ADR Training in a Cultural Melting-Pot

Our team of mediators is in Guyana delivering another round of adr training to community leaders with the IMPACT Justice project. Learn more about our complex cultural experience in Georgetown!

Our teaching team in GuyanaI am in Georgetown Guyana this week with colleagues Regina Thompson, Akbar Ebrahim and Michelle Walton, all family mediators working with mediate393 and all experienced trainers.

We are working with the IMPACT Justice project— a Canadian government funded project designed to improve access to justice in the Caribbean in a wide range of ways.

This training is one of several that we have provided or will provide for police officers, community leaders, and social workers in St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, Trinidad, and Belize. Participants from other Caricom countries are attending these as well.

Our “students” in Guyana are social workers— in the child protection, courts and probation sectors. They are all experienced professionals. As well, we have the honour of having Professor Velma Newton, the regional project director, with us for this segment of the training.

We have learned a great deal about Guyana in our first two days here. The country’s history is complex— with a legacy of colonization of indigenous peoples by Spanish, Dutch, British and French and the subsequent waves of people who were brought here or came here to provide plantation labour. This included slaves from Africa; indentured workers from India; and labourers from Portugal and China, all of whom have brought cultures and differences and contributions to the demographics and politics and diet and way of life and conflicts that exist today. Add to this the economic impact— both positive and negative— of an economy largely based on resource extraction.  All of these factors have played out in the discussions and role plays we have had in our conflict resolution training.

Our time teaching community professionals in GuyanaI have learned that this large landmass has only 750,000 citizens…. which seems so small given that many of the people in my life, personally and professionally, are of Guyanese origin! And that the interior of Guyana— which we will not have any opportunity to explore this time—is pristine and stunning.

We have been welcomed by great warmth, tolerance, and understanding, factors I understand are common to Guyanese culture. This, along with their great insight, has made for a truly wonderful and enlightening experience here in Guyana so far.

Our Team in Guyana!

Hilary Linton is a Toronto lawyer whose practice is restricted to providing mediation, arbitration, teaching and consulting services.  She has used her years of experience to launch her ADR business, Riverdale Mediation, which specializes in family mediation and arbitration, teaching mediation and negotiation theory and skills, and private training and consulting for corporations, government and individuals.

AkbarAkbar Ebrahim is an Accredited Mediator and a Master Trainer certified by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), London, England in 2013 and accredited Family Mediator certified by the OAFM Ontario in 2014. Akbar has mediated over 150 matrimonial, commercial and Wills/Estate related disputes and during his term as Chairperson of the Ontraio RCAB, he managed over 400 cases.

Regina Thompson smiling

Regina is a parenting mediator, a family/child protection mediator and a Certified Adjudicator. Regina is founder and principal of Strategic Intervention Services Associates; a full-service culturally contextualized ADR consultancy.

Michelle is a certified Family Mediator and IRC with mediate 393. She is also a past intern of Riverdale Mediation Ltd. Michelle provides in-depth insights to her clients with respect to conflict resolution and developing conflict management processes best suited to their needs.

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Mediating through a Tropical Storm

Photo collage of participants at our training course in Roseau, Dominica

Jared, Regina, Caroline and I are sitting in the dining room of the Fort Young Hotel in the capital of Dominica, Roseau. The dining room is actually an old fort which was built by the British in 1771 after they had seized the old fort from the French. We arrived on Saturday after an hour and a half drive through the mountains in the dark along a steep, windy and narrow road where we did hairpin turns very close to the edge of large cliffs. Although we could not see a lot, we will see it on our way back in the daylight. We have been training 28 police officers from around this gorgeous island in negotiation and mediation skills through a program called the Impact Justice Project.

This program is in cooperation with the University of the West Indies and the Canadian Government. Our first 2 days were spent teaching the theory and skills related to the practice of both. The officers have a variety of experience in dealing with all sorts of domestic and community disputes and were eager to hear about the theory that informs their practice.

Today, however, we woke up to the calm before the storm and by lunch time we were in the middle of tropical storm “Matthew”.

Teaching in the dark during tropical storm “Mathew” in Roseau, Dominica

All participants were called back to their stations to ensure safety in the community and we are now looking at the agenda to ensure we can cover the rest of the course in the time remaining. In addition, as the island has still not recovered from the devastation of tropical storm “Erica” in  August of 2015, many of the roads and bridges will be unpassable in the morning so we are not sure how many will make it back and…… whether will be able to leave as planned on Saturday. Not a bad place to be marooned. Prior to our abrupt end this morning, we spent the morning talking about high conflict people and the participants recognized many of the characteristics we talked about. They are an engaging group.

Stay tuned for updates from the team!

