National Post

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November 2, 2000

Complaints about 'anti-male' judges growing: council

Divorce cases studied: One group calls for independent inquiry of court decisions

Luiza Chwialkowska National Post

OTTAWA - Complaints against judges presiding over divorce and custody disputes are increasing, with the majority of claims coming from men, many of whom allege "anti-male" bias in family courts.

The Canadian Judicial Council, which handles complaints against federally-appointed judges, announced yesterday that family law cases now account for more than half of the cases it disposed of in the past year.

Custody, divorce and other family law cases accounted for 94 of the 177 complaints that the council dealt with last year, or 55%.

The share of complaints from family law has seen "a sharp increase from the average level of 30 to 45% experienced in recent years," states the annual report of the council, released yesterday.

The year before, only 77 of 162 complaints, or 48%, involved family law cases.

A majority of complaints, 62.7%, were made by men.

In 104 instances, judges were accused of being "unfair" in applying the law and in 91 instances that they were said to have erred in law.

Other complaints included allegations that judges failed to hear both sides of a case, that the complainant had been treated harshly or abusively, or that judges had abused their power.

The council dealt with 10 cases of alleged conflict of interest.

Individuals involved in litigation made up 80% of the complainants, while others included individuals with a direct interest in the case, interest groups, or lawyers.

In one case, members of a national parenting organization alleged that a judge's decisions revealed a bias against non-custodial parents and children of divorce. The complaint said the judge was unable to separate her "personal agenda" from her duties. The council found no evidence of bias in that case.

A member of the same group called for an independent inquiry into the family law decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, which he said "has set an unacceptable tone." The council found no evidence of bias and provided an "explanation of judicial independence to the complainant."

In another case, a man alleged that judge's judgments were "repeatedly anti-male" and requested the removal of the "feminist" judge off the bench. Another complainant alleged the same judges was an "outspoken feminist and political ideologue," who had improperly "spoken out" on a controversial issue. The council found that that "the judge's comments were hardly enough to establish an inference that the judge would not judge future cases fairly."

In another case, a woman complained that a judge in a child support case was "biased against women" and had "yelled at her and abused her" during a hearing. A transcript of the hearing did not support the allegation.

Ed Ratushny, professor of constitutional law at the University of Ottawa, said the increase in family law complaints could be due to a number of factors, including a growing awareness of the "user-friendly" complaints process that requires only a letter to the council.

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