Exhibit A: Justice Suzanne Tessier
When judges overrule the reasonable disciplinary decisions of sole custody fathers, they undermine parental authority.
Grant Brown - July 2, 2008
No sooner had I published my Fatherís Day column on this site than along came Justice Suzanne Tessier with a decision to illustrate all of its major themes.
Mr. and Mrs. Boudreau (not their real names), residents of Gatineau, Quebec, were divorced in 1998. Their daughter, Michelle, was only two years old at the time. Over the course of an on-going custody battle, Mr. Boudreau ended up with sole custody. This highly unusual outcome, I suggest, indicates something manifestly deficient in Mrs. Boudreauís ability to parent.
Trouble arose in the early part of 2008, when Michelle repeatedly disobeyed her fatherís rules about accessing Internet chat rooms that he deemed inappropriate for a girl her age. When Mr. Boudreau attempted to block her access to the Internet at home, she circumvented these efforts by posting salacious pictures of herself from the computer of a friend. As a last resort, Mr. Boudreau grounded his daughter, telling her that she could not go on the traditional year-end camping trip with her Grade 6 class.
Michelle responded by running off to her mother, who was apparently more lenient about such conduct. But since Mr. Boudreau retained legal custody, Michelle still needed his consent to go on the school camping trip. So Mrs. Boudreau convinced Michelleís court-appointed lawyer, Lucie Fortin, to take Mr. Boudreau to court to dispense with his consent. Justice Suzanne
Tessier heard the application, and granted the relief sought. All three of these women Ė Mrs. Boudreau, Ms. Fortin, and Justice Tessier--accepted 12-year-old Michelleís view that Mr. Boudreauís discipline was excessive.
You be the judge. But bear in mind that on the same week as this story broke the media were abuzz with reports of the guilty plea of Vincent Duval, a 31-year-old Belgian man who had been caught in a hotel room in Montreal with a 13-year-old girl he had lured into a relationship over the Internet. In the context of the media frenzy over predatory pedophiles that followed Mr. Duvalís arrest, it is safe to say that if Mr. Boudreau had permitted Michelle to access Internet chat rooms and post salacious pictures of herself, there is a good chance Mrs. Boudreau would have been successful in an application to have custody reversed due to his negligence. Damned if he does; damned if he doesnít.
Reasonable people may differ over what constitutes excessive discipline. Media reports were too sparse with details to know exactly how risky Michelleís Internet escapades might have been. Still, nobody was in a better position to judge the risks than Mr. Boudreau, who had day-to-day and face-to-face contact with his child. Certainly Justice Tessier would have been in the poorest position of all to judge the merits of the discipline rendered by Mr. Boudreau, given only summary and presumably conflicting affidavit evidence to go by. It is the height of arrogance for Her Ladyship to think she could reliably second-guess the custodial father.
But the quality of Justice Tessierís parental judgment isnít the central issue here. The larger issue is whether judges should substitute their opinion for that of the custodial parentís when it comes to disciplinary measures that fall short of being abusive. We donít have to agree with the discipline meted out by other parents to accept that they properly have the authority to discipline their own children as they see fit--and to recognize that meddling with these decisions by strangers is the surest way to undermine parental authority.
When children are encouraged by decisions like this to play parents off against each other, and take them to court whenever they donít agree with their decisions, the institution of parenting is irreparably damaged. It is difficult enough for parents to discipline children in todayís permissive milieu; judges should not encourage children and their lawyers to run to court to fine-tune parental decisions whenever a disagreement arises.
In fact, case authority that impugns Justice Tessierís decision is readily at hand. In the leading case on mobility rights, Gordon v. Goertz
,  2 S.C.R. 27, Canadaís top court stated that ďthe custodial parentís views are entitled to great respect.Ē In that case, the custodial parent was the mother, who wanted to relocate with the children to Australia, against the wishes of the father whose contact with his children would have been severely attenuated by the move. Her wishes prevailed.
If a custodial motherís desire to move the children to the other side of the world is entitled to ďgreat respect,Ē how much more deference should be accorded a custodial fatherís non-abusive disciplinary decisions? Mrs. Boudreauís application should have been thrown out summarily, with costs. That she actually prevailed in her foolhardy application is evidence of the pervasive judicial bias against fathers, whereby they can never expect any kind of deference.
What the decisions of our courts really stand for is the proposition that the motherís wishes are entitled to ďgreat respect,Ē whether she is the custodial parent or not. The fatherís opinion, even when he is the custodial parent and his wishes are completely reasonable, is typically accorded no respect at all by our meddling judiciary.
Justice Tessierís decision is under appeal. Let us hope that the Quebec Court of Appeal has a modicum of common sense and over-rules her.