Toronto Free Press

Open Letter To Mike Harris

The Toronto Free Press
September 28-October 11, 1999

What government will take a stand for fathers?

Dear Mr. Premier:

Seth Sugerman

At this time of the year, the War of the Roses breaks out in some households. Parents break up. The kids are back in school. Christmas, with its emotional tugs of war between separated and divorced couples over their own offspring, is coming.

What government will face, head-on, the many inequities with the present system of justice and, in particular, the gender bias that fathers face in Family Law?

The well-respected Ottawa Citizen, at least dared raise the question in a recent article based around the circumstances of the Seth Sugerman story.

A Toronto-based parenting association known as Fathers are Capable Too (FACT) are likely not exaggerating when they describe the details of what happened to a 22-year-old man forcibly removed by police from his father's home at midnight as a "horror story".

FACT is calling on your government to "publicly denounce the removal of Seth Sugerman, a 22-year-old, mentally challenged man, who doctors say has the mind of a 12year-old. "Seth was taken away from his father's farm home in West Lorne, Ont., "when the mother enforced an apprehension Order obtained through an exparte Order, granted solely on one-sided and untested affidavit evidence introduced with the intent of deceiving the courts." According to FACT, and repeated in the Citizen, "The Order was obtained solely on the weight of one-sided and untested evidence entered by the mother."

In spite of his handicap, the father is reported to be a capable parent. Fathers do not get the same assistance from the police or the courts. Those who know the case say that the expressed will of a 12-year-old equivalent with a grade 12 education is being ignored; that medical evidence recommending custody to the father was overlooked and that an exparte Order was used to establish a new status quo to gain custody. Although not many want to talk about it, fathers often encounter severe resistance from the courts to obtain Search and Apprehension Orders. And in the rare cases when these orders are obtained, fathers face further resistance in enforcing them since police do not take them seriously when requested to assist in similar cases.

The Seth Sugerman case, they say, also highlights the problem of the ease with which orders are being obtained by mothers through the use of exparte Motions based solely on one-sided and untested evidence given in affidavit form. The moving party faces no penalty for perjury. In the case of custody or access, by the time the other parent has time to disprove the validity of the evidence, status quo claims by the abducting parent are used successfully in establishing a new residence for the child. This, of course, helps them gain permanent custody. The flaw in the process is used in other areas of Family Law as well, such as mobility and child support issues.

Ignoring the expressed will of Seth Sugerman is also being questioned. Fathers often face the same gender prejudice in the courts when the expressed will of children of the same mental age as Seth is not considered. FACT is requesting that the Members of Parliament make changes to the legislation so that judges granting exparte Orders are held accountable, and that those who maliciously abuse the process must be stopped. We all know deadbeat fathers, but what about those who are responsive and responsible?

It is difficult to even imagine the emotional upheaval of a father who sees his son with the mind of a 12-year-old when he is taken away from his father's farm house in the middle of the night.

In a politically correct atmosphere, Mr. Premier, what government is going to have the intestinal fortitude to address the cause of fathers?

Copyright 1999 Toronto Free Press Inc.