Ontario Courts Tell it Like it Is
While reviewing a few Ontario family decisions recently, I noticed that the judges introduced their written reasons with a subtle and judicially-uncharacteristic lament, and in some cases, outright incredulity.
Using phrases like “a family tragedy” or “unhappy story” the judges provide a glimpse of some of the empathy and quiet frustration underlying their otherwise-impartial decisions.
For example, in Zesta Engineering Ltd. v. Cloutier, the court introduced the case this way:
This lawsuit is a case study of the risks and consequences of intertwining business, family, and marital relationships. On its face, this proceeding involves claims for breach of fiduciary duty and misappropriation of corporate assets by departing employees, coupled with counterclaims for wrongful dismissal. Beneath the surface it is the unhappy story of the impact of a marriage breakdown on a successful business enterprise, and the decade of litigation that has ensued.
In a case called VanSickle (Elms) v. VanSickle the court began its judgment this way:
This is a family tragedy. The [father’s] relationship with his two children, … is now irreparably shattered. The parties have spent money they could ill afford on four days of trial wherein the [husband] has done his utmost to convince the court that his daughter, a university student, is no longer a dependent and not entitled to any support from him. ….
And from Justice Quinn (who can often be relied on for a little editorializing in his judgments, see my previous Blogs, there is the less-moderate introduction to the decision in Szakacs v. Clarke, where he pointedly tells it like it is:
For best courtroom adaptation of a work of fiction, the award goes to the applicant, Clarissa Olenka Szakacs, who shamelessly feigned what she thought was necessary to convince the court to circumscribe access by the respondent to their almost-six-year-old daughter.
One could sit in Family Court for many years and not encounter such a callously conniving and mendaciously manipulative litigant. …
At several points throughout the trial, Ms. Szakacs emphasized that she was a Christian who practiced Christian values. There must be some key pages missing from her copy of the Bible.
Finally, in a judgment from only a few months ago called De Cruz-Lee v. Lee, the exasperated yet still-mindful judge said:
1 This case is a classic illustration of the difficulty of obtaining justice when a trial is conducted by a party or parties who are self-represented. Ms. Angela De Cruz-Lee (“Ms. De Cruz-Lee”) was self-represented and conducted the trial by herself. It is said that a person who represents himself has a fool for a client. That saying should add something about how self-representation is about the most expensive trial lawyer you can pay for. … [T]his trial originally was scheduled for one to four days and was set … to settle two issues. On November 17, 2014 a further pre-trial was held. The issues were down to ownership of the home estimated to be a one to two day trial. The trial in fact went on for nine days. The dispute was over an approximate $53,000 held in trust. Regrettably, the costs of this trial will consume most if not all of that amount. I note that Superior Court trials in Family Court are governed by a variety of rules. These rules are designed to ensure trials are expeditiously run at some cost efficient level. At this trial, those rules meant nothing. …
In writing this judgment, I have cautioned myself, that in the end, Ms. De Cruz-Lee was poorly represented and I am going to have to make allowance for that fact in making my decision.
Judges are only human. Such sentiments are no real surprise in light of the parade of difficult, doubtless heart-wrenching family disputes that come before them daily – some of which should never have been aired in a Canadian courtroom at all.
For the full text of the decisions, see: