Province must pay legal costs of family of austic child 

Ryan Ross, The Guardian
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Guardian file photo of the P.E.I. Provincial Court

Case involved unproven accusations of sexual abuse by father

A P.E.I. judge has ordered the province to pay more than $61,000 in legal costs to the family of an autistic woman in a case that involved unproven accusations of sexual abuse against her father.

Those accusations were made after the use of a technique called facilitated communication, whose reliability numerous studies have questioned.

In a recently released decision, P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice Nancy Key said the minister of health and the province's adult protection program failed the woman and her family.

Key called the minister's, Queens County Residential Services' and adult protection's treatment of the family "deplorable."

The woman, who was in her 30s, has autism spectrum disorder and lived in Queens County Residential Services Inc. group homes for 14 years before her last appearance in court in 2015.

The woman was considered non-verbal with a severe intellectual disability; one assessment determined her level of understanding was that of a one- to two-year-old.

All contact with her family was cut off after the province's adult protection received a referral in January 2015 related to allegations the woman's father sexually abused her.

The allegations were made at Queens County Residential Services through a method called facilitated communication.

Through a facilitator, it was alleged the woman's father committed sexual assault and sexual exploitation against her over a 22-year period.

Her father was never charged.

Further facilitated communications supposedly found the woman didn't want visits with her mother outside of the facility she lived in.

The mother sought to become her daughter's guardian, which led to a legal battle after the minister of health intervened in the case.

Doug Currie was health minister at the time.

An assessment was eventually completed for the family, which found the woman couldn't have made the allegations against her father, but rather they came from her facilitators.

The minister's lawyer said an assessment from a provincial psychologist was "inconclusive."

The woman's parents were eventually named guardians, and she was placed in their care.

The purpose of Key's decision was to deal with costs for the woman's mother's application to be appointed guardian.

In her decision, Key said if the minister of health had conducted an investigation in accordance with the Adult Protection Act it would have been clear early on the woman's communications weren't hers.

One study Key referred to in her decision compared the validity of information provided through facilitated communication to that gathered by a Ouija board.

In total, the woman's mother gave the minister of health and the court 70 studies on the unreliability of facilitated communication.

Key noted in her decision the minister refused to respond promptly or at all to requests to have the woman examined to determine her capacity.

In her decision, Key listed numerous other problems with the way the woman's case was handled, including that the minister refused to carry out his mandated obligations to the detriment of the woman's family.

"The minister of health and its designate must be held accountable," she said.

Key's decision also said the minister acted without legal authority in appointing legal counsel for the woman and in extending a protective intervention order.

She ordered $61,068.25 in costs.  


What: Facilitated communication is a technique involving someone supporting the arm and hand of a person who points at letters, words or pictures. It is used to help people when other methods of communication don't work. Critics of the technique say the facilitator is the one relaying any messages.

What happens next?

Brandon Forbes, one of the lawyers for the family, said they want to take time to reflect on Key's decision before commenting further on it.

"Our clients are relieved that the supreme court has acknowledged the trauma their family has been put through, needlessly," Forbes said.

A spokeswoman for Health P.E.I. said the agency just received the decision and it is now being reviewed.

Organizations: Queens County Residential Services, Ouija board, Health P.E.I.

Geographic location: P.E.I.

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Recent comments

  • Living interest
    March 28, 2016 - 09:40

    Premier is protecting his 'star' Minister......he moved him to another department to avoid questions in the house. And, removed from cabinet the most honest and compassionate MLA of them all......because he didn't agree with Wade! Oh, and where is the deputy Minister of health....Wade moved him to a new higher salary patronage position!

  • Douglas
    March 25, 2016 - 20:20

    Family should sue the health minister and his deputies and also force the resignations of all involved including then premier for misleading and not having the so called open government.

  • Joe Doe
    March 25, 2016 - 18:16


    • Regular Joe
      Regular Joe
      March 25, 2016 - 22:07

      Only one years pension nothing they could not afford .

  • James
    March 25, 2016 - 16:05

    Premier was well aware of this coming down the pipe and moved Currie from Health to Education, another department he failed at over the last ten years. Now we have a revamped Education system because of his incompetence. This guy and his Deputy should go and whoever else had their hand in this. Can one imagine the father falsely accused of sexual assault as the direct result of these Ministers actions and the Premier in my opinion. I hope the father sues them and get millions

  • Peter Johnsson
    March 25, 2016 - 10:24

    A P.E.I. judge has ordered the province to pay more than $61,000 in legal costs ... I don't dispute that these people deserve to have their costs paid. But why should taxpayers pay these costs? I think the costs should be assigned to the person or persons responsible for incurring them.

    • Just wait
      March 25, 2016 - 13:25

      Just wait until the following lawsuit is over! Any coincidence Currie was just moved to a different department? Great "Open" policy Wade. What a joke.

  • Islander
    March 25, 2016 - 09:48

    Minister Currie and his Deputy should be immediately fired over such negligience. This is deplorable. What about the father falesly accused and defamed in public. This award should of been a millions. No we will see what Premier Wade does to protect his incompentent Ministers. Disgraceful, unacceptable behaviour. Hard to sweet talk your educatded way out of this miscarraige of Justice