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National Post

Quebec parental discipline case may go to Supreme Court of Canada

National Post, By Marianne White, Canwest News Service, April 7, 2009

QUEBEC - The lawyer for a Quebec man whose 12-year-old daughter took him to court to challenge his punishment said Tuesday the case might be taken to the country's top court after the father's appeal was quashed.

The Quebec Court of Appeal sided with the girl, who won a decision from a lower court last June overruling her father's decision to ban her from a school trip.

The court stated that it is a question of parental authority and that what should have been a daily parenting decision burst into a major conflict. But the girl was right to ask the Quebec Superior Court to resolve the matter because her divorced parents couldn't agree, it added.

The mother was in favour of the school trip while the father forbade the girl from going because she didn't follow his orders to stay off the Internet and got into a fight with her stepmother.

"I wasn't proud to be a Quebecer when I read the ruling. I can't believe we let a child do this," said Kim Beaudoin, who represents the girl's father - who can't be named to protect his daughter's identity.

"The court is sending the message that children can sue their parents when they are not happy with a punishment. Is that what we want? It doesn't reflect my values and I think it doesn't reflect the values of our society," Beaudoin added.

The Court of Appeal noted in its ruling that the tribunals are not a forum for children who want to dispute a parental punishment unless their "health, security or education are imperilled".

Beaudoin also criticized the Court of Appeal ruling for siding with the mother because the girl was living at her house last June even though the father had the legal custody.

She said the Gatineau-area father has asked her to look into the possibility of taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. "I'll ponder what are our chances are and how much it would cost," the lawyer said, noting the decision won't be made hastily.

She also called on the provincial government to amend its civil code that allows minors to challenge parental authority in court.

"I would rather see the law changed than have to get to the Supreme Court to make sure this won't happen again," Beaudoin said.

Quebec Justice Minister Kathleen Weil declined to comment on the case since it might be brought to the attention of the Supreme Court.

But a lawyer for the 12-year-old girl said parents need not worry that their children will take them to court because they withheld their allowance.

"This is truly an exceptional case," said Lucie Fortin, noting the decision is virtually without precedent.

She stressed that the Article 159 of the common law that gives minors the right to challenge parental authority requires an authorization be granted before any legal action is taken.

"If the court is seized with a trivial question, it will not authorize it," Fortin said.

She also insisted her client didn't act on a whim in this case.

"I did everything to avoid taking the matter to court, but the parents wouldn't agree," Fortin said. "And if there is something to be learned from this case it's that parents should put their marital problems aside and put their children first when there is a divorce."

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service