National Post

Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Counsellor accused of lesbian affair with teenager
'Pathological liar'

Neal Hall
The Vancouver Sun


(Kari) Johnson

A counsellor on government contract, who is being sued for having sex with her client's common-law husband and then writing a negative report about her love rival's suitability as a mother, also had a lesbian relationship with a teenage girl who sought her help, a court was told yesterday.

Marilyn Sandford, the lawyer representing Kari Johnson, the 23-year-old plaintiff, told the court a female witness came forward last week who will say she was 14 when she was sexually abused by Shirley Irwin while Ms. Irwin was a government counsellor working with teenagers in Manitoba.

The witness will say she moved in with Ms. Irwin, who is in her 40s, after having a miscarriage and they had a sexual relationship, Ms. Sandford added.

She said the witness will recall staying in touch with Ms. Irwin until recently, and will testify she has knowledge that Ms. Irwin was involved in another relationship with a child while she was a foster parent.

Ms. Sandford also said she has asked the government for disclosure of documents concerning Ms. Irwin's records as a foster parent but the government has not co-operated.

A judgment has already been rendered against Ms. Irwin after she failed to file a statement of defence upon receiving notice of the lawsuit.

She is believed to be living in Miami, Man. She has chosen not to attend the trial, which is proceeding with a claim of vicarious liability against British Columbia's Ministry of Social Services and Nisha Family and Children's Services, an organization contracted by the government to offer counselling to teen parents and supervise access visits with children.

Ms. Sandford referred to Ms. Irwin as a "pathological liar, thief, sexual molester, an abuser of power and a con artist."

The lawyer said she will prove the defendants failed to check Ms. Irwin's credentials; that she has a history of taking advantage of vulnerable young people "and to this day continues to work with young people."

The lawsuit by Ms. Johnson alleges she was 18 in 1994 when she was referred to Nisha family services of Vancouver. The suit says Ms. Irwin was assigned as a parent-teen counsellor to help Ms. Johnson improve her parenting skills.

At the time, Ms. Johnson was having problems as a single parent, trying to raise a son who was less than one year old. Ms. Johnson's former common-law husband, Mark Tisdall, had moved to Alberta.

After Ms. Irwin became involved, the government placed the child in a foster home.

Ms. Irwin later suggested in reports that Ms. Johnson was psychotic and an unfit mother. Ms. Irwin recommended child custody be awarded to the father, Mr. Tisdall.

The mother became suspicious when she saw Ms. Irwin and Mr. Tisdall together on a commuter train. She confronted Mr. Tisdall, who confessed they were having an "improper personal and/or sexual relationship."

When Ms. Johnson brought the matter to the attention of Nisha, Ms. Irwin was fired from her job and Ms. Johnson regained custody of her son.

The boy, now five, continues to live with his mother, who has since had a second child.

Copyright Southam Inc.