Sunday, April 13, 2008

False accusation of child abuse was a nightmare, says B.C. man

BY JEFF DAVIES — A B.C. man who lost his job and his reputation because of a false accusation of child abuse wants the province to exonerate him so he can return to working with young people.

"I can't go back and work in that field until I have a piece of paper that says what they did was wrong and the compensation to prove that what they did was wrong," Robert Glen Harrison said on Thursday.

Harrison says the last two years have been a nightmare.

"I've spent many sleepless nights — the panic that you get … will grip you when you realize what they are saying about you, and it's not true," he said.

Harrison's problems stem from a complaint made against him in 1996, when he and his wife were running a daycare in Sechelt, a coastal community about 70 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Someone complained to child welfare authorities that years before they had heard noises of heavy breathing, squeaking bed springs and a child saying "No, Daddy," at the family's home. The complainant suggested Harrison might have been abusing his five-year-old daughter.

At the time, the authorities considered the complaint so vague and unreliable it didn't even warrant an investigation, and Harrison wasn't told the complaint had been made.

But it remained in a government file.

A decade later, Harrison got a job as a one-on-one therapist at a home for troubled youth in the Lower Mainland, and a background check was carried out.

A resource worker with the Ministry of Children and Family Development alerted his new employers about the earlier complaint and recommended he not be allowed to work alone with young people.

Harrison was fired.

But he fought back and complained to the Information and Privacy Commissioner that his privacy rights had been violated. Last year, the commissioner dismissed his complaint.

So Harrison went to court, and on Wednesday, Supreme Court of B.C. Justice Ian Pitfield quashed the earlier ruling.

"This is a striking example of the harm that an individual may suffer as a consequence of a provincial government ministry accumulating, retaining, using and disclosing personal information, purportedly in a manner consistent with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act," Pitfield wrote.

The judge ruled the ministry's conduct appears to have denied Harrison the right to work in the child care field by disclosing the unsubstantiated complaint.

In an unusual move, the judge said Harrison "may be compelled" to sue for defamation or negligence.

In the meantime Harrison has been working as a limousine driver and said he can't return to child care until he's been completely exonerated.

Harrison's case is far from unique, said Darrell Evans, the executive director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

"We're constantly emphasizing how dangerous false information in an individual's file can be, and the fact that false information can come from very unreliable sources," Evans says. "You know, one false report in a file can destroy a life."

Original Article -
False accusation of child abuse was a nightmare, says B.C. man

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