Help ensure all Ontarians are treated fairly under Ontario’s family justice system

McGuinness with Daughter

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Help ensure all Ontarians are treated fairly under Ontario’s Family Justice System

Short Summary

This crowdfunding campaign is to ensure that all Ontarians are given the right to a fair trial in family law disputes involving the Ontario Office of the Children’s Lawyer (“OCL”). At the time of my marital separation proceedings over 4 years ago, an OCL worker, who identified as a social worker but was not registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, wrote a report that did not match her clinical notes.  I also believe there were other issues with the report.

This report formed the basis of a negative outcome and I am now seeking funding to pursue a civil action against the OCL worker and the OCL. I need these funds to for legal and court filing costs. I am trying to save on some costs by filing my own paperwork at the court when I am able to.

 

The Story

According to the Law Commission of Ontario, “[a]bout 40% of all marriages and relationships in Canada end in a break-up” and “the majority of separating and divorcing couples can probably settle matters in a relatively harmonious way.”

Unfortunately, this is not the lived reality for everyone.

The Law Commission of Ontario also states that:

  • 2% to 5% of all family law cases are so high conflict they go to a full trial, which puts a significant pressure on the family justice system;
  • about 50% of all cases remain in the system for at least one year and over 16% for at least two years;
  • high legal fees can be a barrier for many persons in a family dispute

I write this from the vantage point of a parent who identifies as a member of the 2-5%, the 50% and the 16%.

At the time of my marital separation, our daughter was three years of age; she is now almost 8. The matter of custody became legally involved and subsequently an investigation by the OCL was undertaken. The investigation process was carried out by an OCL worker who identified as a social worker. I would later learn that she held no formal registration with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers at the time of her reporting which formed the basis of a negative outcome. Her clinical notes did not match her report leading to inaccuracies, and I believe there are other issues with the report. The effort, heartache and financial investment to work towards a fair resolution has been considerable. Now, over 4 years later, I am still working towards remedying the injustice that has occurred – not only for my own situation, but with hopes that my story lends itself to supporting others and affecting change necessary to uphold the best interests of children across Canada.

By training, I am a social worker. We are taught to fight injustices, and challenge unfair policies. I feel that challenging this is the right thing to do to prevent this from occurring to other families, and to help fix some of the damages as a result of this unfair process.

 

Funding Needs

Funding is needed to pursue the civil action. I am requesting assistance with funding for legal costs. I am trying to save on some costs by filing my own paperwork at the court when I am able to. The next step in this case that I will need funds for is serving papers, and discovery, where evidence will be presented.

 

Background/Context

The Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario

I filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario (the “Ombudsman”) and there was an investigation opened based on my complaint.  I was told that I was not privy to the outcome of the investigation due to it being confidential.

Decision in Court and Impact

Temporary decisions were made based on the OCL worker’s report, which impacted every court date up until trial. Ultimately, I believe that it impacted my right to a fair trial. Ultimately, sole custody was given to her father, who registered our daughter at a school outside of the city where she was living 70% of the time. This was done before there were any court orders in place around where she attended school. There was no discussion about this with me, my contact information was not properly given to the school, and the only way I found out about her registration was by calling local schools to see if he had done this out of suspicion.

Clinical Notes from the Office of the Children’s Lawyer

The report was presented to the court several years before the clinical notes were seen. Decisions were made on a temporary basis based on the “facts” of the report which were not consistent with clinical notes, amongst other issues I feel there was with the report.

Legal Opinion

Misfeasance: “the wrongful performance of a normally lawful act; the wrongful and injurious exercise of lawful authority

I had a lawyer assess my case for a civil suit and they agree that I have a case to pursue against the OCL worker and the OCL, as there is a responsibility to provide care, and I am alleging gross negligence and public misfeasance. Although I cannot disclose all of the details at this time, I think that this will give an idea of what the situation has caused.  It has cost me a significant amount of money during an already expensive time to defend myself from false accusations, and scare tactics that have been presented to me throughout all of the legal proceedings.

Systemic Issues and Steps I Have Taken to Resolve the Matter

Since he has been given sole custody, he has failed to pay child support arrears on time that he previously owed. A writ of seizure and sale had to be put on his house to obtain this through the Ontario Family Responsibility Office (the “FRO”) (see McGuinness vs. FRO on Canlii.org). Although I did not win this case against the FRO, I did not have the information from them about what was being done to enforce my case. Despite not winning this particular case, it does give third party verification of using the sole custody order to evade responsibilities. It is important to note that this individual was frequently going on cruises despite not paying child support.

  • I filed the complaint with the Ombudsman with regards to the OCL and the “investigation.”
  • I have filed a motion to change custody.
  • My family and I have been fighting this because of our beliefs in upholding human rights, upholding accountability of those making life changing decisions, and correcting wrongs that have occurred to the extent that they can be corrected.

My family and I have been funding this, so there is a lot invested in it. The deadlines of legal processes are very timely. I think this is a public interest issue and that there is a lot of learning from this that can benefit the public. I know there are others who are experiencing similar situations who could benefit from any case law that this could create as well.

I think it is important for the public to know that I received a legal opinion on this case because I value integrity and accountability, and I would not pursue something that is so costly if it was felt that there was not a case to be had.
If there are questions with regards to this matter, please feel free to contact me by emailing jennifermcguinness@hotmail.com where I ask that you leave a name and phone number for me to respond to you.

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