Lawyer group challenges family law protests, local activists not backing down

A group representing more than 11,000 lawyers throughout the province is sounding off against recent demonstrations in the region, essentially crying foul.

The County & District Law Presidents’ Association says, through a letter penned by Brockville attorney Michael Johnston, that recent protests by Canadians For Family Law Reform have brought “unfair attention to the family justice system.”

There has been a number of high-profile demonstrations carried out over the past few months in Sarnia and Chatham, some in front of local lawyers’, including George McFadyen, Nancy Pringle, and Ian Bruce, law offices. Activists recently joined members in other cities across Ontario on Family Day for a public candle-light vigil to “honour broken families” and “demand changes in family law.”

Family law reform proponents have said the current system is broken, adding that some family lawyers intentionally stir more conflict between former spouses and cash in from cases that can last years.

CFFLR co-founder Jim Canie said that they’re trying to bring awareness to the community about the problems that exist in the family law system, adding that he believes while it’s a big problem in Ontario and across Canada, “it’s a huge problem in Sarnia.”

“Unless you’re involved with the family law system, or you know somebody, have a relative or a friend, you don’t know this is going on,” he said.

Last week, Sarnia lawyer Janet Whitehead, who is vice-chairperson of the County & District Law Presidents’ Association, was quoted saying she believes most family lawyers actually try to settle cases as quickly and efficiently as possible, especially with the high demand for their services.

“Frankly we don’t have enough family lawyers in Sarnia,” she said Friday. “Most of them have very heavy workloads and so it’s not in their best interest to drag things out. They want to move forward, they want to get their clients serviced and it’s always important to have a happy client.”

In most cases, the family law field now recommends using alternative methods to resolving disputes than court, noted Whitehead. Sarnia residents can now actually access mediation services through a new program at the courthouse.

Dave Burgess, a co-founder of the local family law reform group, responded saying some family law lawyers tell their clients to demand more and more from their ex, convincing them to make more claims against them that they wouldn’t have done otherwise. “What results are bankruptcies, psychological trauma for children, and grueling court battles that can last, in some instances, 10 years or more.”

Ontario recently expanded its unified family court program to include Sarnia and Chatham courthouses. Services include a mandatory information session, free on-site meditation, an information referral coordinator and subsidized off-site mediation.

Burgess responded saying, “It should be clearly pointed out that Sarnia is not in fact a unified Family court location,” adding that the law association’s letter is ambiguous and “leads the reader to assume Sarnia supposedly enjoys the benefits of the unified family court system when that’s simply not the case.”

When asked if people are aware of these services, Whitehead said the association is “working on public education.”

“Most of these expansions, at least here in Sarnia, are relatively new,” she said. “They’ve only been implemented since the fall and we’ve been trying to get the word out to people.”

Whitehead, who has practiced family law for 17 years, said she has seen the system improve. However, she said it is always evolving because family dynamics change with each new generation.

Local family law reform activists disagree.

Years ago, women didn’t work out of the home, so the division of household assets wasn’t as complicated. Canada actually only passed its first Divorce Act in 1968.

“Our members will continue to bring what we feel is very fair and much needed attention to a broken Family Law system here in Sarnia and we will not back down on this strategy,” said Burgess.

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  • Joe Edwards

    I CHALLENGE THE “”The County & District Law President’s Association”” TO A PUBLIC DEBATE ON THIS ISSUE!!!!…..I CHALLENGE YOU TO SIT DOWN WITH ME AT A TABLE IN FRONT OF THE MEDIA AND DISCUSS HOW “”fair and correct”” MY CASE HAS BEEN CONDUCTED….I HAVE MY FILE AND WE CAN LAY IT OUT ON THE TABLE IN FRONT OF EVERYONE!!!……WHAT DO YOU SAY JANET WHITHEAD???…..BRING GEORGE McFADYEN AND MR. JOHNSON AND ANYONE ELSE YOU WANT….MY FILE WILL BE RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU….HERE IS YOUR CHANCE TO PROVE THAT CFFLR IS WRONG……WHAT SAY YOU???????

  • In my opinion, Michael Johnston and Janet Whitehead are quite simply in “damage control” mode. What they have done with their letters is quite simply insulted the intelligence of the local community and the people of Ontario for that matter. To say what they’ve said is the only thing that they CAN do to try and defer the publicity of the “Broken Family Law System” here locally. In fact, by their actions, what they have done is brought on more attention to the problem in Sarnia, in Ontario and Canada and we thank you for that. Keep those letters coming!

    It is only through the efforts of the “Canadians For Family Law Reform” group and other groups like us that the system will change. We have 450 members on our Facebook site. All REAL individuals who have and have had issues with the system. Individuals from all across Canada! Are they all wrong? I think not! They all have the documentation to prove otherwise! We have had Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts, Brothers and Sisters, Mothers and Fathers, Children of the Family Law victims and family friends who have attended and supported the CFFLR rallies and public meetings. These are the people who have suffered and are being treated unfairly Mr. Johnston! Not your group of overly paid, money hungry Family Law lawyers. Even everyday ordinary people with no connections or CFFLR affiliation are fed up of hearing about all the crap that goes on within the “Family Law System”.