Our team in Dominica…

Caroline Felstiner smiling

Caroline Felstiner

Caroline Felstiner is an accredited family mediator, child protection mediator, and a registered social worker.

Elizabeth Hyde

Elizabeth is an arbitrator, mediator and parenting coordinator with Riverdale Mediation Ltd.

Regina Thompson smiling

Regina Thompson

Regina is a parenting mediator, a family/child protection mediator and a certified adjudicator.

Jared Norton

Jared is a registered social worker, parenting coordinator, and an accredited family mediator with Riverdale Mediation Ltd.

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Community mediation training for police officers in Dominica

Riverdale Mediation will be training twenty-eight police officers to become community mediators in Rousseau, Dominica. This 40 hours training workshop, which runs from September 26th- 30th, is in collaboration with the Improved Access to Justice in the Carribbean (IMPACT Justice) Project. Our most recent workshop will be lead by Elizabeth Hyde and Jared Norton with our roster mediators Regina Thompson and Caroline Felstiner.

Since early Spring 2016, Riverdale has trained community leaders in alternative dispute resolution in Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia. We will be broadening our training to Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Belize this year.

Visit our blog to stay informed on our workshops abroad!

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Exploring Your Options in Dispute Resolution: Family Arbitration

Family arbitration is a very different process from mediation, and yet they are often confused. Arbitration is a process whereby the parties present their version of the story before a privately-retained arbitrator, often a senior family lawyer, who hears the evidence, applies the law and makes a binding decision. To explore other ADR process options, read our recent blog posts.

Arbitration is therefore, more like court than it is like mediation. However:

  • Unlike court, which is open to the public, arbitration is confidential; the parties agree that the record of the arbitration will be kept in confidence unless there is an appeal
  • Unlike court, arbitration is not free. The parties pay the arbitrator they choose. Arbitration can be expensive, depending on how complex the matter is, how cooperative the parties are and how experienced the arbitrator is.
  • Unlike court, parties in arbitration can limit their appeal rights. Some appeal rights must be available, but parties can restrict their right to appeal.
  • Unlike court, parties coming before an arbitrator must first be assessed for suitability. This is the same screening process as that done by mediators. The purpose is the same: to identify, assess and manage power imbalances that could negatively affect either party in a private FDR process, in particular any risk that a party, a professional or a child might be harmed before or during the arbitration process; to ensure that parties are participating voluntarily and to assess whether they are suitable candidates for a private and expensive process. (See Arbitration Act  & Regulations  and FDRIO Standards of Practice for more information).
  • Arbitration must follow the basic rules of due process, but it can be much less formal than court. Parties are free to design a process that best meets their needs, subject to certain requirements imposed by the Arbitration Act and the Family Law Act.
  • Depending on the jurisdiction , arbitration can provide parties with a resolution much faster than going to court.

Arbitration is a popular process in some jurisdictions. for some cases, such as highly complex financial matters that require specific expertise. Arbitration can be a very fair and effective process. However, as with all processes, it is critical that candidates for family arbitration are carefully screened before they commit to the process as,  arbitration can be prejudicial to parties who are not suitable candidates, particularly where there are significant unknown power imbalances.

For more information about the arbitration process, visit the resources below:

ADR Institute of Ontario 

Ministry of the Attorney General

Justice Canada






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Exploring Your Options in Dispute Resolution: Mediation


Mediation is a voluntary process of negotiation that is led by a neutral expert in conflict resolution skills. Family mediators are often family lawyers or mental health professionals themselves. Mediators generally do not provide solutions, and unless lawyers attend, mediation does not result in a signed , binding agreement. Rather, parties attend mediation to freely discuss the problems they seek to resolve, what they may need to be able to do that and the range of possible solutions.

Mediators do the following:

  • identify those cases that are suitable for mediation, through a process of confidential intake meetings with each person (screening)
  • support clients to make the choice to mediate by assessing the supports they will each need in order to participate
  • help parties assess their own safety risks and direct them to appropriate safety planning where risk is identified and assessed
  • help parties choose to use another process that is better suited for them, where appropriate
  • help parties access counselling, resources for their children and other resources to support the family
  • help parties access legal and other advice needed to fully participate in mediation
  • design a negotiation process that meets the procedural needs of each person
  • consider how the interests and views of children can be appropriately identified and addressed
  • help parties obtain the financial and other information they need to engage in fair and balanced negotiation
  • conduct a fair, balanced and informed negotiation process that is designed to be as safe as possible, emotionally, physically and legally for both parties and the children
  • help parties negotiate so that they can identify their respective interests and the range of possible solutions to the problems they seek to resolve
  • assist parties in deciding whether to settle if so, on what terms.

