Local family law reform activists held ‘Occupy the Courthouse 2012’ rally this week, similar rallies held across country

Photographs by Rick Terpstra Photography

Local family law reform activists took part this week in "Occupy the Courthouse 2012" concurrent with other grassroots law reform organizations across the country.

On Friday, Mar. 23 demonstrations took place in three separate locations including at the entrance driveway to the Sarnia courthouse located at the intersection of Christina St. N. and Errol Road, as well as in front of the respective law offices of George McFadyen on Napier St. and Janet Whitehead on Ferry Dock Hill.

Whitehead, who is vice-chairperson of the County & District Law Presidents’ Association, submitted a letter to the Editor of the Sarnia Observer Mar. 16, on behalf of the group that represents 11,000 lawyers across the province, admonishing the local family law reform group for bringing "unfair attention to the family justice system."

Dave Burgess, a co-founder of Canadians For Family Law Reform, said he wanted to make two points during the day's demonstrations. He started by saying, "Anyone should be able to take a recorder into a courthouse, to record what goes on to supplement their notes."

Presently, it is not permissible to bring an audio recorder into a courtroom in Canada unless otherwise granted permission by a judge.

He said the other issue that needed highlighting was, contrary to the lawyers group's letter to the Observer, Sarnia's courthouse is not one of the 17 unified family courts and, he asserted, does not enjoy the benefits of a unified courthouse.

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.

When asked in a recent interview with the Sarnia Observer if people are aware of these new services, Whitehead replied the association is “working on public education.”

Burgess pointed out that Sarnia has two divided, separate courts, Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court of Justice, and makes the assertion the divided nature of the courthouse "breeds conflicts of interest."

He added, "Let's fix family law here in Sarnia because it's very broken and it's hurting us, it's hurting our moms and dads, and most of all it's hurting our children."

Sarnia is not presently listed on the Ontario Attorney General’s website as one of the 17 unified family courthouses.

Whitehead, who has practiced family law for 17 years, told the Observer that she has seen the system improve, adding that it’s always evolving because family dynamics change with each new generation.

Occupy the Courthouse 2012 demonstrations took place in cities and towns across Canada on Mar. 23.

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