On October 20th, the New Professionals Group, chaired by Ms. Jaclyn Mackenzie, hosted an event where a panel explored strategies for dealing with mental health challenges in family and child protection cases. The panel included Justice Anthony William J. Sullivan of the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton; Dr. Dan Ashbourne, Psychologist and Executive Director of the London Family Court Clinic; and Paula McGirr, Senior Counsel, Legal Aid Ontario; with Margaretta Hall, a family law lawyer from Toronto as the moderator. The event was well attended by lawyers and mental health professionals. Issues discussed included what needs to be established in assessing the capacity of a client, how to involve the Public Guardian and Trustee, how the mental health professional becomes involved in the process of capacity assessment, the importance of due process and the utility of parenting capacity assessments and alternative dispute resolution processes in these situations.
Following the New Professionals Group event, the auditorium at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto was filled to capacity as the Pre-Conference Institute got underway. At the Institute, Dr. Irwin Butkowsky was cross-examined by two senior and experienced family law lawyers, Harold Niman and Patrick Schmidt. The Honourable Justice Heather McGee and the Honourable Justice Debra Paulseth presided to keep order in the Court! The exercise – based on an actual case – highlighted issues such as the order in which a s. 30 CLRA assessor should be called to testify (the end of the trial was preferred), the difference between a clinical and forensic assessment, how the integrity of the Court can be protected, the disclosure counsel requires to properly cross-examine the assessor, the difference between lay opinion and expert opinion, and how the passing of time might affect the weight given to an assessor’s opinions. Whether you were a ‘new’ professional or an ‘old’ one, there was something to be learned by all.
The annual social and networking event took place in the evening at the Spring Rolls Restaurant. This event provided a wonderful opportunity for family law and mental health professionals to mingle and connect with friends and colleagues and make new connections in an informal setting, along with some delicious hors d’oeuvres.