- Police told to enforce child custody orders
- Saturday 22 March 1997, by Carol Phillips, The Spectator, Hamilton, Ontario
Non-custodial parents seeking access to their children now have one more weapon in their arsenal.
Judge Randolph Mazza, in a 20-page judgment released yesterday, says police are obliged to enforce court-ordered
access to children when directed by the courts.
His ruling comes two weeks after he presided over a one-day Unified Family Court hearing in which Hamilton-Wentworth police were seeking clarification of their responsibilities in enforcing court-ordered access to a child.
That child was Jenna, the 28-month-old daughter of Wayne Allen and Deborah Grenier. In this highly publicized case,
Allen has had repeated problems gaining access to Jenna.
Despite a court order requiring enforcement, Hamilton-Wentworth police would not act when Allen was
denied access in September of last year. So Allen filed a motion to have Grenier held in contempt of court. She was found to be in contempt and in January was sentenced to five days in jail.
Veteran family law lawyer John Harper said Mazza's decision is "very significant" because "without the ability to enforce court orders, you have chaos."
He said police still face the difficulty of knowing what actions are reasonable when enforcing cases in the complicated and emotional world of child custody.
"But you at least have ammunition" for non-custodial parents with court orders, he said.
Liane Ormond, another lawyer practising in the field of family law, said, "Certainly anything that will advance the
enforcement of court orders is a positive sign."
Neither lawyer has read the judgment.
The failure of police across the province to enforce court-ordered access has been a constant complaint of
organizations representing non-custodial parents -- mostly fathers. Greg Kershaw, a founder of Fathers Are Capable Too, said he will wait and see how Hamilton-Wentworth police react to the decision before he gets too
excited about its significance. He said the problem remains that enforcement is not clearly defined but rather left to
Allen calls it a victory.
"Now we know for sure if you have a court order from the courts, that the police have to enforce the order," he
Grenier said the decision is not relevant to her case as she has never -- despite court findings to the contrary
--unlawfully restricted access. Most of the times Allen was turned away, she said, was because Jenna was sick.
Mazza stated that once police are asked to act on an order, they must either assume it is valid and "make
reasonable efforts to comply," or seek direction from Family Court within a reasonable period of time and inform
the complainant of their intent.
Mazza stated that the six months it took police to approach the court was "unreasonable."
And he wrote that a failure to act on the order "is detrimental to the best interests of the child, seriously
undermines judicial authority, ignores the rights of the aggrieved party, and sends a message to the offending
party that an order may be contravened without any consequence."
Police had argued that the order was not clear enough, that their responsibilities were not defined, and that the
section of the Children's Law Reform Act which gives police the power tointervene was not cited in the order.
They also argued that they did not have enough resources to enforce court-ordered access.
Mazza found that the act did not need to be cited and that the matter of resources was an administrative issue
between the police and the provincial government. He said that if police found the order to be unclear, they should
seek quick clarification from the courts. As for defining what appropriate actions should be taken, Judge Mazza left
that up to police discretion and expertise on a case-by-case basis.
Police Chief Robert Middaugh declined to comment yesterday as he had not yet read the decision.
But he added, "Our position always has been to follow the direction of the court and we will continue to do so."