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Sunday, 25 November 2012

Foster care, race and politics

According to the press, a foster couple in Rotherham have had their children removed by the local authority on the ground that they were members of UKIP.

A year and a half ago I wrote about foster carers who had been in the headlines because the local authority apparently did not approve of their views on homosexuality.  My conclusion was:

There are many aspects of prospective foster parents that ought to be properly investigated - their financial probity and security, lack of criminal convictions, empathy with children, reasons for wanting to become foster parents, previous involvement with children in whatever capacity, and so forth. Their religious and political views, unless extremist, should not be towards the top of that list.

The same conclusion applies in this case, and therefore the local authority was in the wrong.

Meanwhile Macclesfield Magistrates' Court have apparently convicted a woman of a racially aggravated public order offence on the ground that she called her neighbour a "stupid fat Australian" when the neighbour was in fact a New Zealander. 

As a New Zealander myself this made me raise my eyebrows.  In common with most other Kiwis I would be quite wealthy if I had a pound for every time I have been mistaken for an Australian.  It is always a source of amusement more than anything.  Sometimes the person who has made the mistake is embarrassed, though relieved when I point out it does not bother me one way or the other (why should it? I am sure I have mistaken the odd Canadian for American or vice versa.  All it shows is ignorance on the part of the person who makes the mistake - not an insult against the other person).

More to the point, I do not see how "New Zealand" can refer to race.  Since the beginning of European settlement there New Zealand has always been at least a bicultural country, and demographics nowadays show it to be quite mixed ethnically. Thus the fact that one was born and raised there and has the accent to prove it says nothing about one's race.  I would instead describe "New Zealand" in that context as a culture, though you could make a case that as a multicultural country there are far fewer shared cultural assumptions amongst Kiwis than there might have been twenty or more years ago.

The underlying problem is the provision in public order offences of religious and racial insults as aggravating forms of harassment.  This is well meaning, but in practice likely to be very problematic, as we have seen with religious cases in the past.  Better I would have thought to have a general offence concerning harassment, and to consider all aggravating and mitigating factors as part of the sentencing exercise.

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