otherwise consult with or take direction from Ontario child protection agencies for the purposes of its legal review of cases.
Is the Motherisk Commission connected to the Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory (“MDTL”) or the Hospital for Sick Children?
No. The “MDTL” was closed in April 2015. The Commission is not connected with the laboratory in any way. The Commission was established to review cases where hair testing was conducted at the “MDTL”. Read more about the laboratory’s history.
The Commission is also entirely separate from the Hospital for Sick Children. The Commission does not consult with the Hospital for Sick Children for the purposes of its legal review of cases.
No. Although the Commission was established by an Order in Council, it is completely independent of the government. The Commission has the freedom to establish and conduct its work independent of the government.
Absolutely. There are security measures in place to make sure that your information will remain confidential. No confidential information about you or your family will be released without your express consent.
Information for adoptive parents
I am an adoptive parent and I have been waiting for the final adoption of my child who was placed with me after she was permanently removed from her birth parent’s home. I haven’t heard anything. What can I do?
Please contact your child protection agency for further information.
Some general information about Commissions
Commissions are set up to investigate important issues in Canada. Commissions are designed to be independent. They are led by a “Commissioner”. A Commissioner is usually a judge, expert or other distinguished individual. Commissions are intended to assist in developing public policy by gathering information, analysing it, and then providing recommendations about a particular issue. Some Commissions have a broad scope, dealing with questions of public policy, such as health care services (the “Hall Commission” in 1964). Other commissions are set up to look into specific issues, cases, or instances of wrongdoing, such as the inquiry on how the water in Walkerton, Ontario became contaminated (the “Walkerton Inquiry” in 2000).
Commissions are established by an Order in Council. An Order in Council sets out the specific issues and questions that the Commission will examine. It is made by Cabinet under the Public Inquiries Act. The Order in Council that established the Motherisk Commission on January 15, 2016, was made by the provincial government of Ontario, rather than the federal government of Canada. This is because child welfare matters fall under provincial oversight.
Once a commission has been established, the commissioner hires staff and decides on rules of practice and procedure. Ultimately, the commissioner produces a report that is made publicly available. It is important to understand that a commission is not designed to conduct a police investigation or to make a finding of guilt as a court would. A commission cannot determine if someone is civilly liable or criminally guilty. A commission has the power to gather evidence, to reflect on it, and to come to decisions and conclusions based on the information that it has obtained. The work of a commission may then influence government action and their responses to individual cases, and, more broadly, shape public policy on a go-forward basis.
Some general information about the child protection system in Ontario
The child protection system refers broadly to legislation and government services designed to protect children from abuse and neglect. Child protection agencies are responsible for investigating allegations of abuse and neglect, supervising foster care placements when a child is removed from their home, and arranging adoptions or providing long-term services when a court determines that a child cannot be returned to their home. Child protection agencies must first explore whether they can provide support services that will enable a family to remain intact. However, the Child and Family Services Act directs that the best interests, protection and well-being of children are the primary focus of agencies and courts handing child protection matters.
Most people who come into contact with the child welfare system do not set out to inflict harm on their children. Often, they are socially and economically marginalized. Issues of poverty, inadequate housing, substance abuse, and mental and physical difficulties impact the kind of care that they may be able to provide for their children or the choices that they make as parents. In some instances, social policies such as the residential school system have caused lasting damage on multiple generations of parents and children.
It is widely recognized that people of colour and Indigenous background are significantly overrepresented in the child welfare system. Parents involved with a CAS and the court system must contend with the regular presence of a government agency in their home and personal lives, and the care of their children may be subject to significant scrutiny. The provincial government regularly considers revisions to the child protection system, looking to balance community, family and individual autonomy while still maintaining children’s safety as the central focus of the system.