Mediation in Ottawa


1982 – Ontario Association for Family Mediation established with John Goodwin as President of the provincial organization. 

1983 – Informal discussions regarding establishment of 
Ottawa Regional Committee of the OAFM. Family Service Centre Family Mediation Workshop (offered by Cathy Aitken and Robert McWhinney). 

1984 – Regional Committee of the OAFM established with Cathy Aitken as President

1987 – Law Society of Upper Canada Continuing Education Program on Family Mediation

1987 – Course on Family Mediation offered at Carleton University, instructors were Cathy Aitken and Cecil Fennell. In 1988 this course was taken over by Connie Renshaw, Valerie Whitlam and John Goodwin, and has continued in various forms until today, most recently with instructors Peggy Malpass, John Goodwin and Shelagh Macdonald.  

1986 -    Family Mediation Canada established

1986 - Code of Professional Conduct for family mediators established by OAFM

Course on Family Mediation offered at Carleton University, with instructors Cecil Fennell, Connie Renshaw, Valerie Whitlam and Wilma Stollman

1988 – Ottawa Region hosts OAFM Annual Meeting and Conference

1990-91 –  Peer consultation lunch meetings.

1993 -    Ottawa Chapter OAFM provides response to federal Department of Justice “Custody and Access: Public Discussion Paper”

Peer Consultation Groups reinstated in Ottawa, organized by Evita Roche, John Goodwin and Jon Snipper

1996 – OAFM Annual General Meeting and Family Mediation Conference takes place in Ottawa, organized by Hania Grawbowski, Jane Pederson and Connie Renshaw

1998 -     The Ministry of the Attorney General announces that the Ontario government will include Ottawa, Perth, Brockville, L’Original and Cornwall in the expansion of Unified Family Courts throughout Ontario

    AccFM (OAFM) designation adopted

1999 -     Mayor Jacquelin Holzman declares April 29-May 5 “Family Mediation Week” in Ottawa 

    OAFM Vision Statement adopted: “Fostering a community in which family mediation is the first choice for resolving family conflicts”

Court based family mediation is established in the Ottawa Court house

2000 – Ottawa Chapter OAFM partners with FMC to sponsor a national conference in Hull, Quebec.

    OAFM Ottawa website established

2006    Barb Cohen, Chapter President, provided a series of speakers for a monthly radio ADR show hosted by Ernie Tannis

2010    OAFM Ottawa and Family Mediation Canada partner to host a two-day workshop given by Kenneth Cloke 

2012    Ottawa Chapter celebrates OAFM’s 30th anniversary with a workshop given by Bernie Mayer and a gala dinner with awards given to OAFM Ottawa pioneers

Our Chapter's History

In the early 1980’s there was growing concern among social service agencies, family law lawyers and social workers about problems resulting from the adversarial approach used to resolve family disputes within the legal system. It was generally recognized that, unlike litigants in civil cases, divorcing parents with issues before family courts needed to cooperate in raising their children after court proceedings were concluded, and that such cooperation could be seriously undermined by acrimonious court battles.  As well, there were serious concerns about the prohibitive costs of litigation, extended delays in court proceedings, and the harmful effects on children from the seemingly inevitable escalation in conflict when parents separated and divorced.


At the same time, there was a realization that no single discipline was able to provide comprehensive services to those unfortunate couples and parents navigating the challenges inherent in separation and divorce.  Those experiencing separation often needed help in regard to psychological, social, parenting, financial and legal issues. Gradually professionals from the mental health, social work, and legal communities recognized the benefits that could be gained from working together to provide an interdisciplinary approach to these issues.  


In January 1982, Cathy Aitken sent a letter to 34 lawyers in Ottawa who practiced in the field of family law, advising them of the establishment of the Family Mediation Service of Ontario in the Toronto area and inquiring whether they would be interested in establishing the same type of organization in Ottawa, with both lawyers and mental health professionals.  In the letter, she also introduced four psychiatric social workers who had done mediation training and were interesting in developing a mediation service for separating families. Many lawyers responded to express an interest in learning more about mediation.


