B.C. psychologist apologizes for one-sided opinion in family court
Prince George's Dr. Cindy Hardy has agreed not to conduct any more assessments in custody disputes
When psychologist Dr. Cindy Hardy informed a judge that a nine-year-old B.C. boy might deliberately hurt himself if he had to visit his dad in Alberta, she did so without ever speaking to the father.
Her written submission, produced without the father's consent, was so unusual that the judge phoned Hardy from court and pointed out that some might call her actions unethical, according to excerpts from the April 2016 child custody trial.
After that conversation, Provincial Court of Alberta Judge Karen Jordan said she would "absolutely not" accept Hardy's recommendations.
Psychologists who provide assessments in family court are expected to corroborate information, obtain multiple perspectives and get informed consent from everyone involved.
"I want an evaluation that is worth the paper it's written on, rather than this one," Jordan wrote.
"I will have to struggle with the issue of whether I'm reporting Dr. Hardy to her professional society, that's how bad this is in my view. This isn't just a little glitch."
Ultimately, the boy's father complained about Hardy, who is based in Prince George, B.C., to the College of Psychologists of B.C.
Now, after more than three years of turmoil for the family, Hardy has agreed not to accept any more referrals to conduct assessments in family law disputes, according to a public notice posted last month by the college.
She's also issued a letter of apology to the boy's father, whom CBC is not naming to protect the privacy of his child, admitting that she did not meet the professional standards of the college.
Hardy, a former psychology professor at the University of Northern B.C., acknowledged in an email to CBC that she does not usually practise forensic psychology for family law.
It's just the latest example of a B.C. psychologist facing potential discipline for their work in contentious child custody disputes.
And, as in previous cases reported by CBC, this one is raising questions about how the college handles misconduct allegations and whether it's putting public protection first.
Father not allowed contact with son
For the father at the centre of this case, the aftermath of Hardy's one-sided opinion has included dozens of court hearings in two provinces, an unsatisfactory disciplinary process by the college and an appeal to the Health Professions Review Board (HPRB).
On Jan. 21, 2019, more than two years after the father filed his complaint, the HPRB found the college had failed in its duty to protect the public and ordered a reconsideration of the case.
For some of that time, the father was not allowed any contact with his son — due to a decision from a B.C. judge who accepted Hardy's recommendations just days after they were rejected in Alberta, according to the HPRB decision.
"It affected my immediate and extended family emotionally, financially and physically," the father said in an email to CBC.
He said he was finally able to see his son again in July 2017 when his parenting time was reinstated, and they spent the holidays together this year.
"I believe we all are trying to look ahead to the future, but the uninhibited comments from Dr. Hardy [have] done serious damage in regard to our relationship and time that was lost," the father said.
'I thought I was doing the right thing'
In its public notice, the college says that Hardy did not have "sufficient familiarity" with forensic family law psychology to give an opinion in court, and she acknowledged as much in email to CBC.
"I did accept one such engagement because I believed a child was in distress and there were no practicable alternative options available to assist due to the geographical location" in northern B.C., Hardy said.
"At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing being concerned with the child. I will not be taking on forensic family law psychology work in future."
Hardy said she could not comment any further.
In a letter to the father dated Dec. 6, 2019, Hardy says she is writing to "apologize and further express my regret" for her actions.
An earlier letter expressing regret, dated May 3, 2017, "contained no actual apology, insight or acknowledgement of substandard practice," HPRB panel chair Deborah Lynn Zutter wrote in a decision last January.
The 2017 letter was part of an earlier agreement between Hardy and the college, which wasn't made public and gave Hardy the option of doing more assessments in family court, as long as they were supervised.
Zutter found that agreement "unreasonable on several grounds," and wrote that Hardy's non-apology "unreasonably failed to satisfy the paramount duty to protect the public and the public interest."
The HPRB ordered the college to reconsider the agreement.
'There are really no consequences for her actions'
The father learned last month that Hardy had signed a new resolution agreement with the college, saying she won't accept referrals for psychological assessments in family court.
He's still not satisfied and plans to file for another review with the HPRB.
"There are really no consequences for her actions. A limitation in regard to something she rarely practises does not affect her," he said.
After this experience, he said he wonders if the college is meeting its mandate.
"It is my humble opinion that they are more concerned about their own than the public," the father said.
Similar concerns have been raised over the college's handling of complaints against former Vancouver psychologist Allan Posthuma, who was allowed to retire rather than face a disciplinary hearing for alleged problems in his work on five child custody disputes.
In an email to CBC, college registrar Andrea Kowaz said she couldn't comment on specific investigations, but negative feedback from the HPRB is always used to inform how the college responds to future complaints.
"The College agrees with the HPRB that public protection is its paramount duty under the Health Professions Act, and all investigations are focused on that objective," Kowaz wrote.
She added that anyone who is dissatisfied with how the college has handled an investigation is free to apply to the HPRB for a review.
Meanwhile, another parent has notified CBC of a complaint they've filed making allegations about Hardy's work with a child at the centre of a high-conflict family dispute. That complaint is still under investigation, and both the college and Hardy declined to comment.