Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, September 20, 2001

To protect children, try starting by not victimizing their fathers

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

How did it come about that we as a society believe we can protect children by beating the financial stuffing out of their fathers?

On June 27 I sat in an assessment court and watched an innocent man pass the four-year point in his struggle with the legal industry that tried to deny him his right to be a father. It was an assessment court in which his lawyer claimed the legal bill still had $14,000 outstanding. The man wanted assessment officer Andrew Grandsden to rule. When is enough too much?

Because the man's children are now of an age that the parental dispute could embarrass them, he won't be identified in this column. Because he is anonymous it would be unfair to name the other side in the assessment dispute; the lawyer.

Four years ago the man's wife exited the marriage via a women's shelter. A restraining order kept him away from his three children and if he wanted to ever again play a role in their lives, the onus was on him to challenge that order.

He won. He satisfied a court that he was not a violent man and never had been. In his view he wasn't facing even an allegation of violence. He was facing a suggestion that he could, under the right circumstances, become violent.

Bottom line was $47,000. Most of that was in legal fees. Psychological profiles used up $5,000 of that amount and were, of course, favourable to his case. After all, he paid the psychologists. A skeptic might think justice is for sale in family courts, and usually goes to the side that pays the most to psychologists.

Transcripts used up another $2,000.

It's rare for a reporter to pay attention to an assessment, which is a dispute about fees between lawyer and client. Mr. Grandsden asked the disputants if they had tried all other methods of resolving their differences. They agreed to one more attempt at reaching an agreement in private. Court was adjourned while lawyer and client sat down to once again knock heads. Half an hour later they said they had resolved their differences. Details were not divulged.

A side issue here is the existence of assessment courts. Although Ontario law is based on British law, the British system doesn't have a comparable court cushion for lawyers. Barristers and solicitors there are considered business persons, and if they have a financial dispute with a client/customer they use the same options open to any other business.

In the Ontario system the assessment court operates much like any other court, and most clients are intimidated by protocol to the point they feel they must hire another lawyer. Small claims courts operate much like the ones we see on television where each side can state its case without a lawyer.

A trip to assessment court is a grievance and should be treated as such. But it has a built-in edge for the lawyer. He or she can warn the client that should the assessment court uphold the lawyer's claim, the lawyer can ask for costs at the going hourly rate. The challenging client doesn't have an hourly rate if he wins.

It's a situation the father in this case calls outright intimidation and wouldn't be allowed in any other forum hearing a grievance.

Ask many lawyers and they'll tell you that kind of intimidation isn't used. Ask me and I'll tell you otherwise.

Five Times Wronged

Family courts don't get much media attention because they're difficult to cover. Those courts operate without such basics as burden of proof, rules of evidence, or presumption of innocence. They provide abundant grazing not only for lawyers, but for readers of the headbone, like psychologists.

"False accusations?" says Joe Rade, a men's rights activist. "You bet men are being destroyed in this system. Want to talk to a man who has been accused of sexually abusing his own children? Not once, but five times?" Every time the accusation is made he has to go back through the head-boners and the courts to disprove it. And he has disproved it five times.

Mr. Rade fronts a group called Kids Need Both Parents. He says false allegations turn families into raw material for the legal industry. "It's an epidemic."

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca Read previous columns by Dave Brown at www.ottawacitizen.com .

© Copyright 2001 The Ottawa Citizen