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Another Great Satire from The Onion:

Court Reverses Father's Decision to Ground Daughter by Keeping Her from a School Overnight Trip. I just love it how the Onion can take real practices and extrapolate them three steps forward to the utterly absurd.

The article is on what must be some mirror site for The Onion — something in Canada called TheGlobeAndMail.com. And it's odd, but the other stories on the site don't seem that funny. Well, here's an excerpt:

First, the father banned his 12-year-old daughter from going online after she posted photos of herself on a dating site. Then she allegedly had a row with her stepmother, so the father said his girl couldn't go on a school trip.

The girl took the matter to the court ... [and] Madam Justice Suzanne Tessier of the Quebec Superior Court ruled on Friday that the father couldn't discipline his daughter by barring her from the school trip....

Lucie Fortin, the lawyer representing the 12-year-old, said the judge found that depriving the girl of the school trip was an excessive punishment.

She said the girl has already been forbidden to use the Internet and her father also punished her by cancelling her participation in an extracurricular event.

In an odd twist for The Onion, the satire goes on to give some pretty humdrum and not very funny details. (Is The Onion losing its touch?) The story notes that the trip was a three-day outing marking the girl's graduation from sixth grade, and apparently not a part of the school's educational curriculum. The story also notes that the parents are divorced, and "[the girl's] father has legal custody but for the past month she has lived with her mother," but the story describes the matter as a dispute between the girl and the father, not a dispute between the two parents' judgment or a question about whether the mother should get temporary or permanent legal decisionmaking authority.

In any case, it's great humor, despite the excess of realistic detail. Thanks to Dennis Nolan for the pointer. I should note that there's a small chance that the story isn't a satire after all, but, really, given the absurdity, how likely is that?

UPDATE: Commenter David Malmstrom points to another news story that suggests the matter might indeed have been partly a dispute between parents: "The girl's mother allowed her to go on the trip, but because the school wouldn't allow the girl to go unless both parents consented, the girl, with the mother's support took legal action against her father."

But it seems to me the absurdity remains: It's absurd that a judge would step in to decide whether grounding a child from a school trip is "excessive punishment." If the mother petitioned for a change in custody, that would indeed justify (and require) a judge's intervention, because it would involve a major life decision, and would determine which parent should have disciplinary authority -- something the courts have to do in case of a divorce -- rather than whether a particular grounding decision was justified. But when the school policy is that both parents must consent, which is to say that each parent has veto power, and one parent does exercise his veto, it makes no sense for a judge to decide the matter for herself instead of leaving it to the vetoing parent's judgment.

Armen (mail) (www):
I really don't think this is an Onion article. Plus the court totally erred. The girl failed to exhaust available administrative remedies.
6.19.2008 12:39pm
Alex Denmark (mail):
Maybe I'm missing something, but where does it say this is an Onion article? I agree it doesn't seem their style at all.
6.19.2008 12:40pm
L.A. Brave:
Nothing much to say, other than that this is utterly stupefying.

Forget the absurdity of ruling for a second. How in the world did this case even end up in court?

1) Who is paying for the girl's attorney?
2) What kind of attorney would take such a case? Sure, she won for her client. But lawyers should be on the front lines of preventing this kind of absurd litigation.

My pure speculation is that the biological mother is behind this. In any event, the whole things is sad.
6.19.2008 12:41pm
L.A. Brave:
Armen and Alex, I'm pretty sure EV is being a tad sarcastic here.

Here is another news report on the case.
6.19.2008 12:45pm
one of many:
Peculiar, I've always thought Canadians (not necessarily Canadiens) among the most skilled humor technicians in the world.
6.19.2008 12:47pm
Kevin Lomax:
one of many:

Like this piece of classic Canadian humor?

Terrence: What did the Spanish priest say to the Iranian gynecologist?

Philip: I don't know, Terrence. What?

Terrence: /farts on Philip's head
6.19.2008 12:58pm
Paul Milligan (mail):
Ummm.... Gene ????

It's real :-)
6.19.2008 1:00pm
Chris C (mail):
I hope they take this all the way to the Supreme Dad.
6.19.2008 1:06pm
Wilkeson (mail):
I thought judges weren't supposed to drink while working.

