Image Source: McGill Reporter
Dad Says Pandemic is a “Hoax” – Mom Gets Temporary Sole Custody
In an earlier Blog we recounted a recent Ontario decision involving a dispute over parenting time that had arisen when the child’s mother learned that the father had been participating in large protests to challenge government and public health measures taken around the COVID-19 pandemic. She feared the father’s activism – including criticism of the government’s handling of what he called the “scamdemic” – would expose the child and her own elderly parents to the virus.
A second recent case called Burrell v. Burrell features a similar theme. The separated parents, who shared two children, were engaged in lengthy and highly fractious litigation. Their ongoing dispute over custody and access was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the father believed was a hoax. He emphatically denied the existence of the virus, and posted many controversial items on his social media. Among them were allegations of government use of propaganda, and various solicitations to encourage others to join him in his anti-mask protests.
The court honed in especially on one of the father’s social media posts that denied the deadly repercussions of the pandemic, stating:
The reality is that the number of COVID- 19 cases has exploded. Cases are up, hospitalizations are up, and, sadly, deaths have increased as well. The number of persons being infected with COVID-19 continued in November, December, and January to rise at an alarming rate. Hospitals in Windsor-Essex (and throughout this province) are currently about to reach capacity. Physicians are warning that they may have to start rationing COVID-19 care.
Countless numbers of surgeries, procedures, and treatments for other illnesses and conditions have had to be cancelled and/or delayed. The health care system cannot address all medical issues due to the health care needs of COVID-19 patients. The long-term effects of the pandemic and of delayed treatments to persons with other health conditions is currently unmeasurable.
All of this has occurred while a percentage of our population, including [the father], continue to deny the existence, significance and/or impact of COVID-19.
Based fully on the father’s intractable behaviour in the context of the current health crisis, the court went on to award temporary sole custody to the mother.
After conceding that the father was entitled to his opinions and was entitled to express them by lawful means, the court nonetheless found his conduct in public posed a risk to the best interests of the child. Specifically, his unwillingness to embrace the reality of the pandemic-related health risks served to put the child in active danger.
The court went on to admonish the father in these terms:
On a review and assessment of the evidence, I have concluded that the [father’s] behaviour is dictated by his world view. Everything else is subordinate to that view, including, but not limited to, his love for his children. He makes repeated assertions that they need to be permitted to spend more time with him and that time should not be supervised. However, he is not prepared to take steps to protect himself in public at all times; not only is he not taking precautionary steps, by his own evidence, he is attending public protests, unmasked, and taking other inappropriate steps. He readily admits, and is active online, confirming, even bragging, that he is engaging in actions and behaviours in the community while unmasked.
[The father’s] opinions and amplification of those views are one thing. His conduct requires that [the mother] temporarily have sole custody to make all necessary decisions relating to, but not limited to, health care, schooling, and receiving a vaccine when they are eligible.
Burrell v. Burrell, 2021 ONSC 681