Mediation can be “open” or “closed”. Most mediators offer only closed mediation, meaning its is confidential and without prejudice. this means that the parties and the mediator agree that they will:

  1. keep all communications confidential, subject to the standard exceptions of information suggesting that a child or third party is at risk of harm , or a court order to disclose; and
  2. that neither party can report back to the court about any offer made during mediation. all proposals made in mediation are made without prejudice to that person’s position in court.

As such, a mediator providing closed mediation may only report back to the court about the terms of a settlement. everything else remains confidential. the purpose of closed mediation is to provide a ‘safe place for difficult conversations,’ and to empower parties to feel free to explore ideas and proposals without fear of looking bad or being prejudiced in their communities or in court.

Sometimes, parties seek open mediation , which can have two different meanings, which can be confusing. Under the Family Law Rules, “open mediation” merely means that the mediator may report back to the court on all of the issues that came to mediation, which settled (and on what terms) and which did not. This is a limited form of ‘open’ mediation.

However, in private practice, some mediators offer a broader form of open mediation, where the parties can agree on what they want the mediator to be able to disclose to a judge, arbitrator or assessor. in such cases, it falls to the parties to define the scope of information that will remain confidential and what can be reported. Open mediation is more complicated in many ways and parties and mediators need to have a full discussion about the possible implications of an open mediation process, including what information may be disclosed, when and how, and how the mediator will be paid for their time.

Additional Sources

Ten Tips for Lawyers

OAFM (Ontario Association of Family Mediation)

ADR Institute of Canada, Inc.

ADR Institute of Ontario, Inc.


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Explore Your Options in Dispute Resolution

With so many options, how does one choose the best dispute resolution process?

This blog series will attempt to identify and define as many of the options as possible. This week’s focus will be on the Do-it-Yourself  option.

The “SRL” (self-represented litigant) movement has grown in the past years, largely due to the growing sense that the legal system, and particularly the use of family lawyers, has become inaccessible to many. Dr. Julie Macfarlane of the University of Windsor has spearheaded a public movement to draw attention to the hardships of the self-represented. This has highlighted the challenges of acting for yourself during a separation or divorce proceeding or negotiation. There are  many resources that are available to assist those who are navigating a separation or divorce without legal assistance. Courts are increasingly responsive to the needs of the unrepresented as well, as are governments in their funding choices. Some of the resources include:

Family Law Information Centres

FLICs are available in all Ontario courthouses. FLICS, as they are known, employ court staff and information officers to help parties complete forms, access legal advice, and information, find useful services and understand their dispute resolution options.For more information, follow this link.

Mandatory Information Programmes

Everyone in Ontario who has started a family court action, or is served with one, must attend an information programme but these sessions are open to anyone interested, whether they are in court or not. Presenters cover the wide range of services available to those experiencing separation, including out of court processes like mediation and collaborative negotiation; and they also help prepare parties for what to expect during a court process. Visit this page for more detailed information.

Free and subsidized family mediation

In all Ontario courts, same-day family mediation is free for anyone in court that day. And for anyone in Ontario, whether they have a court case or not,  family mediation is subsidized, often extensively so, for anyone who wishes to use the service. For more information, see the Ministry of the Attorney General’s website and our video here (link to HL video)

Access to advice and duty counsel

All courts have on-staff legal aid lawyers who provide free legal advice.There are income caps, and also limits on the kinds of legal advice such lawyers may provide. For more information, read this guide.

Family court support workers

The Ontario government funds supportive services in all courts for victims of domestic violence and abuse. Such services can help victims access legal advice, counselling, and other assistance. For more information, visit the Ministry of the Attorney General’s website.

Legal Aid Family Mediation Advice and Separation Agreement Certificates

Legal Aid Ontario also funds up to 6hours of legal advice for people wanting to work with a mediator and 10 hours of legal advice parties working with lawyers to negotiate a separation agreement, again subject to income requirements. For more information, visit

Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL):

Under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory, children have the right to an age-appropriate role in the resolution of matters that affect them The OCL exists to represent the rights of children in their parents’ litigation, and costs nothing. For more information, read this page about the OCL.

Dispute Resolution Officers:

In many courts, senior members of the family law bar act as court-appointed officers to help parties resolve certain disputes. For more information, follow this link to the Justice Canada website.

Do-it-yourself guides

There are many guides, books, and online resources to help people navigating their own divorce or separation agreement. One such resource is, which helps parties assess their child and spousal support rights and obligations. All such do-it-yourself resources have limits and are generally not considered a reliable substitute for legal advice.

For more information please refer to the following resources:

Read Steps to a Family Law Case from CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario)

Watch Divorce and Separation: Where to Start from Justice Canada


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