Ontario Family Law Rules Amended to Expedite International Child Abduction Hearings
A few months ago, we posted a Blog titled “It is Simply Too Late”: Court Decries Procedural Delays in Return of Abducted Child”. It described a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision about a 9-year-old Peruvian boy who had been wrongly abducted and brought to Canada by his mother. Even though his father applied promptly to an Ontario court for the boy’s return to Peru, the Court declined to make the order. Since undue delays in the Ontario system had stalled the matter for 2.5 years, it was now “too late” to order a straightforward return to the country where the boy had lived all his life. Instead, over the father’s objections, matter had to go back for a local parenting plan assessment to determine the boy’s best interests.
The good news for parents dealing with child abduction proceedings, is that excessive systemic delays should now be a thing of the past.
Effective October 3, 2022, the Ontario Family Law Rules (which are regulations made under the provincial Family Law Act) have been amended to add a new Rule 37.2. Its provisions squarely expedite the process for international child abduction matters and hearings.
Here are the high points of that new Rule:
- Strict deadlines imposed: Child abduction cases “shall be disposed of promptly” and – if it’s a matter to which Article 11 of the Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”) applies – no later than six weeks after the application was commenced in Ontario. (That Hague Convention has been expressly incorporated into Ontario law, and aims to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed from, or retained in, any contracting state internationally. Article 11 of the Hague Convention itself imposes a 6-week deadline within which judicial or administrative authorities must reach a decision).
- Case management judge assigned: Wherever possible, a judge must also be assigned at the start of an international child abduction case to manage it, and to monitor its progress.
- Brought quickly before a judge: All international child abduction matters must be brought before a judge within seven days of the start the case, in what is referred to as a “first meeting”. This includes cases that do not fall under the Hague Convention.
- Setting dates: At that first meeting, the judge must set: a) a hearing date; and b) a timetable for serving and filing further materials.
- Same judge presiding: Wherever possible, the judge who attends that first meeting will also be the one who hears the case.
Perhaps most importantly, Rule 37.2 overarchingly mandates that these new provisions must be applied “with a view to providing the timeliest and most efficient disposition of the case that is consistent with the principles of natural justice and fairness to the parties and every child involved in the case.”