The case of a single mother languishing in jail for nine months over a custody case raises questions about our justice system – and cries out for intervention.
Indeed, that’s what Toronto lawyer Barry Swadron, on behalf of the woman’s family, asked Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur to do in a July 14 letter.
The allegations in this case are numerous, complicated — and heartrending — as reported extensively by the Star’s Jim Rankin.
But they must be resolved: the future of an 11-year-old girl, who is currently in China with her grandfather and step-grandmother, is at stake.
On one side of this he-said, she-said story, the woman alleges that she was mentally and sexually abused for a decade by a Toronto man. Initially, police laid 34 domestic and sexual assault criminal charges against him.
On the other side, the man complained to police that his daughter had been taken without his knowledge to China, and that the complaints against him were false.
The result of all the claims and counterclaims is that the woman has lost sole custody of her daughter and been placed in detention for contempt of court for not returning her daughter to Canada.
Meanwhile, the man has gained sole custody, while the charges against him were stayed.
So what now?
Swadron says his client is physically and financially unable to return her daughter from China while she languishes in jail. Amanda Dale, executive director of the Barbra Schlifer legal clinic for women, says: “It appears to be an incredible Catch-22 that she is involved in.”
Even the judge who sent the woman to jail is frustrated with the situation. Family Court Justice Geraldine Waldman acknowledged in June that “I’m keeping someone in jail on an open-ended basis, really for disobeying a court order. And even under the Criminal Code when you’re charged with disobeying a court order, you don’t get sentenced to life.”
Another two months have passed since the judge’s lament.
The justice system is failing all parties. It’s time for Meilleur to step in to find a new and more humane way of resolving this tangled case.