A Canadian judge says what?

Um … okay.


Just work with me here for a moment, okay?

If … if, if, if …. If things ever managed to get so bad in the United States that there was no sensible recourse but to flee, Canada just got scratched from the list. Okay, I don’t speak French, so Quebec wasn’t high on the list to begin with, but try to wrap your head around Jenny Wagler’s report for the National Post:

A 12-year-old Quebec girl who felt so strongly about her end-of-year school trip that she took her father to court after he forbade her from going is at the centre of a case that challenges the authority of parental discipline.

The extreme measure of taking the case to court, which the girl’s lawyer defended as a necessary move to ensure the child was not denied a significant rite of passage, was upheld by the judge in a surprise ruling last week.

I admit, I’m reeling. According to Don Butler’s article for Canada.com,

The father, who is divorced but has legal custody of his daughter, cut off her Internet access after she chatted on websites he had tried to block. She then used a friend’s Internet connection to post inappropriate pictures of herself, Beaudoin said.

Now let’s be clear here: As a father, the one thing people close to me will always say is that I love my five year-old daughter, but nobody on the planet would ever accuse me of being even remotely authoritarian. When someone says, “Wait ’til she gets older,” I usually respond by saying, “I’ll worry about it when it happens.” So I cannot really say what I would do if I ever found myself in this poor father’s situation. Was this grounding, forbidding an end-of-year school trip, harsh? Perhaps. In fact, I’ll go with yes for a thousand, Bob. But there are certainly circumstances I could invent, if I decided to fantasize about my daughter’s future sexuality, that might sufficiently make the point.

However, short of outright cruelty—and those same people close to me will tell you that’s a broad definition in my world—it is a bit difficult to fathom that I could not, if I felt circumstances demanded it, punish my daughter for dangerous disobedience. This isn’t about eating cookies when Daddy says no. This isn’t about playing video games past bedtime. This is apparently about dangerous improprieties.

But what of cruelty? Wagler reports,

“This was something that would never happen again in the child’s life,” said Lucie Fortin, the lawyer for the girl, who cannot be named.

“And for me that was really important, because it was the end of elementary school, it was the end of a stage in her life.”

Ms. Fortin insists that while court was a last resort, the situation called for it: “This was not a question of going to the movies or not, or going online or not — because obviously, I wouldn’t have intervened in that,” she said ….

…. The lawyer acting for the father in this case, who also cannot be named, said she is going to appeal the decision.

“The judge said that this was an exception, but the exception was to go on a field trip!” said lawyer Kim Beaudoin. “What will be too much punishment? Not going to a dance? ‘I want my boyfriend to sleep at my house and my parents aren’t letting me?’ ‘I want to use [the] Internet and my parents aren’t letting me?’ Where will it stop?”

Indeed, Wagler’s article appears under the headline, “Girl fighting for rite of passage, lawyer says”, and Beaudoin has a point. A prom or tolo can be construed as a rite of passage. Indeed, sleeping with a first lover constitutes a rite of passage. But how many potential rites of passage did I miss out on as a child not because I was in trouble, but because my mother worried about my safety? Concerts? Too dangerous; I had to buy my father a ticket to King Diamond in 1988, although there was the Cinderella concert the next year. And, hell, at that show, I skipped out on a serious rite of passage—a chance to smoke pot for the first time with some random guy in the crowd—because I wanted to be a “good” kid. So it was infuriating to be denied social occasions because, as my mother said, “It’s not that I don’t trust you ….”

Oh, wait. This isn’t about me.

Butler suggests that some of the shocked rhetoric about children challenging parents over TV restrictions or withheld allowances might be overstating the situation:

But there are few signs Canadian courts are likely to follow Tessier’s lead.

“Family court judges are sort of loathe and reluctant to enter into the sphere of parental discipline,” said Peter Dunning, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada.

Joan Durrant, a child clinical psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba, said the courts usually take a hands-off approach to parental discipline, even when it involves physical maltreatment.

“Some pretty severe cases have been acquitted because it was determined that it was the parents’ right to decide.”

So what makes this so special? You can’t take away a class trip, but you can beat your child?

Well, apparently this ties into a messy custody battle. Again, Wagler:

The ruling to allow the field trip went against the wishes of her father — who has legal custody of her — but was in keeping with her mother’s wishes.

And while the case is raising some eyebrows, a tangled, behind-the-scenes custody battle must be taken into account, said Montreal family law lawyer Miriam Grassby.

“It’s a very different situation than a child who might appear to not be happy with the parent’s decision and simply say, ‘I’m going to go to court and I’m going to get what I want,’ ” she said. “And if in fact it’s been portrayed that way, it’s not putting it in its complex context.”

While the girl’s father has full legal custody, pending a further court decision, the girl has been living with her mother, Ms. Fortin said. But while Ms. Beaudoin says the girl went to live with her mother when her father forbade her from going on the trip, Ms. Fortin contends that she was “kicked out” of her father’s house over family tensions.

And back to Butler:

After discovering [her continued internet use], the father told his daughter she couldn’t go on the three-day school trip. According to Beaudoin, the daughter “slammed the door” and went to live with her mother, who was willing to let her take the trip.

However, the school wouldn’t allow the girl to go unless both parents consented or she obtained a court order. That prompted the girl, with her mother’s support, to take legal action against her father, culminating in Friday’s ruling.

According to Beaudoin, Tessier found that denying the trip was unduly severe punishment. The fact that the girl is now living with her mother also factored into the judge’s ruling, she said.

And, as is often the case with difficult divorces, the damage runs deep. Butler reports that the father is refusing his daughter’s return because he feels he “has no authority over her”. Perhaps this seems a cruel position, but if a court is going to stifle your attempt to protect your daughter from endangering herself, what the hell can you possibly do?

Okay, so I’m one of those “we all go down together” people. But not everybody is.

As one who refuses violence as family discipline, though, I am just a bit perplexed. If my daughter doesn’t like what I have to say, she can run away to her mother’s house and that’s good enough for a court? Are we really there? Well, okay, I don’t live in Quebec, so no, we’re not.

I adore my neighbors to the north. And, yes, beautiful British Columbia is still well-stationed on the list of places to go should the American endeavor somehow fail completely. But still ….

When I was about twelve, I decided to overhaul my personality. One of the things I decided was that I would never be shocked by the things people do. Obviously, I have over the years repeatedly failed in that quest, and today, indeed, is one of those days. It really is a difficult prospect to wrap my head around.

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