From Saturday's Globe and Mail
June 20, 2008 at 7:58 PM EDT
A Quebec judge's order that a 12-year-old Gatineau girl be allowed to go on a school trip, over her father's objections, looks ridiculous on the face of it, but there are complicating factors that suggest the judge was simply trying to protect the child's interests from being submerged beneath a stalemate between divorced parents.
This was not, as it seemed at first, a matter of undermining parental authority. In Quebec law, decision-making power over matters of importance in a child's life is shared by the separated parents. The parents, divorced for 10 years, could not agree on whether their daughter should be permitted to go on her elementary school's three-day graduation trip. The father said he was withholding permission to punish her for posting inappropriate photos of herself on an Internet dating site, and he is the custodial parent. But her mother said she could go, and the girl has been living with her mother since May.
Was this a question a court should be dealing with? In an ideal world, no. It is absurd and destructive to the child that the parents could not resolve the matter on their own. This girl's family had been before the court for quite some time, which suggests a continuing conflict; she had for some time been represented by a government-appointed lawyer, which suggests a continuing need to protect her interests.
Was the father really punishing her for her Internet violation a month ago, or was he trying to hold a kind of veto power over her life? The answer is not publicly known, partly because Quebec family courts are private; the media are not allowed inside, and Madam Justice Suzanne Tessier of the Quebec Superior Court made an oral ruling, not a written one.
The girl contended that her father had expelled her, which if true (he denied it) would undermine his authority to refuse permission for the trip. An unusual feature of this case is that the child brought the legal motion herself. Unusual though it is, it also seems unjust that the girl should have been denied a graduation trip because her parents could not agree. Judge Tessier appears to have had the girl's interests at heart in a difficult situation.