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Protecting Children’s Best Interests: Mature Minors, Faith and Canadian Jurisprudence

22 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2010 Last revised: 18 Jul 2010

Heather Ann Hillsburg

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: April 27, 2010


Jehovah’s Witnesses are consistently marginalized within the Canadian legal system. This discrimination is particularly noticeable in cases involving children such as child custody battles, as well as in the language used at law to describe the Witness religion. Children are characterized at law as “choosing” mainstream religion, whereas Witness elders “coerce”, “force” or “inculcate” children into a religion that will ultimately harm them. The biases within this language played a key role in the 2009 A.C. v. Manitoba decision. In this case, the court rules that a 15 year-old girl suffering from Crohn’s disease was ordered to undergo a blood transfusion against her will. The court grounded its decision in sections 25(8) and 25(9) of the Canadian child and family services act, stipulating that a child could be subjected to medial treatment that doctors deemed to be in their “best interests”, and that a child under the age of 16, unless deemed to be a mature minor by psychiatrists, could not make their own medical decisions. While psychiatrists decided that A.C. was a mature minor, the court overruled these findings. A.C. challenged the decision on the grounds that sections 25(8) and 25(9) of the Child and Family Services were arbitrary and discriminatory, but was ultimately forced to undergo a blood transfusion.

In this essay, I will draw from child custody cases to illustrate that “choosing” one’s religion used as a marker of maturity at law. The language of “force” and “coercion” used to depict Witness teachings constructs Witness children as incapable of critically choosing their own faith. As a result, any medical decisions informed by Witness beliefs are the result of “brainwashing” rather than of maturity or sound decision-making. Consequently, the doctrine of mature minor is not extended to Witness children in Canadian law.

Keywords: Jehovah's Witness, Canadian Law, Best Interests, transfusions

Suggested Citation

Hillsburg, Heather Ann, Protecting Children’s Best Interests: Mature Minors, Faith and Canadian Jurisprudence (April 27, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Heather Ann Hillsburg (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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