Imagine what was going through his head the next morning: "oh man, I ruled WHAT?"
6.19.2008 1:06pm
Doug B. (mail) (www):
GREAT POST and nice catch of an amazing story. In my post at SL&P, I thought to do a little comparative law analysis:


In the United States, the Supreme Court and lower courts regularly dismiss legal challenges brought by juveniles (and adults) that claim that decades or life in prison constitutes excessive punishment. But, north of the border, courts are apparently eager to declare a parental punishment in the form of grounding a 12-year girl to be excessive. (I think I will call this the Hannah Montana doctrine: sing it with me closet Hannah fans, "Let's go, GNO.")
6.19.2008 1:08pm
pgepps (www):
...and the comments prove that, once again, wit must needs wear safety yellow.
6.19.2008 1:10pm
WHOI Jacket:
Wow, too bad I never heard of that option.......
6.19.2008 1:11pm
Extraneus (mail):
Speaking of the Supreme Dad, I liked this 11:38AM comment from the story L.A. Brave linked to:

I will no longer punish my child for anything. I will allow her to do whatever she wants. I will simply say "no" to her and if she ignores it... so be it. Should she do something really wrong, and end up arrested or something, I will sue the federal government for failing to allow me to discipline her as a child, and therefore, causing the situation she is now in. Every time she does something wrong I will sue them as it will be their responsibility to ensure she behaves as they have taken away my right to do so myself.
6.19.2008 1:13pm
David Malmstrom (mail):
"The girl's mother allowed her to go on the trip, but because the school wouldn't allow the girl to go unless both parents consented, the girl, with the mother's support took legal action against her father." - http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=597169

If so, not too unbelievable - however, as the article states "Even in Quebec, the decision is virtually without precedent."

Also, what does "Even in Quebec" mean?
6.19.2008 1:14pm
Ak:
David Malmstrom: The father had sole custody at the time. This is exactly the sort of decision that was his to make. I would still say it's pretty unbelievable.
6.19.2008 1:18pm
Bad (mail) (www):
Eugene, I think this post was too glib. From reading the articles, it seems apparent to me that other things were going on than just what the headline and story covered.

"The judge's decision, made from the bench, applies only to the girl's unusual circumstances, lawyers for both sides said, trying to dispel visions of grounded teenagers rushing to the nearest courthouse to overturn their parents' punishments."

and

"Beaudoin said the justice also said there was no reason for the punishment to stand, since the girl was now living with her mother, even though the father has custody."

Before declaring something a total absurdity (and it of course still could be) I think I'd want to look a little more deeply into the real facts and legal issues in the case, rather than just trusting a sensationalistic summary. It at least sounds like some issues of custody situations were actually important to the case in ways not really covered in the article.
6.19.2008 1:20pm
rbj:
Considering that this took place in Canada -- home of the Canadian Human Rights Commission -- this doesn't strike me as out there. I'm just surprised the father wasn't ordered to apologize and barred from ever disciplining his child ever again.
6.19.2008 1:20pm
Seamus (mail):
Well, considering how many people posted comments here (
http://volokh.com/posts/1213387751.shtml)
to the effect that the state should step in and prevent parents from administering physical discipline, it was only a matter of time before someone said that the state should get even further into second-guessing parental disciplinary decisions.
6.19.2008 1:23pm
Extraneus (mail):
Considering that the judge's logic as to why the punishment was excessive

She said the girl has already been forbidden to use the Internet and her father also punished her by cancelling her participation in an extracurricular event.

would anyone like to speculate as to whether the Internet prohibition was enforced at Mom's house?
6.19.2008 1:29pm
David Malmstrom (mail):
Ak: Got it - slipped my mind at the time. I agree that as it stands it is unbelievable. Though inaccurate, my comment is more that had the father not had legal custody then it wouldn't be much of a surprise to learn that the child's mother is supporting (or even initiating) this kind of legal action.
6.19.2008 1:38pm
David Malmstrom (mail):
Ak: Got it - slipped my mind at the time. I agree that as it stands it is unbelievable. Though inaccurate, my comment is more that had the father not had legal custody then it wouldn't be much of a surprise to learn that the child's mother is supporting (or even initiating) this kind of legal action.
6.19.2008 1:38pm
one of many:
Also, what does "Even in Quebec" mean?

Quebec has different legal traditions from the rest of Canada (French not English Common Law), something widely known in Canada (and I thought the US). Quebec's (French Canada's) differences from the English portion of Canada are so well known that I joked about Canadiens (Quebecois if you support the Bloc) being different from Canadians. The closest US comparison would be what Louisiana law would be like if Louisiana had not had to conform it's law to USSC rulings before 1960.
6.19.2008 1:40pm
Tucker (mail):
Ah, the slippery slope...
6.19.2008 1:46pm
Kazinski:
It would be interesting to read the decision and see if the judge even tried to apply a law, any law, from anywhere to her decision.

Without twisting this too much, do you think this is what Obama meant when he said:

If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that's the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.


This Judge knew what it's like to be on the outside, not to be able to go on the 6th grade field trip. I note that their is no citizenship requirement for the Supreme Court and Obama could appoint Justice Suzanne Tessier to the Supreme Court of the United States.
6.19.2008 1:49pm
David Malmstrom (mail):
The comment "even in quebec" implies that in Quebec they have a wide body of precedent that is similarly absurd, or else the comment does not make sense - wouldn't Quebec tend to have less precedent if it is civil law?
6.19.2008 1:52pm
Dennis Nicholls (mail):
You don't fool me. Everyone knows that The Onion site for Quebec would be Le Oignon.
6.19.2008 1:55pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Professor,

I don't understand this post. The Globe and Mail is a real newspaper. I only read it for hockey news though.

