Report

LITIGATION

April 1, 2002, pp. 22-23

Accepting evidence out of court

A bankrupt, divorced dad protests hometown Red Deer 'justice behind closed doors'

By Candis McLean
The Report Newsmagazine

Colin Reid examines a photo of himself with Pat Black, then Alberta's minister of energy, at a trade show in Quito, Ecuador. It was October 1997 and the engineering technologist was employed in an international sales position; in later years, he would teach drilling courses in Argentina, Kazakhstan and Siberia before the courts removed his passport and driver's licence over maintenance issues. Today he pumps gas in Red Deer. The story of his dramatic decline and fall, and the seething anger it has generated, is not unusual, according to men's advocates. What they hope may be unique, however, is his specific allegation of injustice within the justice system.

Mr. Reid's saga began in the fall of 1992, when he was living in B.C. with his wife, Robyn, a homemaker, and their three sons. The couple separated: she moved to Red Deer, and he offered, without being asked, to pay $325 per month per child for a total of $975 per month. Rather than spousal support for herself, she had received the larger share of the profit on the house, but his lawyer did not get that agreement in writing. To be closer to the children, he, too, moved to Alberta. In June 1994, she accused him of molesting their three boys, then ages three, four and nine. This past January, in a Red Deer provincial court, lawyer Glen Cunningham recalled under oath those events of 1994.

Mr. Cunningham testified that while he had been representing Mr. Reid in the early 1990s, Mrs. Reid made a series of accusations of violence against her ex-husband. "She recanted when presented with enough evidence, but she kept us moving through the hoops," Mr. Cunningham testified. "She would make accusations of physical violence, then say, "No, I didn't mean he hit me. I was just scared that day," then said he [Mr. Reid] was a violent amnesiac epileptic, and when countered with medical evidence, she then [instead] made allegations of sexual misconduct. We had countered a lot of allegations, but things [court decisions] were not happening as they should." All matters between the divorcing couple were being heard by one judge who had seized himself of the case (meaning he kept it under his own authority). That judge was James Foster, former Conservative attorney general for Alberta.

Mr. Cunningham testified that because he could not make "rhyme nor reason" about what was happening in court, he suggested to Mr. Reid that they bring in another lawyer, Nancy Flatters (now a provincial court judge), while Mr. Cunningham continued as second counsel. In September 1994 they were considering "appealing a number of Judge Foster's orders which they considered questionable," when, after Labour Day weekend, Judge Foster called in the Reids' three lawyers and brought forward the fact that he had been receiving letters from Mrs. Reid directly and had a number of her letters on file. "As far as [Judge Foster] using them to make rulings, I don't know," Mr. Cunningham testified. Acting as his own lawyer, Mr. Reid then asked Mr. Cunningham if it were normal procedure for a judge to accept letters from someone whose case he was hearing. "No, normally he just wouldn't open them or if he opened them, would make it known to the court or recuse himself," the lawyer responded.

Outside the courtroom, Mr. Reid alleged that Judge Foster had taken another full year to pass the file to another judge, while continuing to make rulings regarding ongoing disputes in 'Reid v. Reid' as late as November 1995. Those rulings included, on the basis of the mothers allegation that their middle son was mentally unstable, the decision that the four-year-old not is allowed to travel with his brothers to Mr. Reid's wedding in Ontario. "At various times I couldn't see my kids. I couldn't phone them, we got further and further from what seemed reasonable," Mr. Reid claimed. Although angry in 1995, he had felt there was no way to have a judge's actions investigated.

In 1996 another judge awarded his wife $3,150 per month in child maintenance and spousal support at a time when Mr. Reid was clearing $3,400. Living on $250 per month, he began getting behind in payments and in 1998 was forced into bankruptcy from which he never emerged. With a new job in 2000, he tried to pay the $3,150, plus arrears, and in 10 months paid $45.000 before missing a payment and receiving a letter from maintenance enforcement saying they were pulling his drivers licence and passport. Basically, they removed my ability to earn the very money I was paying them." he says.

