National Post

Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Man testifies he was forced to have sex with social worker
B.C. supreme court case: Father says he was told to co-operate if he wanted to visit his infant son

Neal Hall
The Vancouver Sun

A man testified yesterday in British Columbia Supreme Court that he was coerced into having sex by a government contract worker who was assigned to help his teenaged common-law wife with her parenting skills.

Mark Tisdall said Shirley Irwin, who was then almost twice his age, told him if he wanted to have a visit with his infant son he had to visit her at her home in Cloverdale, a town in the Fraser Valley outside of Vancouver.

He said Ms. Irwin was coaching him on how to gain custody of his son in court after the child had been removed in 1994 from the mother, Kari Johnson.

Ms. Johnson is suing Ms. Irwin and the B.C. government, claiming Ms. Irwin's actions resulted in blocking full access to her child for about a year. She claims Ms. Irwin wrote false, negative reports about her parenting skills and suggested she was mentally ill.

In testimony yesterday, Mr. Tisdall said he spent the day in 1994 at Ms. Irwin's home fixing her car, doing yard work and setting up a trampoline Ms. Irwin had bought.

Later, they had wine and beer with dinner and he fell asleep on Ms. Irwin's couch watching a movie. He later awoke to find Ms. Irwin completely naked, straddling him and attempting to have sexual intercourse.

"She was quite a bit older than me and it was a shock," he told Madame Justice Wendy Baker, who is hearing the civil case without a jury.

"It was as if having intercourse with her was a prerequisite for seeing my son."

He added: "It was almost like Jerry Springer," referring to the controversial U.S. television show.

Mr. Tisdall, now 29, recalled Ms. Irwin became angry when he refused her sexual advances. He said she told him: "For someone who wants to see his son, you're not very co-operative."

Mr. Tisdall testified that he felt threatened by Ms. Irwin, now 49, when he agreed to go to her house for a second visit within a week of the incident.

Ms. Irwin apologized for her previous behaviour, he said, but later came on to him again, telling him how good she was at oral sex. "She was trying to push herself on me."

Mr. Tisdall said Ms. Irwin brought bags of toys over to his apartment and bought him a crib, rocking chair, baby blankets and even paid the deposit for his phone, which was in her name.

He said Ms. Irwin wanted him to get custody of the baby and move in with her. At her home, she had a dresser full of baby clothes.

Mr. Tisdall recalled he used to get unsupervised visits with his son but later Ms. Irwin began cutting back his visits, which she supervised.

At the same time, he said, Ms. Irwin was feeding him negative information about Ms. Johnson -- Ms. Irwin told him Ms. Johnson was a stripper who did cocaine and at one point had joined the circus. She made him phone social services officials and report this information about Ms. Johnson, Mr. Tisdall testified.

He said he was heartbroken to hear that Ms. Johnson wasn't a good person, noting Ms. Irwin referred to her as "the little bitch, slut, and a whore."

At the time, Ms. Irwin was opposing the mother trying to regain custody of her son, who had been born in 1993 when Ms. Johnson was 17.

Ms. Johnson was having trouble with parenting in 1994 after Mr. Tisdall had left Vancouver and moved back to Calgary. She was referred to Nisha Family and Child Services of Vancouver, which assigned Ms. Irwin as a "teen parent counsellor" to Ms. Johnson.

Ms. Johnson is suing Ms. Irwin, who has failed to file a defence to the allegations.

Ms. Johnson is also suing the B.C. Ministry of Social Services and Nisha for vicarious liability for the actions of Ms. Irwin, who was employed under government contract.

Mr. Tisdall has also launched his own lawsuit, which will be heard separately. Ms. Irwin, who lives in Miami, Man., chose not to attend the trial or have legal counsel represent her. She sent a note to the court saying she did the best job she knew how.

Copyright Southam Inc.