Canada sucks, and this is more proof of it.

And, let me add some more Canadian humor, since it is a legal discussion, I'll use this:

Philip: Would a murderer go the zoo and feed animals like this? Of course not. So, in summation, find Terrence innocent, or else he'll kill you. Hahahaha! just kidding! (Farts) The defense rests.
6.19.2008 1:58pm
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
>How in the world did this case even end up in court?

Obviously fallout from Boumediene. Absolutely everyone is using habeus to challenge their detentions now.
6.19.2008 1:59pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
I read someplace that every attempt at satire or irony can be seen as a joke between the writer and the reader at the expense of a hypothetical third person who will miss the point and take the writing literally.

Of course, sometimes the third person is not hypothetical.
6.19.2008 2:07pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Ex-Fed: Very well put.
6.19.2008 2:24pm
one of many:
The comment "even in quebec" implies that in Quebec they have a wide body of precedent that is similarly absurd, or else the comment does not make sense - wouldn't Quebec tend to have less precedent if it is civil law?
It's more an attitudinal thing. In English Canada there is widespread belief that Quebec courts routinely issue weird, inexplicable and even absurd rulings supported by occasional instances where Quebec courts issue rulings which are weird, inexplicable or even absurd in terms of ECL as practiced in Canada.
6.19.2008 2:35pm
DCTenor1 (mail) (www):
My goodness... I am less surprised by the wacky Canadian court ruling than I am by the fact that so many Volokh.com visitors are incapable of perceiving sarcasm. If dry wit goes right over the heads of Volokh's intelligent visitors, what chance does the rest of the world have? I tremble for the future of wit.
6.19.2008 2:57pm
Cactus Jack:

I tremble for the future of wit.

Coincidentally, I TREMBLE for the future of WHIT.
6.19.2008 3:34pm
tvk:
Great post, EV. I must admit that when first reading the story, I really thought it was from The Onion. Of course, we know from the L'Affair Kozinski that newspapers can distort and exaggerate, but I would dearly like to see someone explain this decision in a way that makes it reasonable.
6.19.2008 3:57pm
JRL:
"Also, what does 'Even in Quebec' mean?"

Is Quebec where the kid brought, and won, the "wrongful birth" action against her parents?
6.19.2008 4:08pm
John A. Fleming (mail):
This is so easy to understand. The father may have once had de jure custody, but defaulted on it when the daughter ran away to mother, and the father did not drag her back kicking and screaming. (What a timid father, unwilling to risk a domestic dispute and/or child endangerment charge, as if his child's proper upbringing is not worth the risk.) The mother now had de facto custody, and since as everybody knows, possession is nine-tenths of the law, and since as everbody also knows, mothers are innately more competent at parenting than fathers due to their life experiences and temperament, the decision is a slam dunk.

In fact, the court is providing the father a great benefit, since the father's role is to be the bad cop to mom's good cop role. Since the court had denied the child the good cop appeal when it awarded sole custody to the father, in order to keep the family functionally strong, the court must substitute it's informed wisdom, tradition of fairness, and la majesté de la loi, for the now missing loving gentleness and forgiveness of mom.

What a great decision! Everybody wins!
6.19.2008 4:10pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Why would the school want permission from *both* parents? Was there something unusual about this particular child's case? Because it would seem that the school demanding permission from parent B after getting it from parent A would be a clear interference in parent A's right to make decisions for their child. The school cannot act on behalf of parent B against the wishes of parent A, that's custodial interference.

It sounds like it was the school who took it upon themselves to ignore the mother's decision for her own child. If the mother had any right to make that decision, the school had no right to ignore it and go ask the other parent.

We scold children for doing that!
6.19.2008 4:14pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

Eugene, I think this post was too glib. From reading the articles, it seems apparent to me that other things were going on than just what the headline and story covered.


That only makes it satire about reporters rather than courts.
6.19.2008 4:16pm
Tom G:
I don't understand people saying "other things must have been going on." So what if they were ?
The idea that a court of law actually CONSIDERED THIS WORTH ITS TIME is pathetic. Is there any reason why the judge should not have thrown the case out of court ?
6.19.2008 5:09pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
To those who have tried to defend this as just an outgrowth of the custody dispute, sorry, that doesn't help. If the issue was simply which parent had the right to make decisions (the only thing the court should be concerned about), then whether the judge though the punishment was "excessive" or not would have no relevance. The proper role of the judge is to rule which parent (when they are divorced and can't agree) has the legal right to make such decisions about the child's actions. Unless the judge was ruling that the father's pattern of punishments was so excessive as to render the mother the more suitable custodial parent, then the judge's opinion about the excessiveness of any particular punishment should be of no legal relevance whatsoever.
6.19.2008 6:06pm
Cousin Dave (mail):
David Schwartz: I'm not sure if your post is intended to be parody. The father had legal custody. The school had no business asking the mother.
6.19.2008 6:09pm
Pat C (mail):
Since I frequently go the the Globe and Mail site as I peruse film reviews (when I should be working), I knew immediately that the Professor's statement that it was the Onion was ironic. And I thought it was a nice touch.
Pity it went past a number of readers, though. Aimed a little too high, perhaps?

