Globe and Mail

Ex-Grizzlie loses custody

Son will stay in B.C.; race should never have been an issue, Supreme Court says

Saturday, September 29, 2001
The Globe and Mail

TORONTO, VANCOUVER -- Former Vancouver Grizzlies basketball player Theodore (Blue) Edwards lost when it counted most yesterday, as the Supreme Court of Canada awarded custody of a child he fathered to his Vancouver lover.

The court said Kimberly Van de Perre, 27, is quite capable of providing a good and loving home for four-year-old Elijah -- even though she is white, poorly educated and of humble means.

A 9-0 majority also said there is ample reason to be skeptical about the negative effect Mr. Edwards's global basketball commitments and persistent philandering could have on Elijah.

While race can potentially be an important factor in a custody dispute, the court said, it depends on the case.

"In this case, there was absolutely no evidence adduced which indicates that race was an important consideration," Mr. Justice Michel Bastarache said. "The result here is that Elijah will have exposure to both sides of his racial and cultural heritage."

Judge Bastarache stressed yesterday that in custody cases, speed and finality are of the essence. "A child should not be unsure of his or her home for four years, as in this case."

Barbara Bulmer, Mr. Edwards's lawyer, said in an interview her client and his wife were devastated by the ruling. "It is a pretty sad day for fathers and stepfathers," she said. "The court is saying it is more important to have it over with than to get it right."

However, Ms. Van de Perre told a crowd of reporters in Vancouver she was stunned and overjoyed.

"I felt really weak, really dizzy. It was like a large exhale, a huge feeling of relief. I'm going to have a really good sleep tonight for the first time in a really long time."

She said it was in stark contrast to the day she lost custody. "I went into actual physical shock. I wailed. I screamed. I shook. I cried for a long time."

The former beauty queen recalled having had so little money and such a seemingly hopeless case that 51 lawyers rejected her before Steven Mansfield agreed to take it on.

She said she relished the thought of telling Elijah the news. "He understands that we have been arguing over him and that today he was going to find out where home is. I know he was hoping to stay here."

The Supreme Court decision effectively restricts Mr. Edwards's time with his son to four one-week periods a year, plus shared access during Christmas and birthdays.

For the past year or so, Elijah has been travelling back and forth every three weeks between Ms. Van de Perre's home in Coquitlam and his father's residence in Charlotte, N.C. He is currently in the middle of a stay with his mother.

Ms. Van de Perre said yesterday she wants Elijah to have a strong relationship with his father and stepmother and that she will increase his time with them if he ever says, "I miss daddy. I miss mommy Val."

Mr. Edwards, who has retired from basketball, makes monthly custody payments of $3,500. Mr. Mansfield said the original trial judge will review the payments.

The couple met at a Vancouver bar in 1994. Eighteen months later, Elijah was born. Ms. Van de Perre sought and won custody. However, Mr. Edwards and his wife, Valerie, persuaded the B.C. Court of Appeal that they offered a superior home and that Elijah should be immersed in black culture.

In the court ruling yesterday, Judge Bastarache went out of his way to praise Mr. Justice Terrance Warren of the B.C. Supreme Court for a meticulous trial ruling that bore no taint of racial prejudice.

He warned appellate courts not to brush aside trial rulings without having very strong reasons. In a sharp rebuke, he slammed the B.C. Court of Appeal for allowing race to become an overriding consideration when there was no evidence on the point.

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