Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Perjury in Family Court

GEO#1People tell lies, so-called “white” lies, they tell half-truths, they prevaricate, fabricate, distort, and tell “whoppers”, and they can, unless they are in a court of law or a government hearing where they are “sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Yet nowhere is the truth more elusive than in a family law trial and the recent case of Kneller v. Underwood 2015 BCSC 1410 is a prime example of perjury under oath.

The issue was whether or not 36-year-old Twyla Kneller and Jim Greenwood of Cranbrook, B.C. lived together in a marriage-like relationship for nine years, as Twyla testified, or whether they simply were “friends with benefits” as he maintained.

If they were in a spousal relationship, Ms. Kneller would be entitled to share in his property in light of the 2013 law that gave common law spouses the same property rights as married spouses.

Ms. Kneller described a traditional relationship where Mr. Greenwood worked and paid the bills, while she maintained the home with its wood stove, doing the grocery shopping, cooking, baking, canning, cleaning, laundry, and gardening. The parties initially resided in a trailer on bare land and later in a renovated home on acreage, all owned by Mr. Greenwood.

Mr. Greenwood’s parents and grandparents lived on adjacent properties and Twyla became close to his mother.

Interestingly, despite his family’s obvious knowledge of their son’s living arrangements, they were not called to testify, although many other witnesses paraded through the courtroom.

During the nine-year relationship the parties separated on one occasion for three and a half months, not surprisingly, considering Ms. Kneller’s evidence that Mr. Greenwood’s physical
assaults landed her in hospital twice. She testified to regular punching, slapping, kicking, and other abuse. She said that initially Jim would apologize for this behaviour but after a while he didn’t bother. She stayed because she loved him, an oh-so-familiar sentiment in cases of domestic violence.

When it was time for Jim Greenwood to testify his evidence could not have been more different than Ms. Kneller’s.

He swore they never lived together, although she spent some nights with him. He said she lived in Cranbrook with her mother. He apparently forgot that in an earlier affidavit he said “they lived together off and on”. He testified their finances were completely separate and they each filed “single” status tax returns, a misstatement he was forced to correct when his 2010 tax return showed he claimed tax deductions in respect of his “common law spouse”.

He denied he gave her a “promise” ring and was cornered when it came to light he had added her to his medical and dental insurance as a common law spouse. He recounted a denigrating anecdote to the court where he felt it necessary to “take her home”. When it was apparent the “home” he referred to was his, and not Twyla’s Cranbrook home, he squirmed and became agitated and nervous.

When he abruptly asked Ms. Kneller to leave, he said she had almost nothing to pack, despite photographs showing a U-Haul with furniture and personal chattels piled in. He had forgotten that in an earlier affidavit he swore she took all of the furniture, although he paid for it all. He also couldn’t keep the date of their separation straight: Was it August 2013, as he first suggested, or October 2013?

Of course, who to believe was the central issue in the trial, a task that was not daunting for the trial judge. He found that Ms. Kneller was one of the “most genuine, down-to-earth, credible and engaging witnesses” he had ever encountered.

As for Jim Greenwood the court said:

“The respondent’s evidence, in particular, was disingenuous and lacking in credibility. It consisted almost entirely of vague, unsubstantiated and unsupported assertions. His evidence at trial contradicted his earlier affidavit evidence in many significant respects. The best he could muster when faced with the conflicts in his sworn evidence was to blame the drafter of the affidavits, to say he wasn’t a very good reader and to state, “that is what you get when you don’t look at the things you sign.”

The trial judge also declared that Mr. Greenwood’s blanket denial the parties ever lived together, and his testimony that he never physically abused his spouse were “devoid of truth”.

Finally, the trial judge said he didn’t believe or accept anything Jim Greenwood had to say that contradicted the evidence of his common-law spouse and her witnesses.

“In my view, the respondent would be well served by a recalibration of his moral compass.”

It’s called “perjury”, an indictable criminal offence with a possible 14-year jail term attached to it, and yet, liars are not prosecuted in Canada. Oh yes, Air India terrorist, Inderjit Singh Reyat’s acquittal in 2003 on murder charges prompted the Crown to charge him with perjury, securing a conviction and a nine-year prison term, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Not so in the United States where Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart and others faced charges, not for steroid use or securities fraud, but for lying.

Canada’s refusal to deliver consequences to parties who blatantly lie in court needs to be addressed. Mr. Greenwood was a poor liar but there are many cases where Mr. or Ms. Charming fool the court and justice does not prevail. Perjury is a serious issue, particularly in our family courts and steps must be taken to punish liars who make a mockery of their oath to tell the truth.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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6 thoughts on “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Perjury in Family Court

  1. I couldn’t agree with your conclusion more, and I do think the Canadian Government and the courts need to start stepping up to the plate and dealing with false sworn testimony the way any other, serious crime is dealt with. Keep up the awesome commentaries!

  2. Well said! Thank you GL Lange for this wonderful article. Is there anything that ordinary citizens can do to urge the government to change the law to ensure that those whom lie in court are punished? In going through my own family law case, I witnessed first hand my ex-spouse got away with enough lies to land him in jail for a lifetime yet he continues to lie to date even about his CRA statements. Is there anything that can be done?

  3. The crown is the only party that has ability to prosecute the law on perjury or use the criminal code to prosecute. In a criminal trial the crown is the other party; in a civil trial the crown has no interest.

    It allows family law lawyers to get away with being agents of perjurer too.

  4. There are many challenges in family law as you outline on a regular basis. However, in Teagan’s case we found this to be one of the most damaging. The lack of recourse around perjury and the related issue of opinion evidence in the system has doomed many children.

    1. In what ways did L commit perjury? Many of us heard the things she said about you, the reasons for your divorce, and your interactions post-divorce. We genuinely wonder if we were duped, and whose narrative to believe. We all miss Teagan. My question comes from a genuine place of trying to make sense of what happened.

  5. I am interesting case similar in some ways. I was legally married for about 20 years. My wife and I separated for about six months in 2011. We then resumed our marriage (many pictures and witnesses). There was never a case of abuse. My wife died of cancer with me holding her hand after a period of intense pain partly controlled by morphine drugs. An older daughter (of my wife from an earlier relationship came into the hospital with a lawyer and had my wife sign a paper giving her (as much as she could). Her lawyer claims that after 2011 we were separated. This is untrue supported by about 50 photographs, witnesses etc. We lived and travelled together until she died with me at her side. Since there is no penalty for perjury in Canada they can lie all they want. Interesting side comment: In B.C. it seems that common law relationships are the same as a legal marriage…EXCEPTÈ If a common law spouse leaves it is considered a separation, but in a legal marriage (as was my case) there has to be a divorce which never happened.

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