I envy Canadian youth. My unreasonable parents made me eat vegetables when I was a kid, and the legal system refused to take my side.
6.19.2008 6:28pm
Struthius:
Re: the many commenters who are non-hypothetical:

See the urban dictionary definition for "sarchasm."
6.19.2008 6:37pm
Extraneus (mail):
Ok, I'll bite. I know they like to snoop into the kids' home lives, and therefore probably already knew her parents were divorced -- or at least believed so based on the girl's confidence -- but why does anyone think the school would know which was the custodial parent?
6.19.2008 10:03pm
skyywise (mail):
It's completely conjecture on my part, but the worst thing about this case is that it's likely the result of divorced parents manipulating their children as pawns to spite each other. Would the daughter really take up a case in court over this matter without her mother's encouragement &support?

The legal avenue probably existed for other reasons and was abused, much like many other legal remedies. I think Mr. Flemming above was indirectly expressing the same sentiment.
6.19.2008 10:49pm
Michael B (mail):
"Without twisting this too much, do you think this is what Obama meant when he said:
"If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that's the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court."
I have nothing to add to that, and nothing to subtract from it either.
6.19.2008 11:26pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
This is what Radley Balko refers to as post-reductio America. Except it's Canada.
6.20.2008 12:20am
Deoxy (mail):
That decision is absolutely absurd... but "family law" in this country is at least as bad.
6.20.2008 11:12am
gomtu:
Canada: It must be some mirror site for the US.
6.20.2008 7:39pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
For what it's worth, I (as a child of divorce) encountered plenty of situations where both of my parents had to sign, individually, before I was allowed to do something. My church made me get my (anti-religion) father's signature before they'd let me get baptized, for instance, despite having my mother's consent. This is a cheap and easy (for the organization) way of "staying out of it" -- note that the parent/child sued the other parent, rather than the school.

And anyone with experience in a family court knows this sort of nonsense is hardly unusual -- court orders specifying which corner a child must be dropped off at each morning school is in session, instructions prohibiting the parents from speaking about subjects in their own homes, and both the custodial and non-custodial parents being required to report their address, employer, and income changes to the court until the youngest child turns 18, all come to mind. I see no major difference between "who has to pay for Timmy's science fair entry fees" statements in divorce decrees and a judge vetoing a 6th-grader's punishment on the grounds of "dude, you, like, already kept her from texting her friends, what more do you want, like, blood??" And besides, as far as welfare officials and juvenile courts are concerned, these kids are fundamentally "theirs" (cf. Texas CPS.)
6.20.2008 10:43pm
Abandon:

The comment "even in quebec" implies that in Quebec they have a wide body of precedent that is similarly absurd, or else the comment does not make sense - wouldn't Quebec tend to have less precedent if it is civil law?

It's more an attitudinal thing. In English Canada there is widespread belief that Quebec courts routinely issue weird, inexplicable and even absurd rulings supported by occasional instances where Quebec courts issue rulings which are weird, inexplicable or even absurd in terms of ECL as practiced in Canada.


Quebec is the only province to be stuck with two distinct charters of rights: the provincial one (made forth by the Parti Québécois' governement in 1976) and the federal one (embedded within the Constitution in 1982). As the latter goes in more general terms (though a bit more precise than the American Bill of Rights), the former is much more specific when it comes to regulating interactions between individuals and institutions as well as individuals between themselves. The provincial "Charte des droits et libertés" leaves the door open to various shades of interpretations, which brings judges to sometimes rule in ackward directions.

It is my understanding that this case was based on a particular article of the "Charte des droits et libertés". To the benefit of the readers, the two biggest newspapers in the province (La Presse and Le Devoir) didn't miss the ridiculous ruling. Tabloids editors (Le Journal de Montréal, Le journal de Québec) also seem to have quite a good laugh...
6.21.2008 12:16am
Hoosier:
Some VCers have suggested that Prof. V was being ironic when he suggested that the G and M is a Canadian version of the Onion. I suppose I have to agree. When you stay in a hotel in Ontario, they give you the G and M for free (!) every morning.

I can't imagine anyone giving away the Onion. It's much more valuable.
6.21.2008 8:37am