Toronto Star

Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Sex price of access to son, dad testifies

Female family counsellor being sued by B.C. man's wife

The Toronto Star

VANCOUVER -- A family counsellor threatened to cut off a man's access to his son if he reported her aggressive sexual advances, a court was told yesterday.

"Having intercourse with her was a prerequisite for seeing my son," Mark Tisdall told B.C. Supreme Court in testimony that left him weeping in the halls of the downtown courthouse.

Asked about his relationship with Shirley Irwin -- roughly 20 years his senior -- Tisdall, 29, said: "She was the man. I was the woman.

"I don't mean anything disrespectful by that," Tisdall told Justice Wendy Baker, who is hearing the civil case without a jury.

He was testifying to 1994-95 events that resulted in British Columbia's children's ministry being dragged into court.

Kari Johnson, the mother of Tisdall's son, now age 5, is suing for damages the ministry, Irwin and the agency funded by the province that employed her.

Johnson alleges Irwin sought sex from Tisdall in return for undermining her fitness as a parent.

Irwin was assigned to assess Johnson at the time and to teach her how to become a better mother.

Tisdall would not directly say yesterday whether he and Irwin ever actually had sex: "I'm not pulling a Clinton here, but sex is when two people are consenting.

"I find it hard to believe that anyone would believe that I would want to have sex with that woman," said the slight, soft-spoken man with a goatee.

"I looked at her, like you, your honour," he said, referring to Baker as he said he saw Irwin as an educated woman of greater life experience.

Minutes later, an exasperated Baker described sex -- a male penis inserted into a female vagina -- and asked if that described the relationship. "It was attempted," Tisdall replied.

He said Irwin once lured him to her house with an offer to see his son. The unemployed auto mechanic said he fell asleep on her couch but "woke up to Shirley Irwin sitting on me, straddling my midsection and her trying to have intercourse with me. She was completely naked."

Tisdall said Irwin would threaten him on the phone, saying he would never see his son again if he revealed their relationship.

Irwin is not in court. By letter, the Manitoba resident told court she cannot afford to attend or to hire a lawyer. A default judgment has been issued against her. The trial will consider liability of other parties named.

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