Globe and Mail

Mother wins in Edwards custody case

By JEFF GRAY
POSTED AT 3:38 PM EDT , Friday, September 28
Globe and Mail Update

The Supreme Court of Canada has overturned a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling and has granted a B.C. woman custody of her son after a prolonged fight between her and his pro basketball-player father that raised the issue of race in custody battles.

The father, Theodore (Blue) Edwards, is black, and is a former Vancouver Grizzlies player who lives with his wife in North Carolina. The mother, Kimberly Van de Perre, is white, and had an affair Mr. Edwards that began in 1996. Their son, Elijah, was born in June, 1997.

Several black associations intervening in the case supported Mr. Edwards's claim that since Elijah will be seen as black, it is vital for him to be raised in a milieu that will further his identification with black culture.

The original trial judge had awarded custody to Ms. Van de Perre. He said she was a loving mother whose bond with Elijah far surpassed anything Mr. Edwards could offer.

The B.C. Court of Appeal reversed that ruling a year ago, giving the Mr. Edwards and his wife custody and Ms. Van de Perre generous access, which meant that Elijah travelled between Vancouver and North Carolina regularly.

On Friday, Canada's top court overturned the B.C. Court of Appeal's ruling, saying that Elijah should live with his mother and that the appeal court did not have sufficient grounds to reverse the decision of the original trial judge.

In their 9-0 ruling, the justices decided that the original judge did not ignore evidence about whether being raised in a black family would be better for the child.

The boy, now 4, will see his father and his family according to an agreement that has yet to be worked out.

Ms. Van de Perre, 27, told reporters in Vancouver that she was pleased with the ruling. "I am extremely relieved, and I am surprised, I am feeling really tired. I think it's just a huge weight that's been lifted of my shoulders," she said.

Her lawyer, Steven Mansfield, said the Supreme Court sent a message that trial judges in custody cases should be trusted to make good judgments.

"I think that it come down to the fact that the trial judge, who is an extremely experienced family trial judge, gave a very carefully worded and considered decision," he said.

"And there was no reason to intervene in that decision by the Court of Appeal. And the Supreme Court of Canada has simply affirmed again that custody cases should not be tampered with, so to speak, unless there is some overriding and compelling error made by a trial judge," Mr. Mansfield said.

The case touched off a debate about race and child custody, and several Canadian organizations the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the Association of Black Social Workers and the Jamaican Canadian Association acted as intervenors in the Supreme Court case.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.