    The pressure and attention to these problems, here in Sarnia have NEVER been brought to light in such a way that it is being done now. Is it unfair? Absolutely not! Here’s what’s unfair Mr. Johnston! The Family Law lawyers of the community in Sarnia and Lambton County and Ontario have had a field day with 1000’s and 1000’s of innocent victims caught in this “Broken Family Law System”. People who have gone bankrupt, people who have been alienated from their children, people who have lost custody of their children because of CAS involvement, people who have been wrongly incarcerated with false allegations, people who have taken their own lives, people who have ended up in mental health facilities, people who have turned to drugs and alcohol, people who have lost everything! That’s what’s unfair Mr. Johnston and Mrs. Whitehead! It’s unfair that you and your association continue to make the lives of the these people of Sarnia, Lambton County and Ontario intolerable by the abuse inflicted by your lawyers within the Family Law system.

    What the CFFLR has done is brought to the forefront the problems associated with the Family Law System in Ontario! Before it was only just the Family Law victims, friends and their families who knew about it. Now everyone knows and YOU PEOPLE don’t like the attention. Well live with it! We are not going away! “WE WON’T BACK DOWN!”

    The “Canadians For Family Law Reform” are being talked about across Canada by the legal community, health professionals, politicians and everyday people on the street. Mr. Johnston, when I go out in the community and I am approached by people everywhere I go with high fives, handshakes and “thanks for what you are doing” and “it’s about time that somebody is doing something about this!” I know we are doing the right thing! I know that we are right and I know that YOU Michael Johnston and Janet Whitehead and the rest of the local Family Law lawyers in this community are scared of what’s forthcoming! This is why the damage control! By insulting the intelligence of the people of Sarnia and Ontario, Mr. Johnston and Mrs. Whitehead, you have only helped our cause. Thanks for the publicity because as the saying goes “any publicity is good publicity!” Much appreciated!

    Sincerely,

    Jim Canie
    Co-Founder Canadians For Family Law Reform

  • Cathie

    The LSUC is being a bit dishonest. Their website has info. how a lawyer can legally harass a spouse self represented spouse, How not to cooperate and they themselves demand high fees and tell people to take out loans. I had a few tell me that and some would not talk to me if i said i wanted a divorce. Duty Council lawyers often are badly trained, judges are have often looked at on motion from one party and not the other. And when divorce by the way the law is written, can be dragged out and the lawyers lobby for not having new changes, then cry we are the problem, they are simply lying. The Law Commission reports back this information up. As does the LSUC own published info. All public.

  • Cathie

    How to Avoid the Complaint-Dealing with Unrepresented and Self …
    1 Last reviewed: October 2008 How to Avoid the Complaint-Dealing with Unrepresented and Self-represented Parties in Family Law One of the more challenging issues that …
    rc.lsuc.on.ca/pdf/kt/avoidComplaintFamily.pdf · PDF file

    Dealing with Self-Represented Litigants – The Law Society of Upper …
    The unprecedented rise in self-represented litigants means that … Teleseminar materials are provided as PDF only. … to enter the CPD Hours for that program into the LSUC …
    ecom.lsuc.on.ca/cpd/product.jsp?id=CLE07-0111101

    Some lawyers have now sued when complaints have been made against them with the LSUC. Then they should stick to the rules of ethics by the LSUC. They should also not be self governed. Provincial laws should regulate lawyers.

  • Ed

    The following spew by Mr Johnston really kills me;

    “This is why most responsible family law lawyers, and those working within the family justice system, will do everything they can to help the parties to work toward resolving some or all of their own issues.”

    So Mr. Johnston. Of your 11,000 members. Could you please provide me with a list of the one’s you consider ‘responsible’. Then please tell me how I can decipher which of those would fall into the ‘most’ category – since apparently not even all of your ‘responsible’ members will provide ethical services!

    Then, maybe myself and my children can go without groceries, shelter, etc so that we can afford to hire one of your associations responsible lawyers. I guess my children and I will then gamble that we got one of the responsible ones that fell into the most category. That person can then help us work toward resolving some of our ‘own’ issues!

    What an absurd joke!

  • Ya nice post. I really like this its very informative thanks for share it. A family court is a court convened to decide matters and make orders in relation to family law, such as custody of children. In common-law jurisdictions “family courts” are statutory creations primarily dealing with equitable matters devolved from a court of inherent jurisdiction, such as a superior court.

    7 TIPS To APPEAR IN FAMILY COURT.

    Be on time, Dress appropriately, Be courteous to court staff, Treat your Lawyer and you opposition’s Lawyer with respect, Be on your best behavior, Get your emotions in check, Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • Ya nice post. I really like this its very informative thanks for share it. A family court is a court convened to decide matters and make orders in relation to family law, such as custody of children. In common-law jurisdictions “family courts” are statutory creations primarily dealing with equitable matters devolved from a court of inherent jurisdiction, such as a superior court.

    7 TIPS To APPEAR IN FAMILY COURT.

    Be on time, Dress appropriately, Be courteous to court staff, Treat your Lawyer and you opposition’s Lawyer with respect, Be on your best behavior, Get your emotions in check, Don’t be afraid to ask questions.