Allison Aldrich | Correspondent | Thursday, June 26, 2008
In Quebec, a 12-year-old girl repeatedly ignored her father's rules and posted a profile of herself at an online dating site. Her father then grounded her from attending her sixth grade field trip.
The punishment lasted as long as it took the girl to notify her court-appointed lawyer, have the judge "fast-track" the case, and ultimately get her punishment overturned by a Quebec Superior Court.
The decision has stirred discussion about how much authority parents should have in rearing their children.
Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canada Family Action Coalition, thinks that the courts and judge overstepped their boundaries in the ruling.
"We are totally disturbed by the fact that a judge would take the liberty to interfere in the raising of a child and the function of a family," said Rushfeldt. "To extend the authority of a judge into the authority of a family is questionably illegal."
In each of Canada's provinces, Rushfeldt explained, there is children's services legislation that gives government the responsibility and power to intervene if children are at risk.
"What we've seen over the last five years," said Rushfeldt, "is that the power of children's social services has grown far too extensive when it comes to them intervening in what's going on in the family. ... It's simply unacceptable to override a parent's authority."
Advocates for stronger children's rights think differently. Kathy Vandergrift, chair of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, a public advocacy group, relies on two basic principles when deciding where to stand on cases such as this.
"The first is what's in the best interest of the child, the second is that in decisions that impact the child, the child's views should be taken into consideration," she said. "It certainly should not be the case that the parental decision, regardless what it is, should be the dominate one."
Some observers are worried that the legal notions in Canada might filter down to the United States and influence American judges and courts. Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, is fighting to ensure that parental rights are preserved.
"There may be judges in the U.S. who could look at this as a precedent and think it should be followed," Wendy Wright, president of the organization, told Cybercast News Service . "We believe strongly in parental rights and this is a flagrant violation of the sacred responsibility parents have to raise their children."
In response to the Coalition's confidence that the courts acted in the "best interest of the child," Wright thinks that the 12-year-old's safety was jeopardized by the judge's decision.
"It's well known that children are at risk of being stalked through the Internet by child predators," she said. "Of course the father's going to have great concern over his daughter's Internet use."
The 12-year-old girl's father is appealing the ruling, hoping to restore some authority over his daughter and prevent this from happening to other families in the future. Until then, he is reluctant to invite his daughter home.
As the father's lawyer, Kim Beaudoin, noted, "If she comes back home, the reaction will be every time he gives a punishment, well, you know, I can always bring you to court. That's not the situation you want in your family."
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