Fifty dads lend support to child-access fight

Wednesday, March 5, 1997, by Paul Benedetti, The Hamilton Spectator

For the more than 50 parents -- most of them men -- crowded into Family Court yesterday, the question was simple.

Will police enforce court-ordered access to children?

They had come from Toronto, Ottawa, London and Windsor. They marched outside the court building on Main Street West, carrying placards that read: Support Joint Custody, Access Denial is Child Abuse, Kids Need Dads Too. They belonged to groups named: Dads Canada, Fathers' Rights as Parents, Justice For Children, Freedom For Kids and Canadian Grandparents' Rights Association.

They didn't get an answer yesterday, but they got a spotlight focused on a problem that has plagued non-custodial parents for years -- access to their children.

"Tremendous progress has been made today," said Danny Guspie of Fathers Resources International after the hearing. "The judge said I hear you loud and clear."

What Judge Randolph Mazza heard was a motion by Hamilton-Wentworth police to clarify, vary or set aside an order that called on police to enforce court-ordered access to a child.

That access was for Wayne Allen, a Hamilton man who has had repeated problems getting to see his young daughter, Jenna. In June last year, a Unified Family Court judge directed the police to"immediately enforce" the order if the child's mother again denied him access.

In September, the police refused to enforce that order and, when their actions became part of a newspaper story last month, they filed a motion to have the court reconsider that enforcement order.

Police lawyer Laurie Vechter argued yesterday that the order was not clear enough, that the section of the Children's Law Reform Act which gives police the power to intervene in these situations, was not specifically cited in the order.

"Without that specific authority, the police, in my respectful submission, do not know what they can do," Vechter said. She told Judge Mazza that custody and access orders are very difficult for police to handle. "It's not a simple issue, but it can be simplified by the nature of the court orders provided. ...What they are looking for is clear
direction from the court."

LAW REFORM ACT

Allen, representing himself, argued that the police's confusion is hard to understand because only one section of the Children's Law Reform Act gives police the power to apprehend a child.

Allen questioned whether police were simply ducking their responsibilities. "They have no interest in doing it -- they do not want that obligation," he said in court. "I think it's very clear ... this isn't the only case where someone has gone in with an order and been snubbed by the police."

For his part, Police Chief Robert Middaugh strongly refuted any suggestion that police were abdicating their responsibilities.

"That is totally incorrect. When we get an order from the court that in our opinion is a lawful order, we have to respond to that. But where in fact the order might not be clear enough to give us direction as to exactly what's expected, then it's important for us to go back and ask for more clear direction. And that's again what we are doing in this case," he said.

Judge Mazza thanked the participants for their clear and cogent presentations. He noted that the efforts of all involved had crystallized the issue for the court, "Is it (the order) valid and can it be enforced?"

He said he would announce his judgment at a later date.

copyright The Spectator

Judgement can be found on this website under "police enforcement"