Cristin Schmitz - CanWest News Service - National Post Thursday, January 20, 2005
OTTAWA - An Ontario woman who poisoned her children's minds against their "good and loving father" has been fined $10,000 -- and threatened with further fines and imprisonment -- in what is believed to be the harshest penalty yet imposed by a Canadian court > for "parental alienation."
Superior Court Justice Lorna-Lee Snowie of Brampton, Ont., recently found Nancy Cooper, 52, in civil contempt of court for repeatedly flouting court orders over the past seven years that required her to facilitate contact between her three daughters and their father, David Cooper, of Point Clark, Ont.
The 53-year-old Air Canada pilot has not seen or spoken with the two youngest children since 1998, when his former wife told him to vacate the family home. The girls send occasional e-mails requesting money.
Ms. Cooper, an unemployed registered nurse whose former husband financially supports her, must immediately pay $10,000 to the Treasurer of Ontario and faces a further $15,000 fine and 30 days in jail if she fails to encourage and assist her youngest child, 16, to take part in family counseling aimed at "reintegrating the father back into his daughter's life," says the decision reported in the next edition of Lawyers Weekly.
"This counseling will provide a safe place for [the teenager] to work out her feelings and for the [father] to work out his feelings about their estrangement -- their estrangement is through no fault of either one of them," Judge Snowie observed.
The judge called the mother's behavior "a travesty" that deeply wounded her children.
The father's lawyer, Paula Bateman of Mississauga, Ont., said the decision sends a powerful warning to custodial parents who deny or obstruct their children's right to see their other parent.
"You will be dealt with harshly, and possibly jailed," Ms. Bateman cautioned. "You have a proactive obligation to facilitate contact when you are the custodial parent." Obstructed access is a problem affecting thousands of divorced parents -- mostly men -- and their children across Canada. But monetary and other penalties remain rare. Few access deniers spend more than a few days in jail. Ms. Bateman and other lawyers said the hefty fine meted out by Judge Snowie is the highest they had ever seen from a Canadian court.
Roger Gallaway, the Liberal MP for Sarnia, Ont., and co-chair of the recent special joint Senate/House of Commons committee on custody and access, said courts have been remiss in not handing out stiffer sanctions when confronted by egregious cases of wrongful access denial, or "parental alienation" -- a term coined to describe the phenomenon of one parent (usually the custodial parent) brainwashing the child against the other parent by denigrating and devaluing that parent.
Judge Snowie held that the mother's persistent refusal to comply with two court orders requiring her to facilitate family counseling, and telephone contact between the girls and their father, amounted to civil contempt of court.
The judge remarked she might have awarded sole custody to the father -- instead of joint custody -- were it not for the fact the youngest, the only child still at home, is so attached to her mother and will soon be independent.
"I find that [the mother's] sabotaging actions have been knowing, willful and deliberate," found the judge. "As a result of [her] behavior, the children have little or no relationship with the father who loves them, who has tried to be a good father, and who has been a good provider throughout their lives."
The girls were nine, 13 and 18 when their parents split up in 1998 after nearly 25 years of marriage.
The eldest, now 25 and married, recently started to see her father on her own initiative.
The judge emphasized all children have a right to a relationship with both their mother and their father.
"There is no evidence before this court that would indicate that Mr. Cooper was anything but a good father, a loving father, and father who throughout the last seven years wanted to be involved in any capacity in his children's lives," wrote Judge Snowie. "He has admirably and heroically been before this court on at least 15 occasions trying, unsuccessfully, to obtain access with his children. He still continues valiantly to attempt to have a relationship with his children."
Judge Snowie said despite the "heroic efforts" of judges, therapists, counselors and others to reconcile the girls with their father, their mother "successfully manipulated the situation to sabotage all contact ... over and over again."
© National Post 2005
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