Pubdate: Tue, 13 Dec 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Author: Rachel Mendleson
Page: A1


Hospital should own its role, and help foot bill, in fallout from
faulty drug tests, CAS head says

Children's aid societies are calling on the Hospital for Sick Children
to "step up" and own the role it played in the Motherisk scandal that
saw faulty drug and alcohol hair tests used in thousands of child
protection cases.

Mary Ballantyne, executive director of the Ontario Association of
Children's Aid Societies (OACAS), said Sick Kids, which housed the
discredited Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory, should do more to
assist in the significant efforts underway to deliver justice to those

"Behind a true apology is continuing to make amends and . . .
continuing to help with the work that needs to be done," Ballantyne
said in an interview on Monday. "I would like to see Sick Kids stand
behind their apology. I don't know that we're seeing them step up."

Sick Kids, which had previously defended the reliability of
Motherisk's hair tests, issued a public apology in October 2015 for
"unacceptable" practices at the lab after completing an internal probe.

Soon after, retired justice Susan Lang's independent review of
Motherisk - conducted amid an ongoing Star investigation - found the
hospital failed to provide meaningful oversight of Motherisk, and the
lab's hair and drug alcohol test results were "inadequate" and
"unreliable" for use in child protection and criminal cases.

Established on Lang's recommendation, the Motherisk Commission of
Inquiry is now reviewing high-priority child protection cases to see
if positive Motherisk tests - often accepted without question as proof
of parental substance abuse - played too significant a role in
decisions to remove children from their families. These review efforts
depend heavily on children's aid societies, which spend between eight
and 20 hours on each file, according to OACAS. The Ministry of
Children and Youth Services has given $1.5 million in additional
funding to OACAS. Although Sick Kids has provided information to help
locate relevant files, the hospital has yet to contribute financially,
Ballantyne said.

"The costs that are involved in doing this work are significant, so
what role are they and can they be playing in these costs?" she said.

Sick Kids declined to make CEO Michael Apkon available for an
interview on Monday. In a response to an email from the Star, hospital
spokesperson Matet Nebres said only that "the hospital continues to
cooperate with (the) ongoing review, and to provide support if and
when requested, in order to address the concerns of families who
believe that they may have been negatively affected by the Motherisk
Drug Testing Lab."

SickKids has been named in several proposed lawsuits. Apkon has
previously acknowledged the hospital "may need to participate in
compensating impacted families."

Before the lab was shuttered in 2015, Motherisk actively marketed its
hair drug and alcohol tests to child protection agencies, which
commissioned the lab to test the hair of 16,000 individuals between
2005 and 2015, Lang found. With each test costing $700, it was a
lucrative proposition, as the Star has previously reported. Motherisk
commission lawyer Lorne Glass said SickKids has been "very
co-operative" in terms of organizing their data to make it easier for
his team to connect with children's aid societies and reach affected
families, but he declined to weigh in on the question of additional

"We're independent of the agencies. What we're looking for is to see
cases where parents and children should get another shot at it. And .
. . Sick Kids, they've assisted us in doing that," he said.

The commission, lead by retired justice Judith Beaman, has so far
reviewed more than 500 cases. Of those, it has identified 17 where
Motherisk results played a significant role - evidence, as Ballantyne
sees it, that in most cases, the societies appropriately weighed a
variety of factors. Ballantyne stressed that Children's Aid Societies
work closely with Sick Kids "all the time," emphasizing the need to
"maintain that relationship and trust."

That trust was tested in October 2014, when a court of appeal decision
in a criminal case that had relied on the Motherisk's hair drug cast
doubt on the reliability of the lab's evidence, which was previously
seen as almost infallible.

Child protection agencies were unclear about how to proceed in active
files that had relied on Motherisk testing, so Ballantyne sought
answers from Sick Kids.

"We were told all the way up the line that there was not a problem,"
she said. "We believed it because they (the hospital) brought their
experts in to prove (it) to us."

That changed in November 2014, when the ministry appointed Lang to
conduct a review of five years of Motherisk testing. But it wasn't
until the next spring the societies received clear direction from the
government to stop relying on Motherisk tests.

A Star investigation found the method Motherisk was using to test hair
for drugs prior to 2010 was not considered by experts to be the
"gold-standard test." The Lang report, which expanded its scope from
five years of hair testing to 10, confirmed this finding, and
concluded Motherisk's tests "fell woefully short of internationally
recognized forensic standards."

Ballantyne's reaction to the Lang report was, as she puts it, "Like,
whoa. Clearly we didn't have the whole story."

While she acknowledged "we are all learning" from the problems at
Motherisk, she said too much blame has been placed on the societies.

"One of the primary experts in the province of Ontario that put itself
out there as having this expertise, in fact didn't really have this
expertise. That was a big part of the travesty," she said. "Sick Kids
does a lot of great work for children, but it this situation, they
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