Also at this time, lawyers and family counselors in Toronto were meeting to discuss the benefits of family mediation.  In the spring of 1982, the Toronto group’s organizing committee voted to elect their Executive Committee, with John Goodwin and Mario Bartoletti standing for the position of President. The result of the vote was a tie, and in the typical spirit of goodwill and cooperation, John and Mario decided to flip a coin to determine the “winner”. In September 1982, John became the first President of the now officially named Ontario Association for Family Mediation. Mario succeeded him the following year, beginning a tradition of alternating legal and mental health professionals whenever possible in recognition of the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in family mediation. Mr. Justice George Walsh, then head of the Family Law Division of the Supreme Court of Ontario, addressed the OAFM’s first annual meeting in Toronto in November 1982. His enthusiastic support of family mediation helped to boost support throughout the legal community in Ontario.


By 1983, informal working arrangements had developed between some Ottawa family law lawyers and mental health professionals, with the goal of sharing knowledge about the legal, social, and psychological ramifications of separation on adults and children.  It was during this time that mediation seminars and training programs for both family law lawyers and mental health professionals made their debut in the Ottawa area.  Through these informal interactions, it became clear that professionals in different fields were keen to have an organization where they could work together to assist separating families.


On March 13, 1984, Cathy Aitken organized a meeting at the Family Court Clinic of OAFM members and prospective members living in the Ottawa area to discuss the formation of a Regional Committee of the OAFM.  Sixteen people attended from whom seven were selected to form the Organizing Group for the Ottawa Regional Committee of the OAFM: Cathy Aitken, John Peter Bradford, Cecil Fennell, Maria Linhares de Sousa, John Patten, Evita Roche, and Wilma Stollman.  


Three days later, on March 16, 1984, the first meeting of the Organizing Group was held at the Ottawa Court House.  Its initial goals were to:

  • bring together under one roof those in the community actively working in the area of family mediation;

  • reach out to the broader community in an effort to attract more members to the OAFM;

  • open up official lines of communication with the OAFM (centered in Toronto) and the various committees that had been established within OAFM;

  • negotiate with OAFM respecting appropriate funding for the Ottawa Regional Committee;

  • create the structure necessary to form the Ottawa Regional Committee of the OAFM;

  • develop continuing education programs for Ottawa meetings of OAFM members; and

  • create a bibliography respecting mediation.  


The Organizing Group met every second week and subsequently once a month at the Ottawa Court House where Maria Linhares de Sousa, the Family Law Commissioner, hosted “brown bag” lunches. They discussed various approaches to developing a model for family mediation, particularly with respect to issues such as ethics, neutrality, confidentiality, privilege and appropriate screening of clients. The overall focus was one of early intervention and problem solving within a managed environment.


By May 1984, the Organizing Group was discussing the establishment of a court-related mediation or referral service, similar to those already in existence in Toronto and Kingston.  Each member of the Organizing Group took responsibility for one aspect of the establishment of this service and worked tirelessly to make it happen.  By July 1984, the Trustees of the County of Carleton Law Association and Senior Judge Flanagan had approved of the establishment of the service, which was to be known as the Family Mediation Advisory Service.  The Service consisted of a mediation information telephone line staffed by volunteers, an early forerunner to the present day Family Law Information Centre. Space was provided at the Ottawa Court House, at that time located at 2 Daly Avenue. And what a space it was! The information line was set up in a cleaned out broom closet. This “office” consisted of a telephone, a small table and a single chair.  With these rudimentary tools the mediators reached out to the community, placing calls to social service agencies and government officials and responding to requests for information from the public. Their work proceeded smoothly except for occasional interruptions when they were asked by court staff to temporarily vacate the tiny office so that prisoners could be brought into the courtroom.


