Andree Ruffo is co-chairperson of Canada’s international Year of the Family Committee. A Quebec Youth Court Judge, Ruffo is considered a maverick by her supporters, but others see her controversial statements and decisions as arrogant and not in the best interests of children despite her claims to the contrary.
Her frustration with the juvenile justice system and with the dysfunctional families she sees before the court is understandable. Yet her propensity for grandstanding raises questions about her ability to best serve the needs of the people who find themselves in her court.
In 1990, she was reprimanded by the Quebec Judicial Council for breaching the judges’ code of ethics after the department of social services in her jurisdiction filed dozens of complaints. Among the most serious, Judge Ruffo ordered a fourteen-year-old who was eight weeks pregnant to under an abortion, over the strenuous objections of the Youth Protection officials who were responsible for her care. She also drew a lot of criticism for sending two teenagers to the office of Therese Lavoie-Roux, them Minister of Health,
Because there were no spaces in group homes for them.
She is described as unrepentant, and further complaints have been filed against her. The supreme Court of Canada has agre3ed to her her case, as she fights against attempts to discipline her for speaking out on her view of children’s rights. Judges are expected to be neutral, not advocates.
As a self-styled children’s rights and advocate, Judge Ruffo is an odd choice to chair the Year of the Family Committee. Her books suggest she sees families as comething from which children are often in need of protection.
“Ruffo is downright merciless in her condemnation of families who, without meaning to, kill their children’s spirit with thir demands for obedience and acquiescence,” according to The Gazette.
“She also points her finger at an educational system that puts textbooks and curriculum above teaching and nurturing and growing.”
Alice Miller, a psychoanalyst, writes in the preface to Ruffo’s most recent book, Les Enfants de l’Indifference, “she is capable of seeing the roots of crime in the cruel and ignorant treatment inflicted on children by parents and institutions.”
Her condemnation of parents is not confined to the extreme cases of neglect and abuse which she sees in her courtroom. According to the Gazette article, Ruffo believes there is an insidious kind of violence which happens “in abusive, intolerant and unloving families – and in normal, otherwise ordinary homes where children’s spirits are suffocated by parents who never let them dare to dream or to simply by themselves.”
Andree Ruffo’s advocacy of children’s rights, like that of Hillary Clinton and Marion Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, divorces the interests of the child from that of the family. Rather than responding to problems with a holistic approach which would seek to heel the family and support parents when they encounter difficulty raising their children, the new children’s advocates attack the family with a surgeon’s knife, removing authority from the parents.
Some experts argue that to best protect children, parents must be supported in their role as head of the family. State intervention which undermines parental authorigy is detrimental to children, and to society as a whole.
“Legislation which detracts from parental rights of respect and compliance also detracts from pro-social behaviour by children,” writes psychologist Roger Rinn. “If children don’t have to be respectful of parents and compliant to their wishes, they grow like weeds in all directions, devoid of substance and character. From social learning theory we know that parents must be able to administer consequences calmly and consistently. If the courts will not or cannot assist in the endeavour, parents are literally ‘out on a limb.’”
Children’s advocacy which is separate from family advocacy is a destructive force in society. The family, not its individual members, is the basic unit of society. This is what the UN International Year of the Family is supposed to recognize.
Instead, official literature states:
… the family doesn’t exist anymore; now there are families. Today’s family … is made up more by bonds of affection than by formal ties…”
What Judge Ruffo at the helm, it is perhaps not surprising that the Year of the Family committee is off course.