National Post

Tuesday, February 23, 1999

Social worker stalked me, B.C. woman tells court

Neal Hall
The Vancouver Sun

A woman who is suing her former female counsellor, who she alleges had a sexual affair with her partner, testified yesterday that she thought the social worker was stalking her while she was under her care.

Kari Johnson, 23, said she noticed Shirley Irwin, her former teen parent counsellor, on the street one night near her home. She also recalled how a pair of her shoes went missing, which she said she later saw Ms. Irwin wearing.

Ms. Johnson wept in court as she told how Ms. Irwin restricted access to her infant son, who had been apprehended in 1994 by the Social Services Ministry and placed in a foster home. At the time, Ms. Johnson was a single mother and an 18-year-old high school student. Ms. Irwin, who was employed under a government contract with Nisha Family and Children's Services, was assigned as Ms. Johnson's counsellor to help her improve her parenting skills.

Ms. Johnson is suing Ms. Irwin, claiming the counsellor was involved in a sexual relationship with the baby's father, Mark Tisdall, in 1995. She alleges that during the relationship Ms. Irwin wrote negative reports about her suitability as a mother and advocated for Mr. Tisdall receiving custody of their son. The trial has heard that Ms. Irwin wrote a report describing Ms. Johnson as psychotic.

Ms. Johnson is also suing Nisha and the provincial government for breach of duty owed to the mother of the child because the two were separated at a crucial stage in the child's development.

Ms. Johnson regained custody of her child just before Ms. Irwin was fired in 1995. Her firing came after Ms. Johnson and Mr. Tisdall presented a secretly tape-recorded phone conversation in which the counsellor admitted her relationship with her client's partner.

Mr. Tisdall, now 29, has filed his own lawsuit against Ms. Irwin, 49, claiming the woman sexually assaulted him during an overnight access visit with his son at her home in 1995. He claims Ms. Irwin threatened to restrict access to his son if he did not cooperate.

Ms. Johnson told the court yesterday that when she discovered Mr. Tisdall's phone bill was in Ms. Irwin's name, she tried reporting it to social services but the social worker would not return her calls.

Default judgment has been issued against Ms. Irwin after she failed to file a defence to the court action. Ms. Irwin is living in Manitoba and wrote a letter to the court, saying she is not able to afford to attend the trial in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.

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