Regional meetings of OAFM members occurred once a month throughout 1984 and into the spring of 1985.  At each meeting, there was a formal educational presentation followed by an opportunity for dialogue and networking.  By January 1985, the OAFM had officially recognized Ottawa as having the first Regional Committee of the OAFM.  At the annual meeting of the Ottawa Regional Committee of the OAFM in February 1985, a Steering Committee was chosen to replace the Organizing Group, and positions were allocated as follows at its first meeting: Cathy Aitken (President), Cecil Fennell (Secretary-Treasurer), Gerry Gaughan (Vice President & Program and Education), Rick Gray (Program and Education), Colin McCorriston (Constitution), Susan Peters and Wilma Stollman (Family Mediation Advisory Service Coordination), Valerie Whitlam (Membership Secretary).  Maria Linhares de Sousa and Jon Snipper worked with Susan and Wilma to run the Family Mediation Advisory Service. All members of the Steering Committee undertook to do as much public relations work as possible to bring the existence of the OAFM and the Family Mediation Advisory Service to the attention of the public. They carried out public education and outreach initiatives, published newsletters, and generally “got the word out” about the benefits of family mediation. In those days budgets were non-existent and there was no Internet to provide instant low cost information dissemination. They worked hard, organizing information sessions at various community centres and talking their way into getting free space at City Hall for their events, all the while providing tea and cookies to help in attracting the public.


Unfortunately, as of January 1986, and despite the valiant efforts of Maria Linhares de Sousa, Susan Peters, Jon Snipper and Wilma Stollman, the Family Mediation Advisory Service was in difficulty.  No funding had been forthcoming from any government body or agency to allow for the hiring of a full-time coordinator. The volunteers who had been providing the service were running out of steam. The Service was not being used by the public to the extent anticipated – possibly because the Service could not be consistently staffed by the volunteers and it did not receive the unqualified support of the County of Carleton Law Association. The Ottawa Region Executive Committee discussed these challenges thoroughly and developed a plan to address them. Cathy Aitken provided office space and administrative support to the Service volunteers who were finding it hard to deal with the constraints of the tiny “broom closet” office at the Court House. In the meantime, efforts were made to secure adequate space in the new Court House on Elgin Street. The Committee also organized an advertising campaign to capitalize on the recent passage of the Divorce Act. Jon Snipper, with the support of other members of the Committee, approached the CCLA to advocate for the Service. On June 5, 1986, six active lawyer members of the Ottawa Regional Committee of the OAFM submitted a “Brief to the Professional Conduct Committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada Regarding Family Law Mediation”.  The Brief supported the growth of mediation services in the Ottawa area and, in particular, the Family Mediation Advisory Service at the Court House, and requested the support and encouragement of the Law Society. The Brief was well received and contributed to the evolution of rules of professional conduct for lawyers involved with family mediation.


The OAFM Ottawa Regional group eventually became known as the OAFM Ottawa Chapter and continued to evolve, attracting new members and forming partnerships with Family Mediation Canada and the provincial OAFM to sponsor conferences that were well attended and financially successful.


In 1988 Sue Peters prepared a Directory of Professional Family Mediators listing 21 practitioners in the Ottawa area, some of whom are still offering mediation services today. In 1992 she initiated a brainstorming session for OAFM Ottawa Chapter executive and other invited members to meet at the home of Hania Grabowski at McGregor Lake. These summer sessions provided an opportunity for strategic planning, as well as setting up monthly evening meetings with both learning and social components, similar in nature to the early meetings of the Ottawa Regional Committee. Thanks to Hania’s ongoing generosity, this event continues to be held annually and is eagerly anticipated by Ottawa Chapter members.


