Family law reform activists coming from different cities around Southern Ontario descended on our fair city Thursday with peaceful demonstrations at both Sarnia's courthouse and the office of local attorney George McFadyen. Members of Canadians For Family Law Reform and a representative from the national organization Canada Court Watch were protesting what they called a "broken" family law system in this country.
When asked what they were trying to do, CFFLR founding member Jim Canie said that they're trying to bring an 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.
The activists assert the current family law system results in lawyers creating unnecessary conflict between the two parties, dragging out divorce proceedings in order to make more money regardless of the financial and emotional toll taken on families.
Specifically, the group said they were protesting, in part, procedural issues at the courthouse that they say unfairly puts those who represent themselves at a stark disadvantage. A significant focus was also put on local lawyer George McFadyen who group members said contributes to problems protesters and their families have with the system.
McFadyen has emphatically denied the accusations, saying they are based on factual inaccuracies.
However, the activists contend that the current family law system results in lawyers creating unnecessary conflict between the two parties and deliberately dragging out divorce proceedings.
Mike McCoogan said that when he and his wife first separated and decided to divorce, everything was "very amicable" with he and his wife mutually agreeing on many issues. That, he said, changed when a lawyer became involved.
Kitchener group member Richard Vanos said in an interview that he's been involved with the court system since 2006 and over the course has "lost everything" and spent upwards of $200,000 between legal fees and what he's given to his ex-wife. Vanaus believes that the court system is anemic and doesn't understand the needs of families and remarked, "I could be sending my kids to wonderful schools like the University of Western Ontario, but instead the lawyers are sending their kids."
Chris Carter of the national group Canada Court Watch, who was also present, said groups like CFFLR should continue to fight the system. He also said that Ontario courts are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and immune to investigations by the Ombudsman. As a result, he says the current family law system has no levels of accountability.
Founding member Donna Hogan said that the whole system is "seriously flawed" starting at the lawyer level and continuing up the line to the courts and judges.
Dave Burgess, another local core member and self-described victim of the family law system, said some family law lawyers tell their clients to demand more and more from their ex, convincing them to make more claims against them than they wouldn't have done otherwise. "What results are bankruptcies, psychological trauma for children, and grueling court battles that can last 10 years or more."
Sarnia police attended McFadyen's office several times during the day, reminding the demonstrators to remain on public property and picket peacefully.