Protesters blazing trail to family law reform, demands broken system be fixed

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. 

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  • Tim Symington

    My children and I are also a victim of the system. I would like to know why some of the family law act is applied but not all of it. Shared custody is supposed to be 40 percent ot greater. In Sarnia it just is not applied. The only answer I’ve been given is that the judges in sarnia are “old fashioned”. Families are torn apart when mothers are awarded custody and paid well for it. My children were never given any input. They have maintained the whole time that they want both parents equally. If children can have the wisdom to know the right thing to do why can’t out learned judges?

  • Rick Vanos

    Thanks for covering this story. It is unpopular for victims of our family courts to speak out. It sounds whinny. Fact is, “It is a mess”. Our family courts provide a false economy to our Family lawyers, our family legal assistants, our family court clerks and the people in the court room. It offers no increase to our GNP. They all have well paying jobs because the system supports the inefficiencies and time wasting that is the norm.
    Lots of people complain few have ideas. I propose having a mandatory week where couples of divorce are forced to go “to be scared straight” into negotiating a settlement in good faith with the help of advisors. This would expedite the process from the current 3, 6 or 12 yrs to a week or less. Those who cannot agree enter into the legal system to hash it out. The case loads would diminish hence the courts would be accessible. These family law proffessionals could be retrained and redeployed to help families instead of take from families. The current proccess actually serves to redistribute equity from divorced families to the family court proffessionals. Their kids go to the best schools while the kids of divorce are disadvantaged by the broken legal system.
    To clarify the inverview info from the above article my name is Vanos, the cost of lawyers alone was $200,000 plus $53,000 in awarded court costs for her legal fees plus almost $300,000 in transfers and I am not from Kitchener, I live in Forest. Court was held in Kitchener. The problems in our family courts are not isolated to Sarnia. It is systemic and province wide. The courts have lost their way. They are so jadded and emotionally unavailable, to protect themselves they become robots of the system drafting documents, attending court and counting their money with no care or thought given to the children and parents of divorce. This is a tradgedy of innocent people drawn into the the process much like the farmer taking his animals to the meat processors. Dont get too emotionally attached to the animals if ya know what I mean?