An Ontario judge yesterday blocked an attempt to forcibly send a Toronto child for deprogramming treatment in a controversial parental-alienation program in California.
Madam Justice Thea Herman of the Superior Court became the first judge to rule against the controversial treatment orders, overturning a 2008 arbitrator's order that the 14-year-old boy be coercively treated.
"The remedy of the Family Workshop, as acknowledged by the arbitrator and the parties, is an extreme one," Judge Herman said in her ruling. "That means that caution should be exercised in awarding such a remedy."
Treatment at the clinic - founded by Richard Warshak - involves isolating a child from the parent who is identified as having poisoned his or her emotions toward the other parent. Therapists then attempt to undo the child's hostile feelings.
Judge Herman said that the child and his 17-year-old brother, who can legally refuse forced treatment, must be assessed by an independent psychiatrist to determine whether the deprogramming would benefit or cause them damage.
Jan Weir, a lawyer for the children's father, said yesterday that Judge Herman's order will likely prevent the boys from ever being sent for deprogramming because an assessment will take at least six months.
"Effectively, I don't think these kids are going," Mr. Weir said in an interview. "I don't think that will ever happen now."
The children's parents have been locked in a bitter war of attrition since they split up in 1999. Last year, they agreed to appoint an arbitrator. However, the father disagreed strongly with the arbitrator's decision to send the children for deprogramming and appealed it to Superior Court.
In her ruling, Judge Herman concluded that the arbitrator placed too much stock in an opinion that Dr. Warshak offered to the effect that the children would benefit from his program.
She said that the independent assessment should focus, in particular, on whether the 14-year-old boy, who has Klinefelter's Syndrome, would undergo psychiatric suffering if his older brother opts out of treatment and he is sent alone.
Mr. Weir said in the interview that he was shocked when the arbitrator ordered treatment since he had little more than Dr. Warshak's say-so that the program is effective.
"Warshak saw only the mother -but not the father or the boys," Mr. Weir added. "He said that he wasn't giving a definitive opinion, but he actually did."
Mr. Weir said that, at a cost of $40,000 for four days of treatment, the program is expensive as well as unproven.
"Warshak came up a year and a half ago and did his first seminar," he said. "My impression at the time was, I think he has failed to establish himself with the psychologists or psychiatrists in the U.S., and now he's coming to Canada.
Earlier this week, Dr. Warshak rebuffed a request to discuss his program. "I have been very generous with my time speaking to journalists at your newspaper and other Canadian media outlets, but now I must turn my attention to other tasks," he said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.