Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, 30 May 1998

Men of honour must 'stand up and fight'

Fathers must push for right to help raise their children, man says

by DAVE BROWN, Brown's Beat, The Ottawa Citizen Email: dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca

An honourable man walked out of an Ottawa courtroom recently and made an observation: "It cost me 16 months and $35,000 to get something I would have had in the first place, if the Government of Ontario was doing its job."

It took that long and that much to prove he was not a deadbeat dad, and not abusive or violent.

With those allegations disproved and behind him, Norman Christie is once again in a position to assist in the raising of his children. He is firm in his belief that the majority of society's losers, especially those in trouble with the law, are products of an upbringing that did not include a father.

Mr. Christie is an engineer and a historian, and when he applies his logic to Ontario's court system, he sees need for massive re-tooling.

"It's so simple. A false allegation of abuse, or a refusal to obey an access order, should result in immediate reversal of custody. And the system lacks accountability. For a start, social workers are not licensed. That means they can't be sued. They have too much power to be unaccountable.

"I met some (social workers) who were excellent, but too many who showed a lack of ethics."

Mr. Christie praised Justice Michel Charbonneau.

"Too often I appeared in front of judges who had not done their homework. They hadn't read the paperwork, prepared at high cost, and made decisions I can only describe as status quo. One judge's mistakes cost me thousands of dollars to correct. Judge Charbonneau made himself fully informed and then rendered a judgment."

Mr. Christie was represented by lawyer Andrea Camacho.

When Mr. Christie first contacted me to report the marital-law playing field, or court, was tilted, he was told that wasn't news, but general knowledge. Children get caught in the middle, as pawns. If one side doesn't fight, there is no middle. Most men walk away.

"That's not honourable," was his reply.

"It won't change until men of honour stand up and fight."

There was also the question of the media being reluctant to identify combatants in marital legal wars. "I understand. I would rather see my children temporarily embarrassed, although they have no reason to be, than to be damaged by being raised without my influence, and that of my parents and sisters."

Mr. Christie says his work is far from finished, and the word most often used is "accountability."

Sixteen months ago, with the help of a women's shelter, his home was cleared of furniture and family, and he walked in to find only a restraining order.

Until his recent court win, he didn't know where his children lived. The restraining order was issued after allegations he was abusive. From that point it was a long and costly uphill court battle. Throughout the process, Mr. Christie kept asking: "Where's the accountability?"

During those 16 months we had several meetings as he updated his progress, and his reverses. His crawl through the legal minefield was secondary to his concern for his children.

At one point, looking in shock at a judge's order that exceeded the judge's authority and was a major setback, the suggestion was made that maybe it was time to walk away.

It was the only time I saw anger, and it was aimed at me.

"Are you nuts! We're talking about my kids here!"

Between his work and his legal battle, his housekeeping slipped. His sisters visited regularly to help with that, and give their support. He frequently said he had to fight injustice, because: "That's the way my father raised me." There were times when, frustrated and exhausted, he needed a shoulder to lean on. His father was always there.

To give himself confidence, he refurnished the home and with the help of his sisters, included were nicely decorated bedrooms for his children. That's the way an engineer thinks. Design container. Fill same.

In records of this case, one finds a report from Dr. David A. McLean of the Family Court Clinic at the Royal Ottawa Hospital, raising serious questions about ethics. "I find it extremely disconcerting that there are professionals who provide one-sided assessments on custody and access disputes in the face of clear ethical guidelines. Indeed, were (a social worker) subject to licensing, such actions could lead to a severe reprimand, if not revoking of the license. Providing (a biased report supporting the mother) only underscores her (social worker's) complete lack of understanding of responsible and ethical guidelines."

Stacy Rabb is the founder of DADS Canada (Divorce and Defense Strategy) in Toronto, an organization that has frequently picketed "deadbeat judges" who didn't read the paperwork, or insist their access orders be enforced. They have also, with some success, picketed the homes of "deadbeat moms" who refused to adhere to court orders. That support orders are quickly enforced, but not access orders, says Rabb, is an example of gender bias in the system.

Making life more difficult for Mr. Christie was that he had to keep coming up with money for his legal bill, while at the same time keeping his support payments up. He's self-employed. The easiest way for an opposing lawyer to stall the court system is to point out the father's finances are in arrears. That spells deadbeat.

It's a bias the Joint Senate-Commons Committee on Child Custody and Access has been finding as it tours the country holding hearings. Co-chaired by Sarnia MP Roger Galloway and Senator Anne Cools, its report is due in November. They have given hints the Divorce Act needs new teeth.

Mr. Galloway has said the custody-access system has become bogged down in too many rules, and too many questionable accusations which are often never proven but colour decisions.

Senator Cools has been pushing a movement to have lawyers held accountable for knowingly filing false allegations.

Mr. Rabb was also celebrating this week. He had just had his two children for an overnight visit for the first time in seven years. His legal bill isn't high because he quit his job "to learn the system" and represented himself.

That the system has become bogged down with needless paperwork and slow processes, says Mr. Rabb, is understandable. Lawyers bill by the hour. "It isn't in their interest to speed the system, and face it, the system is run by lawyers."

Says the engineer in Mr. Christie: It isn't much different than designing a system to produce high-grade steel. You know the objective and design the system. In the court system, the objective should be to produce ethical decisions that will protect our society.

"Instead, it's a system that produces nothing, and nobody is being held accountable for the design problem."

In his view, false allegations, using children as pawns, and refusing to obey access orders, would end immediately if the penalty was reversal of custody.

Mr. Rabb favours immediate mandatory mediation.

Mr. Christie takes it a step further. Public funding to all and any agencies that are not accountable to the public should be stopped. That includes women's shelters and agencies that employ social workers who have not joined the fledgling social work society. Accountability is his battle cry.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor.

Copyright 1998 The Ottawa Citizen