Looking Back: Blockbuster Family Law Cases From 2011

While Americans amused themselves with another spate of celebrity divorces, keeping Beverly Hills’ lawyers and gossip magazine editors salivating, Canadian judges were tackling blockbuster issues like polygamy, judicial ethics and anonymous sperm donors.

My top three family law stories in Canada in 2011 are:

1. Polygamy in Bountiful

Bountiful looks like any other idyllic southeastern town in British Columbia, particularly if that community consists of radical fundamentalist Mormons who practice polygamy. Their leader Winston Blackmore, linked to the infamous Warren Jeffs, is reputed to have 25 wives and 101 children.

Attorneys-General in B.C. had been concerned about what was going on in Bountiful for decades as rumours of sexual exploitation of minors, coercion and human trafficking surfaced. But legal opinions provided to the government by several of B.C.’s top legal minds convinced the government that religious freedom under Canada’s Charter of Rights would trump the illegal practice of multiple wives.

Finally, the government decided that the polygamy question had to be dealt with and in a groundbreaking decision in November 2011, the British Columbia Supreme Court held that while religious freedom was infringed by the law against polygamy, it was justified to protect vulnerable women and children.

2. Canada’s Bondage Judge

Madam Justice Lori Douglas learned in 2011 that she would be the subject of a public judicial inquiry to determine her fitness to remain as Associate Chief Justice, Family Division of Manitoba’s Queens Bench. The story of the judge and her divorce lawyer husband, Jack King, was splashed online and in newspapers beginning in 2010 when a divorce client of her husband’s revealed that Mr. King had tried to arrange a sexual liaison between him and Judge Douglas several years earlier.

The unsavory events leading to the inquiry unravelled last fall when Madam Justice Lori Douglas stepped down from her post in the wake of a complaint from Alexander Chapman, age 45, originally from Trinidad, who retained Mr. King to act for him in his divorce proceedings in 2002.

At the time, Ms. Douglas and Mr. King were partners at a prestigious Winnipeg law firm. Mr. Chapman alleged that after Mr. King completed his divorce, King befriended him and tried to persuade Mr. Chapman to engage in a sexual tryst with his wife, Ms. Douglas.

Mr. King gave Mr. Chapman photographs of his wife and a password for an internet site called Darkcavern.com, that caters to those who have an interest in inter-racial sex. The pictures of Judge Douglas portrayed her nude, except for bondage regalia, and in other more explicit sexual acts

When Mr. Chapman complained to Mr. King’s law firm in 2003, King paid Mr. Chapman $25,000 in exchange for Chapman’s agreement not to sue him or the firm and to destroy the photos. King resigned from his firm after the payment was made.

Unfortunately for Judge Douglas, Mr. Chapman ignored his agreement to remain silent about the racy events and delivered the photos to the Law Society and the CBC. The inquiry promises to be both titillating and embarrassing, the question being: Can Judge Douglas survive this intrusion into her personal life and does it affect her professional duties?

3. Landmark Ban of Anonymous Sperm Donors

Men in British Columbia who might have altruistically donated sperm to an infertile or same-sex couple may wish to think twice in light of last year’s landmark B.C. Supreme Court decision, (Pratten v. British Columbia 2011 BCSC (656)) which banned the practice of anonymous sperm donation, a first in North America.

The possibility this new law will be adopted throughout Canada is far from remote, since the basis for the decision was that adopted children have the right to obtain information about their biological parents, but children born of artificial insemination do not. The court found the distinction was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The court’s decision in Pratten v. British Columbia refocuses the attention away from the rights of parents to avail themselves of reproductive technology, without consideration of the consequences for their offspring, to the recognition that children, whose biological fathers are sperm donors, have the right to know their biological heritage.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

7 thoughts on “Looking Back: Blockbuster Family Law Cases From 2011

  1. We just couldnt leave your website before letting you know that we really enjoyed the useful information you offer to your visitors. Will be back often to check up on new posts

  2. I’ve read an article that it was really true that some sperm banks refuse to entertain more sperm donors because it is one of the causes of HIV AIDS.

  3. I would love to see a link to the article you read, Kevin. That statement makes very little sense to me and I am interested in the reasoning for it.

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