Another complication faced by separating and divorcing couples in the early days of family mediation was that certain family matters could be heard by the provincial Family Court (now the Ontario Court of Justice), while those involving federal legislation (e.g. divorce, division of property) could only be heard by the Superior Court of Justice. This jurisdictional arrangement often proved to be cumbersome, costly and time consuming. Hania Grabowski, Jackie Huston, Lena Jones and others who were early advocates for family mediation in Ottawa also lobbied the provincial government and local area judges to implement a Unified Family Court to streamline the legal process. Their goal was to have family mediation services included as an integral part of the new system.  These efforts continued for several years, and included meetings with government officials and letters from OAFM Ottawa Chapter Board members as well as others in the Ottawa mediation community.


In 1997 the Board of the Ottawa Chapter drafted a policy statement to delineate the respective areas of practice for both family relations and financial mediators, and to acknowledge that families may require different services at different stages as they deal with parenting arrangements and financial issues associated with separation and divorce. Early in 1998, after much discussion among its members, the Chapter adopted a policy statement indicating that family relations mediators would typically have a background in counselling and child development and could assist families with parenting issues after separation and divorce as well as inter-family disputes. The statement indicated that financial family mediators would typically have a legal background and could deal with financial issues of child and spousal support after separation, division of property, and other financial or family business conflicts and disputes involving estates. Mediators practicing comprehensive family mediation included those who had a background in both law and family relations. This statement was developed to assist potential users of mediation services in the selection of practitioners who could best meet their particular needs.


In December 1998 the Ministry of the Attorney General announced that the Ontario government had decided to include Ottawa, Perth, Brockville, L’Original and Cornwall in the expansion of Unified Family Courts throughout Ontario. The press release referred to the Unified Family Court as “a model for early intervention and quick resolution of the difficult and emotional issues affecting people involved in family crisis. Every effort will be made to make the court user-friendly for the residents of Ontario”. The Unified Family Courts, now known as Family Court, had jurisdiction to deal with all aspects of family law under both federal and provincial statutes, and offered a range of services such as mediation, information and family education.


The Ottawa area mediation community greeted this announcement with enthusiasm, particularly because many of its members had been at the forefront in advocating a Unified Family Court in Ottawa. The initial court-connected mediation contract was awarded in 1999 to UFC Mediation Professionals Inc., a company owned by Jon Snipper, Heidi Ruppert and Kent Swinburne. Jon was Past President of the provincial OAFM and, later, President of Family Mediation Canada. Heidi and Kent were past presidents of the Ottawa Chapter of the OAFM. Jon and Heidi managed the services offered at the Ottawa courthouse while Kent was responsible for Brockville and Cornwall. Services were provided free of charge on-site, and off-site with user fees charged to clients on a sliding scale based on income and number of dependents. In addition to the above, roster mediators included Lena Jones, Peggy Malpass, Susan Galarneau, Francine Titley, John Goodwin and Shelagh Macdonald, all of whom were members of the Ottawa Chapter of the OAFM. In addition to mediation, information and parent education services were also provided under the jurisdiction of the Family Court.


At this time Ottawa area mediators were also very involved in the creation of a new designation for OAFM accredited mediators, to replace the old designation “Practicing Member” that had been used since the 1980’s. Jon Snipper, John Goodwin and Connie Renshaw worked with others in the Ottawa Chapter and the OAFM provincial organization to develop the criteria for training and experience appropriate for mediation professionals. These efforts were timely as they dovetailed with the Ontario government’s establishment of mediation sites at designated Family Court sites. The government subsequently chose to use the “Accredited Family Mediator (OAFM)” standard to qualify mediators for work at both on-site and off-site locations.


Today, the Ottawa Chapter continues to be very active in organizing professional and social events and providing a network for Ottawa area family mediators. Its monthly peer luncheons, coordinated by John Goodwin, offer an opportunity for mediators to share best practices in an informal setting, while its monthly dinner meetings feature interesting speakers who keep members informed on a wide range of family mediation issues. As always, the Chapter is dedicated to serving Ottawa families who wish to resolve disputes in a way that is respectful and minimizes the harm that can accompany separation and divorce.