Toronto Sun

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

A father's fears

Divorce nearly cost him his son

By Mark Bonokoski, Toronto Sun

Shortly after his divorce, Sam Fortomaris got a call from his ex-wife, telling him she was initiating legal proceedings to have his visitation rights to his young son temporarily revoked.

If he ever wanted to be with his son again, he had to get therapy. That was the deal.

Backing this stance, explained his wife, was a report written by a hired psychologist -- Dr. Toni Mantini-Atkinson -- which accused Sam of exposing their three-year-old son to violence, to threats and to triggering what she diagnosed as being symptomatic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Trouble is, Sam Fortomaris, a 40-year-old salesman for an Oshawa-based chemical company, had never met this doctor. In fact, he had never laid eyes on her, let alone been interviewed by her.

"This doctor came at me from out of the blue and ruined my life," said Fortomaris who, after spending $18,000 in out-of-pocket lawyers' fees to fight the allegations, had to file bankruptcy for relief from the additional $20,000 he owed to both his lawyers and the federal government tax department.

There is no question that divorce and custody scenarios can get messy and the case of Sam Fortomaris is no exception.

It began simply enough. His ex-wife, genuinely concerned about their son's emotional well-being following the divorce, was referred to Dr. Mantini-Atkinson by the child's pediatrician.

And then it got complex.

Feeling he'd been wronged, and with his relationship with his young son in peril, Sam Fortomaris decided his only way out was to hire a lawyer and take his concerns to the College of Psychologists of Ontario, that science's regulating body.

After reviewing his file, the college's complaints committee decided to refer the case to its discipline committee, a move which historically happens in only 6% of complaints filed.

In a decision dated Feb. 11, and signed by Dr. Mary Anne Mountain, Dr. Nina Josefowitz, Dr. Jennifer Connolly and public member Gordon Rimmer, the complaints committee concluded that the discipline committee should consider the following allegations:

That, in the Fortomaris matter, Dr. Mantini-Atkinson, who works out of the Black Elk Learning Centre, in Markham, "signed a report that she knew or ought to have known was false and misleading."

That she "rendered an opinion which was founded on inadequate and inappropriate information."

That she "failed to provide her professional opinion in a objective and unbiased matter."

That she "failed to render services and undertake those procedures appropriate to (the child's) needs."

And, that she "failed to provide a report and due consideration to Mr. Fortomaris, who was affected by her recommendations."

In a second decision dated May 22, the college's executive committee voted to refer more allegations to the discipline committee. Namely, that Dr. Mantini-Atkinson "provided information regarding her credentials and professional accomplishments which was false and/or misleading."

That she "made claims, in her brochure, of uniqueness or special advantage that are false and misleading and not supportable in terms of existing scientific evidence," and that she "did not limit the provision of her psychological services to her demonstrated areas of professional competence."

And, that she "engaged in conduct that, having regard to all the circumstances, would reasonably be regarded by members (of her profession) as disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional."

The College of Psychologists of Ontario, in turn, is prevented by legislation from commenting on any proceeding, but process dictates that complaints are not referred to the discipline committee unless the college believes "there is significant evidence to support a finding of incompetence or professional misconduct."

Sam Fortomaris is now taking the matter one step farther. He is suing Dr. Toni Mantini-Atkinson for $750,000 in damages.

None of the allegations against Mantini-Atkinson have been proven in court or at any hearing.

Dr. Mantini-Atkinson deferred comment to her lawyer, Bob Kaye, who said it was "premature" to draw any conclusions.

Copyright © 2002, Canoe, a division of Netgraphe Inc.