Children’s aid society says it has fired Toronto lawyer who argued a 14-year-old girl is a ‘sexually mature young woman’

The woman alleges she was sexually abused as a child by her foster father while under the care of the agency’s predecessor organization.

In responding to an affidavit from the woman’s lawyer, McCallum stated:

“A fourteen or fifteen (sic) is a sexually mature young woman. Not a ‘child,’ as the term is generally understood.”

Kenora CFS executive director Bill Leonard said in a Monday news release he had met with agency’s board of directors earlier in the day and McCallum had been fired.

“This statement is appalling and intolerable, and I agree with comments reported regarding the abhorrent nature of this statement,” Leonard said in the news release.

“Under Ontario’s Child, Youth and Family Services Act, anyone under the age of 18 is considered to be a child. Kenora-Rainy River Districts Child and Family Services takes the protection of all children very seriously.

“Mr. McCallum’s statement undermines this commitment and is in no way reflective of our practice, knowledge or belief. His services have been terminated effective today.”

The Star could not immediately reach McCallum for comment.

McCallum’s statement was described to the Star by other lawyers and a professor of social work as “offensive,” “shocking,” and “appalling” — doubly so because it was made by the lawyer for the very agency charged with protecting the most vulnerable children.

“This is outrageous,” said Melissa Redmond, assistant professor of social work at Carleton University. “You represent the organization that is responsible for protecting children in this community, protecting children from exactly the sorts of horrific circumstances that this child found herself in.”

The statement first appears in a July 2018 affidavit in which McCallum responds to an affidavit of the plaintiff’s lawyer, Simona Jellinek, which McCallum said is “rife with errors, imprecisions, and misrepresentations.” (Jellinek declined to comment to the Star.)

“She states that the alleged assaults took place while the plaintiff was ‘in childhood,’” McCallum states in his affidavit before arguing a girl of the plaintiff’s age is “sexually mature” and not a child.

As other lawyers have pointed out, McCallum’s position — which has been in the public record for about eight months since the affidavit was sworn in July 2018 — was effectively the agency’s position, as he had been acting for it in court.

“He’s speaking on behalf of a children’s aid society,” said lawyer Loretta Merritt, whose practice is almost exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs in civil cases involving sexual abuse. She added it is “deeply concerning” that a children’s aid society would ever take that view.

Kenora CFS refused to say when it became aware of McCallum’s statement, but told the Star last week it disagrees with his argument, which it called “inaccurate.”

It’s “disappointing” if Kenora CFS didn’t know at the time that their lawyer had made such a statement in court, said Allen Wynperle, president-elect of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, which represents lawyers acting for plaintiffs.

“I would have hoped that they would be aware of the comments that their lawyer is making, and certainly if they weren’t, that’s a problem and a concern,” he said.

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant

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