Quebec investing in 'collaborative justice' program to resolve family conflicts

Quebec is spending $180,000 to expand a program that takes a child-focused approach to resolving family conflicts, known as PCR, or Parental Conflict Resolution.

Quebec will spend $180,000 to expand a project to resolve family conflicts that reach 'crisis' level

​The initial pilot project offered the PCR program to 10 families in Quebec City, while this new phase will make it available to 80 families, Quebec's Justice Minister said. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

A "collaborative justice" approach to family breakups — where one judge works closely with lawyers for both parents and psychologists to resolve cases of extreme conflict — could save lives.

That's what Robert Pidgeon, associate chief justice of the Quebec Superior Court, said Tuesday as he announced a new stage in the province's approach to solving family conflicts, known as PCR, or Parental Conflict Resolution.

The provincial government will invest an additional $180,000 to expand a PCR pilot project currently underway in Quebec City.

​"If we can save the lives of one or two children, this is worth it," Pidgeon said, referring to cases where an estranged parent kills children, then commits suicide.

The announcement of new funding came after Quebec Superior Court Senior Associate Chief Justice Robert Pidgeon called for an immediate boost in government funds for Quebec's judicial system. (CBC)

When using the PCR approach, one judge handles the case, rather than a succession of judges dealing with multiple legal actions that can drag out divorce cases for years.

As well, psychologists and social workers work with lawyers for both parents and the parents themselves.

They must all agree to work together to find a resolution that is centred on the welfare of the children involved.

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said the province's investment will cover the costs of psychologists and social workers participating in the program.

The program will change the way family courts deal with high-conflict situations, Vallée said.

"It's a never ending story when you have a high-conflict situation."

Voluntary process for 'crisis situations'

Francine Cyr of the Université de Montréal, the lead psychologist developing PCR in Quebec, said the key is for parents to voluntarily agree to participate in PCR,

She said a judge may present the program to them as their "last chance." 

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée says the government's plan is aimed at eliminating some inefficiencies and relieving the pressure on the court system. (CBC)

PCR is for "crisis situations" where mediation and conciliation do not work, Cyr said.

While the psychologists and other professions involved are "highly skilled," and come up with good proposals, Cyr said the judge plays an essential role when rendering a final decision to resolve the conflict.

Pidgeon admitted he was skeptical when Cyr, alongside Justice Catherine La Rosa, who handles family law cases, and lawyer Sophie Gauthier, first proposed this new way of dealing with family conflict three years ago.

But he said he's now sold on the approach, which has produced favourable results and saves time in Quebec's litigation-clogged courts.

It has also drawn attention in other jurisdictions, such as Ireland and Western Canada, said Karine Poitras, a professor in the psychology department at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières who works with Cyr.

Vallée hopeful program will be available Quebec-wide

​The initial pilot project, organized at the Quebec City courthouse, offered the service to 10 families.

Vallée said the new phase will make it available to 80 families, and she said she's hopeful one day it will be available across the province.

The minister, who is not running for re-election in Quebec's Oct. 1 provincial election and practised family law herself, said she knows how family conflicts can lead to tragedies.

"When a person is hurt it can have impacts that are beyond belief," Vallée said.

PCR "is very human" and is "an approach that is child-based," she said.

The positive impact goes beyond the interests of the children, however.

Under the previous approach, each parent could hire a social worker or psychologist to support their position, and they didn't necessarily talk to each other, Vallée said.

"This approach is different because the family, all the family, takes part in the process and the professionals are the same throughout the process," she said.​

About the Author

Kevin Dougherty

Journalist

Kevin Dougherty is a Quebec City-based journalist for CBC News. Follow him on Twitter @doughertykr