Canada and its provinces are signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that requires governments to recognize children’s fundamental human rights. In particular, Article 12 of the Convention says that children must be given “the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings” affecting them.
Many of the Canadian laws governing family law disputes say something similar. In British Columbia, for example, section 37(2) of the Family Law Act provides that parents and the court must consider the child’s views in deciding the course of action that is in the child’s best interests. Section 18(2) of Alberta’s Family Law Act says that the court must consider the child’s views and preferences, and section 24(2) of the Ontario Children’s Law Reform Act provides that the court must consider the child’s views in determining the child’s best interests.
Despite these legal requirements, the mechanisms available for hearing the views and voices of children in family law disputes vary enormously from province to province – and sometimes from case to case – as do the standards, training and methodologies those mechanisms employ.
This September, the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family and the Alberta Office of the Child and Youth Advocate are presenting a two-day national symposium on how the voices of children and youth are heard in legal proceedings, how their interests are protected and how their evidence is received in justice processes. A special half-day conference on Canadian family law, designed for mental health professionals, precedes the symposium.
Children’s Participation in Justice Processes: Finding the Best Ways Forward is scheduled for 15 and 16 September 2017 at the Calgary Hyatt Regency, and features keynote speakers Sheldon Kennedy of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and Dr. Nicole Sherren of the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative.
The symposium involves leading practitioners, researchers and academics and is intended to generate innovative proposals for policy reform, best practices and recommendations for future research about children’s participation in justice processes.
The Fundamentals of Family Law in Canada Conference is intended for symposium participants other than legal professionals and runs on the afternoon of 14 September 2017. It will review the law on parenting and the care of children after separation as well as contemporary dispute resolution processes, and the traditional and emerging ways that the views and voices of children and youth are presented in those processes. The Conference will help set the scene, and provide valuable additional context, for the work of the symposium.
An impressive but preliminary lineup of speakers and workshops has been published. Confirmed presenters include: Professor Nick Bala of Queen’s University; Dr. Francine Cyr of the Université de Montréal; Wayne Robertson QC of the Law Foundation of British Columbia; Dr. Rachel Birnbaum of King’s University College; the Honourable Donna Martinson QC, formerly of the British Columbia Supreme Court; Carolyn Leach of the Ontario Office of the Children’s Lawyer; and, Dale Hensley QC of the Children’s Legal and Educational Resource Centre. Workshops include:
- Creating, Operating and Sustaining Legal Clinics for Children and Youth
- Best Practices for Representing Youth in Conflict with the Law
- Hearing the Voices of Infants and Toddlers
- Child Participation in Mediation and Parenting Coordination
- Establishing a Child Interviewer Roster, Training Child Interviewers and Implementing Practice Guidelines
- Judicial Interviews with Children
- Hearing the Voice of the Alienated Child in Family Law Disputes
- The Role of Children’s Counsel in Family Law and Child Protection Proceedings
- Assessing the Credibility of Children
The Symposium and Conference are open to anyone with an interest in how children and youth participate in justice processes. Early bird rates, and special discounts for certain students, are available until 3 June 2017; a block of rooms at reduced rates have been reserved at the Hyatt Regency.