Toronto Star

Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Woman extorted sex: Lawyer

Counsellor offered help in custody hearing, court told

The Toronto Star

VANCOUVER (CP) -- A counsellor on a government contract was a sexual molester and a liar who used sex to influence a custody hearing, says a lawyer for a mother suing for damages.

Shirley Irwin used "corrupt intent" to try to destroy the lives of Kari Johnson and her son "and to sever the bonds of blood and affection that bound them to each other," Johnson's lawyer Marilyn Sandford told court yesterday.

Johnson, 23, has launched a civil suit against 49-year-old Irwin, accusing her of seducing Johnson's former partner, Mark Tisdall, and promising him access to his infant son in return for affection in 1995.

Johnson is also suing British Columbia's Children's Ministry and the Nisha Family and Children Services Society that, employed Irwin while it was under contract to the ministry.

Irwin was heard from at the hearing in B.C. Supreme Court, although she wasn't present.

In a letter to the court, the Manitoba resident stated she cannot afford to attend the trial or hire a lawyer.

Justice Wendy Baker, who is hearing the case without a jury, confirmed a default judgment against Irwin, imposed because the former counsellor never filed a statement of defence.

However, the trial will proceed, to review the evidence and consider liability of the other parties named in the suit. Yesterday, Tisdall struggled with his emotions as he recounted the bizarre stories Irwin told him about his former partner.

Tisdall testified that Irwin told him Johnson was sleeping around, using cocaine. working as a stripper and had even joined the circus.

Tisdall believed it ail.

"Looking back on it now, it's just sick," said a soft-spoken Tisdall, 29. "At the time, I didn't want to believe it, but I did."

One reason for Tisdall's faith was that Irwin seemed like a "kind of mother figure," was coaching him on being a parent and engineered unsupervised visits with his son at a time when Johnson's visits were limited.

Johnson's lawyer suggested that Irwin set her sights on Tisdall, wooed him with restaurant meals, furnished his apartment and paid his telephone bill.

The long seduction peaked in the spring of 1995, Sandford said.

Government lawyer Jim Dowler declined to make a statement as the case opened yesterday.

Patti Towler, lawyer for the Nisha society, urged the judge to look beyond the "soap opera" of the case to the fact that Irwin was an otherwise excellent employee and was carefully vetted when she was hired.

Towler also said the Crown was justified in apprehending Johnson's son, now five, because her parenting skills were shaky.

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