Should Dad’s “Scamdemic” Protest Activism Disqualify Him from Exercising In-Person Parenting Time?
The parents of the 4-year-old child lived together only briefly; they separated when the child was three months old. They had managed to agree to a parenting schedule whereby the father parented the child six nights out of 14.
However, starting in May of 2020 the mother refused to allow the father to exercise any of his parenting time in-person, having learned that the father was participating in large anti-government protests. The court explained the scenario:
The [mother] refused to allow the [father] in-person parenting time with [the child] beginning on May 8, 2020, after she learned that the [father] was gathering in large crowds to challenge government and public health measures taken around the COVID-19 pandemic. She was concerned that the [father’s] behavior would expose [the child], and through him, her and her contacts, including her elderly parents, and other immuno-compromised family members, to COVID-19.
The record establishes that [father] refers to the pandemic as a “scamdemic”. He has organized and participated in public protests against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. On social media, he encourages his followers to “reject the new normal”, and criticizes the World Health Organization as “corrupt”, alleging it must be held accountable for genocide against humanity. He has been interviewed by local media sources who have identified him as a protest organizer. He claims that deaths from the flu shot are greater than deaths from COVID-19. He admits to hugging strangers, and wears a shirt that says “hugs over masks”.
The mother brought an urgent motion to the court, asking for interim custody on the basis that the father was rejecting the seriousness of the pandemic. Although she did not dispute that he was a loving father and could appropriately care for the child, she felt he was acting irresponsibly during the pandemic and was putting the child and her at risk.
In response, the father downplayed the risks of his “unconventional” views and behaviour, claiming the child was at a low risk of contracting COVID-19. He pointed out that there was no criticism about his parenting skills per se. However, he was unwilling to commit (to the court or otherwise) that he would adhere to public health guidelines with respect to COVID-19, including mask-wearing requirements. He relied on the assertion that, as a health and wellness coach, he was in overall good health.
The court granted the mother’s request on a temporary basis, ordering that the child was to primarily reside with her. She was also entitled to have sole interim decision-making authority for the child on all major decisions regarding health, medical care, schooling, and extra-curricular activities.
In making this order the court first emphasized that, especially during the pandemic, it was important for the well-being of the child that she obtain love, guidance and emotional support from both parents. There is accordingly a presumption that existing parenting arrangements and schedules will continue – but with whatever modifications were necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are adhered to. Indeed, many recent Ontario court decisions on this issue have pointedly confirmed that parents are expected to follow all COVID-19 protocols, including hand washing, physical distancing, and limiting exposure to others.
In light of the father’s unwillingness to do so, and in view of his position on the “scamdemic”, the court made the following ruling:
I find that the [father] is not prepared to follow COVID-19 protocols in the future. … The [father] has demonstrated no parental insight, or COVID-19 awareness.
The [father] is aware that his behaviour has led to the [wife] suspending what was his significant parenting time with [the child]. Despite the government and public health messages about the risk of COVID-19, despite the [wife’s] clear will to act in the face of her concerns, despite the case law that suggests that courts will take COVID-19 seriously, the [father] has preferred his agenda — politicizing a virus — over his parenting time with his son.
In these circumstances, given the [father’s] complete failure and unwillingness to follow COVID-19 protocols, now or in the future, I order that, on a temporary basis, [the child’s] primary residence shall be with the [mother].
The father was to be allowed video-only parenting access for the time being. Moreover, his in-person parenting time could only be resumed on the condition that the mother agreed, or if she did not agree, then only after the father applied to the court after either: 1) producing a negative COVID-19 test result; or 2) proving he had self-isolated for 14 days. He would also be required to begin following (and commit to continuing to follow) government and public health protocols with respect to COVID-19.
For the full text of the decision, see:
A.T. v. V.S., 2020 ONSC 4198