National Post

Saturday, February 13, 1999

Woman sues over counsellor's alleged affair with partner

Neal Hall
The Vancouver Sun

A female counsellor who had an alleged affair with her client's partner wrote negative reports about her new rival's suitability as a mother, according to court documents.

Kari Johnson, a Vancouver mother, is suing the government and her former parenting counsellor, claiming that Shirley Irwin had a sexual affair with the father of her child. She claims the counsellor also suggested she was mentally ill.

After Ms. Irwin became the mother's teen counsellor, the government apprehended the child and placed him in a foster home.

Ms. Irwin, who is in her 40s, advocated granting custody of the child to the father, Mark Tisdall, while she was having a sexual affair with the young man, claims Ms. Johnson, whose lawsuit goes to trial Monday in the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.

The mother became suspicious after attending a child-custody hearing in court on March 13, 1995. She was on her way home, riding aboard the SkyTrain rapid-transit line in downtown Vancouver, when she saw Mr. Tisdall and Ms. Irwin together.

She later confronted Mr. Tisdall and he "confessed he was having an intimate relationship with the defendant Irwin," according to court documents.

Ms. Johnson claims she subpoenaed Ms. Irwin to testify at a subsequent custody hearing on April 27, 1995, but Ms. Irwin refused to testify and the judge returned custody of the child to the mother.

The child, Marco, was born in 1994 when Ms. Johnson was only 17. At the time, she was having difficulties in parenting and was referred to Nisha, a charitable organization that provides supervision for child access and teen parent counselling.

After Ms. Irwin became involved as a teen parent counsellor, the baby was apprehended by the ministry and placed in a foster home on April 26, 1994, Ms. Johnson's lawsuit says.

Nisha provides its services under contract to the ministry of social services, court documents say.

Ms. Johnson's lawsuit claims that Ms. Irwin, Nisha and the ministry breached a duty of care owed to the mother.

Nisha and the ministry deny they breached their duty of care, according to their statements of defence filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

Ms. Irwin filed a one-page statement of defence saying "I did my job the best way I knew how. I know the Lord knows this."

Ms. Irwin is living in Morden, Man. She says she cannot afford to attend the trial or hire a lawyer to represent her.

"I guess the judge will make his/her decision and in the very end the Lord God will make his decision and I can only abide by that," Ms. Irwin wrote to the court, noting in parentheses that she also uses the last name McRae.

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