In November 2000, Mr. Reid heard that he could carry his grievance about Judge Foster to Alberta Chief Justice Allan Wachovich. He wrote to him explaining, "My mental health and finances have suffered a lot due to Judge Foster's actions." The Chief Justice replied that he would review the file. Mr. Reid, who admits to being eccentric and hot-headed, immediately began distributing flyers headlined, "Red Deer judge being investigated." The flyer stated: "It is alleged that Justice Foster, while hearing family matters between a divorcing couple, made rulings while carrying on clandestine correspondence with the wife...It is known that the wife was a member of a wealthy and prominent Red Deer family, strongly connected to the Conservative party...If the allegations are found to be of substance, it is surely a black eye for the justice system. That the scales of justice, held by the blindfolded lady, could be so unfairly weighted with the complicity of a judge and former Minister of Justice, is a travesty...Is this type of conduct condoned? If the allegations of this investigation are substantiated, the system may need to be put under close scrutiny to see if there is a general problem, or if this kangaroo court was an exception."

Mr. Justice Wachowich then wrote to Mr. Reid, saying that the issuance of such a statement was disturbing, that he had planned only to investigate the file, not the judge--an area outside his authority--and that because Mr. Reid had matters before the court, "you will not be hearing further from me." In an interview with this magazine, Mr. Justice Wachowich explained that Mr. Reid had acted inappropriately to correspondence to which he [Mr. Justice Wachowich] need not have responded, since he was not there to judge judges: that Mr. Reid should have contacted the Canadian Judicial Council in Ottawa. (Judge Foster and Mrs. Reid declined interviews with this magazine.)

Meanwhile, Mr. Reid was indeed in court for a hearing following an RCMP investigation launched at the behest of Judge Foster related to various letters Mr. Reid had sent to the courts and Judge Foster. One letter, dated September 12, 2001, stated: "Dear judge Foster, I thought you might want a copy of this [affidavit]--Take care and have a nice life. I am going to bring you down if I can (Not physically, but mentally, as you have done to me)." The affidavit, in the words of Judge Allen Lefever who heard the case, was "a bitter diatribe in respect of Reid having to pay spousal support to Robyn. It is blunt, accusatorial of both Foster and Robyn, and contains scurrilous allegations of misconduct and abuse. I will not repeat the contents extensively, but note the following excerpt: "There's nothing left financially or emotionally, it's finished one way or other. If this flies in the face of the court, then so be it. I aint ascaird of her, her lawyers, the court or jail. If that's what happens. I been to jail before. If that's the way it is, then bring it on.'"

Judge Lefever also noted that in a court hearing in July 2001, Mr. Reid had stated: "That lazy woman will not work. She's got multi-millionaire family that gives her money for lawyers whenever it comes time to go to court again. Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. The multi-millionaire Bower family support her in this, and crush, crush, crush me, and trying to walk me into the ground, and it is working. And I would like the court to do something about it. If you want to send me to gaol, send me to gaol. I don't care. I want this nightmare to be over somehow. I would like to be able to pay child support. Yes, but I don't have an objection to that. I do have an objection to paying this horrible, lazy woman to sit on her backside and watch TV. I should have killed her 10 years ago because--nine years ago--because in a year I would be out of gaol and free at least...[Here a lawyer interrupted, "Mr. Reid," before Mr. Reid continued] I didn't and I am not going to but..."

Citing these and a number of other "diatribes," Judge Lefever ruled this month that Mr. Reid's firearms be seized and he be prohibited from possessing weapons for five years. Mr. Reid is unrepentant: "The statements I made I shouldn't have said, but there they are. I explicitly stated I will do nothing that's not legal. Even wing nuts deserve balanced justice. For the principle, I'm willing to lose my guns, although I'll miss hunting with my sons. An impartial judiciary is crucial. One side of a dispute should not have the private ear of the judge: the Canadian justice system should not be decided behind closed doors. I am fighting for the very integrity of the courts, and I will continue to fight until the facts are put before the proper authorities and examined."

As for his career in the oil field. Mr. Reid says, "I have pretty much given up for good. I have never been on welfare or unemployment, and I used to provide for my kids and pay taxes when I was allowed to. My ex-wife and the courts have made that impossible, so now I pump gas and get by as I can. Rather than work, my wife wants to force me to do what is impossible. I give up."

Copyright, 2002 The Report, http://report.ca