Back in 2013, I asked why the Attorney General’s ministry was not implementing mandatory family mediation. Their response was that costs would be a challenge. So I offered to start a program in the Peace River region that would operate on a different model. This was the impetus for the Northern Navigator (NN).

In June 2016, after a false start that January, NN officially opened for business. 3 years have passed and it’s now a perfect time to share the NN word!

How Northern Navigator Works

Our original idea was to have an assessor (a.k.a., “The Navigator”) employed by a Resource Agency who could attend at the provincial court where she could review new family files with each party and assess their situation. If appropriate, cases would be referred to mediation to be paid by the parties on the sliding scale. This original concept was then modified to involve less assessment but still include interviews with the NN before the court might order parties to mediation.

The Navigator introduced parties to the idea of mediation, and described local resources, lawyers, and determined their incomes for setting their fees. From there they returned to court where they might be referred to mediation. If they did not want a Family Justice Councilor mediator (which would be by distance), the Navigator would refer them to one of those mediators willing to work according to the Sliding Scale. The parties would have 2 mediation sessions for 2 hours, plus 1 hour of screening and assessment. The court provided a return date, and if the matter or some issues settled, the court would prepare a consent order. If they did not settle, the matter was referred for a Family Case Conference.

We have used up most of the operating funds, so have just overhauled the program. Now when a judge orders a couple to mediation, the court provides parties with a Handout. This has some disadvantages, in that the personal touch is gone. However, the program cost to SPCRS is almost nil. Advantages include the fact that people who had been providing administrative support now can be mediators (there are presently 5 active mediators). which allows service to continue in one of our cities. Also, the court registries now have a document (the Handout) that they could refer to people.

Also, when someone attends mediation before their appearance date, the mediation costs are reduced by 10%. This encourages voluntary attendance in mediation and people who come voluntarily seem more motivated to settle.


Getting it Started

For such a project to work, we needed a supporting organization. Stefan Pavlis, then E.D. of South Peace Community Resources Society (SPCRS) committed his organization to the work.

We needed a pool of mediators. We were able to offer much of the training here. Mediate BC’s Associate Mediator program worked very well, as I was able to mentor six Associates, of whom one tragically passed away, and four are now on the Family Roster. Ann Lee, then Roster Manager, did a lot of work in terms of supporting and organizing! 

We needed a fair and reasonable fee arrangement for mandatory family court mediations so we sought inspiration from Mediate BC’s Sliding Scale fee model. We needed the interest and cooperation of the local judges and registries, and of the existing mediators and duty counsel. In addition to time spent introducing the ideas, I worked with Judge Bowry, with Valerie Bernier of the registry, and with mediators Emily Pos and Randolph Smyth to devise a working model.

There was far more work in getting this off the ground than I expected. I was told that the project required the support of the Office of the Chief Judge (OCJ). That led to meetings with their office, and to the inclusion of the Law Foundation, Legal Services, Law organizations, the Ministry of Attorney General, Court Services, and any other organization that they considered to have an interest. Eventually, all agreed on the project; though, of all these groups only the Law Foundation offered financial support.

Kari Boyle, then executive director of Mediate BC, spent a lot of time working beside me and deserves special credit. Carol Hickman QC also had great ideas on how to work with the OCJ. I enjoyed working with the OCJ team assigned by Chief Judge Crabtree. They were a supportive and essential element of the project.

We needed funding, and in addition to the LF, local businesses, professions, Rotary and government contributed. Wayne Robertson QC asked great questions and kept us focused.

We needed a Navigator and hired Kaitlin Fulton (now Sevier). After we launched, a group of lawyers considered that the project needed more study. The OCJ organized a major hearing session, after which we revised a number of our ideas, and 6 months later, the OCJ provided a series of Notices to the Profession, explaining that the project was underway.

Over the past three years, despite many many challenges, we have been able to offer mediations in almost every case where it was ordered, and a number of cases where people attended voluntarily. Almost half the participants settled all or some issues, and every participant who was asked has said that as a general principle, the concept of mediation is a good one. The project is doing what we had hoped.

As it Stands Now

The Ministry of the Attorney General has paid for a major evaluation of the project, which hopefully will be released in the near future. We are very pleased with the general support that mediation has received and at the growth of a mediation community in the Peace River Region.

As can be seen from this post, it took many people and organizations to get NN going. While the Peace River is one of the economic drivers of the province, at the same time, it has a relatively small population and small pool of leaders and providers of help for those who are separating. At the same time, the Provincial family court is very well used. With this project, local people are developing the skills and a processes for working with some of our more challenging family needs. They’re also learning how to improve and transform how parenting after separation takes place.

All of us who have worked on this are proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to seeing what the future holds!


About the Author

Wayne Plenert is an experienced mediator, trainer, and retired lawyer based in Dawson Creek, BC. He is a former chair of the Roster Committee of Mediate BC Society and now the mediation mentor leading the Northern Navigator initiative in the Peace River Region Provincial Courts. He also delights in finding practical uses for good theories. His writing includes Personal Injury Mediator Styles and Transformative Parenting.