The lawyer for an Ontario children’s aid society has been fired after claiming a 14- or 15-year-old girl is a “sexually mature young woman,” not a child.

Toronto lawyer Gary McCallum first made the claim in a written statement last year during court proceedings for a civil case, in which a woman is suing Kenora-Rainy River Districts Child and Family Services. The woman claims she was sexually abused by her foster father in the 1980s, when she was a teen and under the care of a preceding agency in the Northwestern Ontario city.

“A fourteen or fifteen (sic) girl is a sexually mature young woman, not a ‘child,’ as the term is conventionally understood,” McCallum stated.

Bill Leonard, the executive director of the Kenora-Rainy River Districts Child and Family Services said in a statement that McCallum’s remarks are in “no way reflective of our practice, knowledge or belief,” and that “his services have been terminated effective today.”

“This statement is appalling and intolerable, and I agree with comments reported regarding the abhorrent nature of this statement,” Leonard continued.

Child welfare experts responded to a Toronto Star report on McCallum’s statement on Sunday. In an interview with CTV’s Your Morning, Torkin Manes lawyer Loretta Merritt, who represents victims of sexual abuse, called it “appalling.”

“It’s quite shocking to me. If the Children’s Aid Society didn’t know (the statement) was being made, that would be quite surprising. It would mean that the lawyer was acting without his client’s authority or instructions, which would be unusual,” said Merritt. “If they did bless a statement like that being made, that’s even more concerning.”

Legally, the statement is “simply wrong,” she added. Anyone under 18 is considered to be a child under Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act, which is the law that governs the Children’s Aid Societies. In criminal law, anyone under 16 is a child and incapable of consenting to sexual activity.

This ongoing case is civil. That means that there is “no hard line in the sand” for age, said Merritt.

“They look at all of the factors in determining whether consent happened,” she said. “Even if this 14-year-old had engaged in previous sexual activity, I find it almost beyond belief to suggest that any court would ever think that a 14- or 15-year-old girl would consent to sexual activity with her 40-year-old foster father. It’s ridiculous.”