A Crescent Beach single mother is taking on the Canadian family court system, alleging discrimination – and contraventions of the Human Rights Code – against women, against those who represent themselves in court and against litigants who are disabled.
“I represent all three categories,” Alison MacLean, 53, said Monday, discussing her announcement in Vancouver this morning (Tuesday) that she is filing federal and provincial human-rights complaints on behalf of those she feels have been unfairly treated by the court system.
“The system is completely failing families – it’s broken.”
Respondents in the complaints are federal Attorney General and Justice Minister Peter MacKay, federal Industry Minister James Moore (responsible for bankruptcies and insolvencies), B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton and their respective ministries.
MacLean, a freelance videographer who has worked as a combat camerawoman in Afghanistan – she reported some of her experiences there in the Peace Arch News last October – has been a self-represented litigant since 2008, following her divorce.
“I’ve had to fight every step of the way,” she said, adding that her ability to represent herself has been limited by a long-term disability as a result of an old knee injury and knee replacement, subsequently aggravated while working in Kandahar and Kabul.
“Last year at this time, I was in Afghanistan in lockdown due to suicide bombers,” MacLean states in a news release announcing the filing of her complaints at the Human Rights Tribunal offices in Vancouver. “Today my battleground is here at the family law courts… because this is not my Canada.”
MacLean told PAN her own experiences have driven her to become an outspoken advocate of self-represented litigants against a judicial system she claims favours lawyers, judges and clerks.
“I’m so tired of seeing broken people leaving the family-court system,” she said.
Her personal legal struggle, she says, includes efforts to access assets and being hampered by legal maneuvers and delaying tactics designed to take advantage of her ignorance of intricacies of the system, her inability to access needed information and regulations and procedures for filing applications and documents that differ from court to court.
While MacLean says her own tenacity has brought her success in representing herself, “it’s success at a huge cost, and it’s ongoing.”
MacLean said she recognizes that those who represent themselves in court are viewed by the system as a growing menace causing delays and bottlenecks. But in most cases, she said, the galloping trend is being driven by financial hardship, as those in middle-class income brackets are deemed too well-off to apply for legal aid. If they can’t afford legal representation, litigants have no choice but to represent themselves, she said.
“I paid out $150,000 over a two-year period to two different lawyers I thought were going to solve this for me,” she added.
Among policy changes MacLean is asking for are establishment of a one-judge-per-case-file rule, increased access to court resources for self-represented litigants, greater ability to investigate complaints against officers of the court and changes to regulations for certificate-of-cost awards that would prevent assets being shielded in RRSPs and by bankruptcy-discharge applications.