Family Law Profiled at Opening of the Ontario Courts

On Tuesday, September 13, 2011 the Opening of the Courts was held in Toronto, preceded by an interfaith service at Church of the Holy Trinity. The service consisted of a fascinating mix of a number of readings, including a South African anti-Apartheid song (and dance). I couldn’t help but think that this would have been impossible a couple decades ago.

But attendees were surprised by a protest outside of the church as soon as the services completed. A video of the protest is available here, with one of the speakers saying,

We’re going to be here every single year.

At least some of the protesters appeared to be representing a website called Canada Court Watch, with their primary grievances focusing on family law. The judiciary hardly seemed insensitive to the plight of family law litigants, although choosing not to engage the protesters directly. The remarks by Chief Justice Heather Smith stated,

For several years now, I have targeted a significant portion of my Opening of the Courts remarks to family law proceedings in our court. My remarks included cautious optimism along with a fervent wish for faster progress towards our ultimate goal.

Similarly, the remarks by Chief Justice Warren Winkler stated,

The Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, observed in his address to the Bar Association that, “for many today, the law is not accessible.”

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, who has taken a leading role in publicizing this issue, said that access to justice was the “greatest challenge facing the Canadian justice system.”

If we are to make meaningful progress in addressing this issue, we must concentrate on areas of law where we can have the greatest impact. We should prioritize those areas with the greatest societal need and where concrete change is achievable. Analysed in this fashion, family law cries out for reform.

Family law touches directly or indirectly almost everyone in our society. Our current family law system is too slow, too complex, too adversarial, and above all, too costly. There is no other area of justice reform where we can have a greater impact on ordinary Ontarians.

Some improvements in family law services have been made over the last year. I commend the Ministry of the Attorney General for its role in extending information, mediation and referral services to courts across the Province.

These are welcome changes, but much more must be done if we are going to make significant improvements in access to justice for families in transition.

If real progress is going to be made there must be a fundamental reformation of family law. In order to make family law more accessible, it must be more affordable. To achieve this, the procedures must be simplified and unnecessary steps removed thus shortening the process and making it cheaper. This will allow families to resolve their disputes in a more efficient and affordable manner, assisting them to more effectively move on with their lives.

In order to clear the way for the type of comprehensive reform that I believe necessary and have spoken about frequently, we have to extend the unified family court beyond the current 17 sites to the entire Province.

Change is needed in the family law system, and if these protesters are any indication, this change is needed sooner rather than later.

One step that members of the bar have taken to help address this in a more independent fashion is to provide accurate and timely information to members of the public about family law. This week also featured the television launch of Family Matters with Justice Harvey Brownstone, a show that both Connie and I have mentioned that was previously carried online but is now aired through mainstream television broadcasters. The show is the first television show in the world hosted by a sitting judge.  Quebec is also launching a family show featuring a local family lawyer.

I was also invited this week to an advance screening of an independent documentary, Blakout. Family law appears high on the agenda for residents of Ontario, and it will be interesting to see how prominently it features in the upcoming provincial election. Whichever party does come out front should make it a priority to heed the calls for reformation from both the public and the respective heads of our judiciary.


  1. One of the most serious problems with our system is the flagrant manner in which many a custodial parent can get away with obstructing and/or denying any meaningful relationship between her or his child, and the non-custodial parent, and his or her extended family.

    I think it is high time that those who act contemptuously towards court ordered access and or visitation should suffer some significant consequence.

  2. I am hoping to see changes that will ensure that Children’s Rights are paramount.

    Children’s rights to their family ties are instumental to their development. Many children are being robbed of their identity by being kept away from their family groups and are the subject of undue influence and negativity by the custodial parent.

    New laws that protect children’s rights must address this shortfall in the near future.

  3. Many problems still remain in Sarnia,Ontario to the point where a group of concerned and in many cases broken people are speaking out through a newly formed support and watch dog group “Canadians for Family Law Reform” They work hard to remind all it’s not about bashing your ex spouse it’s about working to help fix the current system. I beg the people in the positions to make these much needed changes to sit down with this group of NON LAWYERS and JUDGES and listen to our valid concerns and suggestions. Any REAL change will involve the people who are or have been in the now broken system..We eagerly await contact from you!! Thank-you

  4. We need family law to be surrounded by people who actually care. It shouldn’t be a stage to play with peoples lives, and ultimately that appears to be what lawyers are doing. There is no consequences for one’s actions in family law. Apparently judges are speaking up, but with no disciplinary actions. In the small community of Sarnia, Ontario we have over 20 complaints on the same lawyer and nothing back from the Law Society. If a doctor, pilot, or mechanic had 20 complaints they would be out of work. There are no referees in this game and the people are getting slaughtered. There is no one to help you in family law…absolutely no one. It shouldn’t be a place where a lot of profit is made off people’s misfortune. All of this is affecting our children and no one has stopped to care. It’s all about money.

    Certified Family Therapist should control family law. They could work with the parents and help decide what is best for the children so that everyone can live and prosper. People without childen can fight it out, they are only hurting themselves. Family law today chooses what appears to be the best parent on paper and makes their recommendations. This is where the best lawyer wins, or who can manipulate the system the best. Its not fair to our children, and usually results in one parent struggling with huge support obligations. Its an absolute nightmare what this system has done to so many. It’s destroying people, families, and most importantly our children.

  5. There is no doubt that the Family Law system is broken, further yet so is the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). Now there’s an agency who has been scrutinized by each government and even the Ombudsman’s office and is still allowed to do as it seems fit. I say start subpheoning FRO to court when you have to take something back into to court that they refuse to enforce. Enough is enough…the time, the money, the annimosity that is being done to families who were on speaking terms before the breakup and now “at each other’s throat” so to speak. In Sarnia, we are and have joined together, a men and women’s group that focuses on the broken system and not on the ex spouse as we believe many of the emotions stems from two lawyers who are attempting to win another win for him or herself with that failing to realize at what the costs are to the individuals caught in the middle. Families are and have been destroyed and no one appears to be doing anything. The governments say they are aware of the problems. Judges, lawyers, court staff, legal assistants all tell you the horror stories whether in the media or just passing in general, yet guess what, it’s allowed to continue. Time to start planning a province wide, better yet country wide demonstration on the same day in every city with a court office that reads something like “enough is enough” or “we won’t back down”. The time is now for our governments to step up to the plate. That’s my two cents worth and I think the saying that one of the co-founders of the group put it, “it’s like putting rice in a crock pot. Just sit back and wait for it to explode” or whatever the saying was…lol