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June 30, 2000

Ex-NBA player's custody case reaches high court
Former Vancouver Grizzly: B.C. appeal court gave Blue Edwards custody based partly on skin colour
Chris Wattie, with files from Janice Tibbetts, Southam News
National Post

Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun
Kimberly Van de Perre currently shares custody of three-year-old Elijah, but a B.C. court has said the boy should be raised in his father's black family.

Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun
Blue Edwards and his wife, Valerie Edwards, now live in North Carolina. Evidence shows the basketball player has had numerous affairs.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed yesterday to hear the custody battle between a millionaire basketball player and his Canadian lover, a case in which a three-year-old boy was awarded to the father in part because of the colour of his skin.

Theodore "Blue" Edwards, a former player for the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies, was awarded custody of his son, Elijah, last March, when the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling that gave custody to the boy's mother, Kimberly Van de Perre, a single mother from Vancouver.

The three judges ruled unanimously that the boy would be better off with the wealthy Edwards family because they can raise him in a black culture in the United States.

Mr. Edwards, who is black, won sole custody because the court determined the child will always be perceived as "being black" because of his skin colour, even though his mother, Ms. Van de Perre, is white.

"It seems likely to me that being raised in an Afro-American family in a part of the world where the black population is proportionally greater than it is here would be to some extent less difficult than it would be in Canada," read the appeal court decision.

"Elijah would in this event have a greater chance of achieving a sense of cultural belonging and identity."

The judges concluded Elijah would therefore be better off growing up with Mr. Edwards, his wife, Valerie, and their 10-year-old twin daughters in North Carolina.

"As much as one might wish it were otherwise, the existence of inter-racial problems in Canadian (and indeed North American) society cannot be ignored," the B.C. judges ruled.

As is usual, the three-judge panel of the Supreme Court gave no reason for its decision to hear the appeal.

The court also extended an order delaying the handover of the child to Mr. Edwards pending the case being heard, which is not expected to occur until next year.

Tatiana van Riemsdijk, an historian at Simon Fraser University specializing in black history and culture, said yesterday she was relieved that the Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the B.C. decision, which she called "frightening judicial activism."

"This is blatant racial segregation," Ms. van Riemsdijk said. "I'm actually shaking, I'm so appalled by this decision."

She said the appeal court judges made sweeping generalizations in their decision about the nature of black culture, race and society.

"[The judges] are actually saying that it's better to grow up black in the American South than in Canada," she said incredulously. "The decision says that the best place to learn how to deal with racial discrimination is the South .... It's frightening."

Ms. van Riemsdijk said the appeal court ruling is based on the same argument that was used in the 1820s in the U.S., when it was proposed to send black slaves and freed slaves back to Africa because: "They're better off with their own kind. This is a very old argument that is being revived."

Mr. Edwards, 35, met Ms. Van de Perre, a 25-year-old former beauty queen, in a Vancouver nightclub in 1996 when he was making $2-million a year playing for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

The case is expected to provide a glimpse into the often promiscuous world of a professional basketball player as the court considers Mr. Edwards' many extramarital affairs and Ms. Van de Perre's passion for the "sports groupie" bar scene.

The appeal court judgment said Ms. Van de Perre at first told a psychologist she had sex with only one other basketball player besides Mr. Edwards, and he "was like a superstar."

But she later told the court she had been more sexually active than she had previously indicated.

"She stated she has other male friends on other NBA teams, although when they come to town, she stated she is 'like the tour guide,' helping them to find places where they can 'meet cute chicks,' " the judgment read.

The appeal court took into account the strength of character of Valerie Edwards, described as a "rock" who holds her family together while her husband of nine years is on the road where he, according to court testimony, "leads a glamorous life in which he frequently indulges in extramarital sex."

The judgment also quoted Mrs. Edwards as saying that Ms. Van de Perre "couldn't teach him what it's going to be like to be black, and how he is going to be seen in the world as being black ... And reading books won't help."

The original 1999 ruling from the trial judge emphasized Mr. Edwards' character flaws and the fact that he did not have the same commitment to their son as Ms. Van de Perre.

The judge said of Mr. Edwards, who played last season in a professional team in Greece: "While Mr. Edwards testified that he had remained faithful to his wife for the first 18 months of his marriage, he has had at least three affairs since then and, I conclude, in all probability he has had more."

Judge Terrance Warren also expressed concern that the Edwards' marriage may not last. "The defendant's wife is convinced that she and her husband will grow old together," he wrote. "I am not satisfied that the defendant has a similar will to remain committed to this marriage and he certainly has not been candid with his wife ... Mrs. Edwards is always playing catch-up when it comes to knowledge of her husband's extra-curricular activities."

Mr. Edwards and Ms. Van de Perre, who receives $3,500 a month in child support, have shared custody of their son since the last court ruling, according to documents filed with the Supreme Court.

Ms. Van de Perre is asking the court to rule on six questions as well as the race issue, including the weight that should be placed on the future stability of the Edwards family, whether traditional families are preferred over non-traditional or single-parent families and the role of parental misconduct in custody decisions.

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