Child Services Loves Santa Claus: A Canadian Cultural Experience
by Colin Postma
Magic was in the air last month – sleigh bells ringing, fires crackling, snow glistening and all that – if you believe the songs on mind-numbing repeat in every store. It’s the Canadian experience of Christmas: dragging yourself through shopping lists, falling asleep at the wheel while waiting for the traffic jams to clear out, and being jolted awake with the horrid realization you forgot to get anything good for Aunt Gertrude.
Amidst all the wonder and merriment of this ‘essential Canadian cultural experience’, a case proceeded in a Hamilton courtroom, where the name Santa Claus was heard frequently.
Like many orthodox Christians, Derek and Frances Baars do not take part in the cultural practice of Santa Claus, believing it is a distraction from the true focus of the season – the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In early 2015, the Baars applied to become foster parents. After months of home studies and invasive interviews, the Baars were approved by the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton (CAS) in December of 2015. During this process, the Baars made it clear that they did not celebrate Halloween, nor would they support any idea of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny with any children placed in their care.
Within a few days, two children were placed into their care. The needs of CAS are so great that rapid placement of children is not at all unusual. In fact, in the Baars’ evidence was a copy of an article from the Hamilton Spectator stating that the CAS had over 500 unplaced children looking for stable fostering homes.
That same month, my wife and I and our two daughters visited the Baars in their home in Hamilton. After only a few short weeks with the girls, the Baars had adapted to their role as foster parents exceptionally well. They had routines well in place for the girls and the girls were happy and healthy. Derek played the piano, I played the organ, and we sang together with the girls. The girls had obviously found a much needed, stable, healthy foster home.
In January of 2016, shortly after our visit, the CAS worker responsible for the Baars met them for the first time. The meeting did not go well, according to Frances Baars. In her affidavit, she stated, “Ms. Lindsay [the case worker] informed us that it was part of our duty as foster parents to teach about the giant imaginary rabbit known as the Easter Bunny, because she considered it a part of Canadian culture… Thereafter, each subsequent time Ms. Lindsay called us she would reiterate the ‘requirement’ that we celebrate Easter with the foster children by informing them that the Easter Bunny was real.” By March, after more calls and meetings with Ms. Lindsay, CAS decided to remove the children from the Baars care and close the home.
During the court proceedings last month, we heard from the Baars’ lawyer, Marty Moore, of the heartbreaking moment the girls were taken from the Baars home. With barely time to say goodbye, the children told the Baars, “We’ll see you soon.” This was not to be.
I must admit that when I first heard of this case, I thought there must be something more to it than just Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But reading through the affidavit of the CAS worker before the hearing, I could not find anything else that the CAS lawyer could use to strengthen its case against the Baars.
The judge asked the Baars’ lawyer, Marty Moore, about this very thing. Mr. Moore’s response made it clear that, as incredulous as it might seem, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were indeed what the case hinged upon. He meticulously reviewed Frances Baars’ affidavit, along with letters between the Baars and CAS and between the Baars and the birth mother, to show that there really was no other issue. You can read Frances Baars’ affidavit here.
When the Baars’ lawyer finished, the lawyer for CAS, Mr. Wood, stood. With so little to give the court, it was clear Mr. Wood was not in an easy place. The gist of his argument was that the CAS case workers felt the girls’ birth mother wanted them to experience Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in the ‘traditional way.’ When pressed by the judge, however, Mr. Wood had no evidence that the birth mother had made such a request. In fact, a letter from her to the Baars after Christmas implied she was happy with the way the girls had celebrated the season.
Mr. Wood argued further that CAS believed it was their duty to vigorously enforce ‘Canadian cultural norms’ like Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, and Halloween – that every Canadian child should have the right to enjoy those traditions. As Mr. Wood put it, anything less would rob them of the “magic of the season”. When the judge pointed out that the Baars took the girls to a family gathering, gave them gifts, and included them in their family’s Christmas traditions, Mr. Wood contended all of that was inadequate. In the CAS workers’ opinion, the damage that could have been caused to the girls by ignoring Santa Claus was too great. Thus, they decided to remove the children from the Baars’ care.
Mr. Moore requested a declaration from the judge that, “the Closure [of the Baars foster home] is unreasonable, discriminatory and contrary to fundamental rights and freedoms found in sections 2(a), 2(b), and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Though I expected to hear something more from CAS than what has made the news, they had nothing. I couldn’t help but feel that the CAS was wasting the court’s time. Frankly, their commitment to the importance of teaching kids the myth of Santa Claus looked a little ridiculous.
The Washington Post recently ran an article by Carrie Dunsmore called, “For parents, the truth about Santa can be the hardest conversation of all.” She writes, “I felt guilty having to tell [my son] that his parents had lied to him for all these years… And so, fessing up to a lie, even a beautiful one, hurt. There’s not much I can do about it now, except keep on with the truth telling and hope for the best. But it has soured me, just a bit, on the magic of Santa.” Maybe the ‘cultural norm’ of teaching the Santa myth is not really all it’s cracked up to be. At a minimum, it should not be a requirement for Canadian foster parents to teach this to foster children.
We remain hopeful and prayerful that the judge will find this kind of behaviour from child services inappropriate and that Christians will remain free and willing to foster and adopt children.