National Post

Saturday, March 13, 1999

Fathers' group to file complaint against high court
All nine justices: Challenge targets 'feminist' slant of Supreme Court

Janice Tibbetts
Southam News


Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube

A national fathers' group has taken the debate over the Canadian judiciary to a new level, vowing to file a complaint against all nine judges on the Supreme Court of Canada for their "feminist" slant in decisions that deny men access to children after divorce.

The National Shared Parenting Association, which lodged a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council yesterday against Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube, plans to file an expanded challenge next week against the whole bench.

The unprecedented move is the latest twist in an escalating debate over the judiciary that has resulted in numerous complaints to the judicial council in the last two weeks, several against both Justice L'Heureux-Dube and Justice John McClung, of the Alberta Court of Appeal.

"We feel public debate has opened up and we're attempting to raise the level of the public debate to take a look at what's going on with the judiciary," said Danny Guspie, a Toronto paralegal and executive director of the two-year-old association.

"It's our understanding that the courts are supposed to be impartial and they should not be promoting gender stereotyping. We feel this attitude is just permeating throughout the court."

The Toronto-based fathers' group, which claims a national membership of about 1,000, was formed to lobby the government over its planned changes to child custody laws.

The group will ask the judicial council, which normally investigates complaints of misconduct against individual judges, to launch an inquiry into the "judicial activism" of the top court, Mr. Guspie said.

Jeannie Thomas, executive director of the justice council, said she could not comment on how the organization, comprised of the country's chief justices and associate chief justices, would handle such a complaint.

Justice McClung and Justice L'Heureux-Dube touched off a firestorm two weeks ago in a sparring match that began when Justice L'Heureux-Dube, in a written ruling, gave Judge McClung a dressing down for promoting "archaic and stereotypical" attitudes in a decision in which he noted that a young sexual assault victim, among other things, did not present herself "in a bonnet and crinolines." She was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Judge McClung rocked the legal community by responding, in a letter published in the National Post," that linked the "personal invective" in Judge L'Heureux-Dube's decisions to the high rate of male suicide in her home province of Quebec.

It later emerged that Judge L'Heureux-Dube's husband committed suicide, as did Judge McClung's father. Judge McClung has since apologized.

The incident has sparked numerous subplots that have divided politicians, interest groups, and academics over the boundaries of feminism, judicial power, and how far judges should go in speaking out.

The latest complaint, which the parenting association filed yesterday, accused Justice L'Heur-eux-Dube of bias against non-custodial parents and children in several rulings that have come down on the side of the mother.

"Justice L'Heureux-Dube has made it clear on too many occasions that she is unable to separate her personal agenda from the duties of her appointment," said the letter of complaint.

The judicial council has the power to recommend that judges be removed from the bench, but normally goes no further than handing out rebukes.

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