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Mother jailed in Canada for denying dad access

By IAN HARVEY - Toronto Sun - January 11, 1997

For the first time in more than 20 years a mother has been jailed for denying access to the father of her child, a Hamilton lawyer says.

"I lost a job that I was to start Monday," Deborah Grenier, 33, of Hamilton said after she spent two nights in jail for contempt of court.

Hamilton Unified Court senior judge David Steinberg ordered Grenier to jail for five days on Monday. She was released Wednesday morning.

Greatest victory

The case was pressed by the father of 2-year-old Jenna, Wayne Ellen, 35, also of Hamilton who represented himself in the battle that has raged since the toddler was born.

While men who fail to pay child support are regularly jailed for contempt, the last time a woman was jailed for denying access was more than 20 years ago, said veteran Hamilton lawyer Richard Gaasenbeek."A layman has scored the greatest victory in 25 years of family law," Gaasenbeek said when told of the case. "I'm going to invite him to lunch."

But now Ellen himself risks being jailed for contempt. He says he's unable to pay $650 a month child support because he's not working full-time and, in any event, shouldn't have to pay because he's caring for his daughter 31/2 days a week.

"How does he get away with quitting his job and not paying support," said an angry Grenier who is on Legal Aid. "I'd like to be reasonable. I want my daughter to know who her father is. He should grow up and face reality -- we have a daughter to raise."

While Ellen had complained about being blocked from several weekend visits, Steinberg upheld only the complaint about the weekend of Nov. 21 -- a weekend Grenier claimed she went on vacation. Steinberg would have ordered her jailed Dec. 20 but set the case over to last Monday to avoid incarceration over the Christmas period.

Ellen said he fathered the child after dating Grenier and although the couple briefly lived together, their relationship ended before the baby was born."But I want to be an active father," said Ellen, a former line worker for Ford of Canada. "I got sick of being denied access and wanted to do something about it

Bitter battle

The battle turned bitter from the outset when he claims he was denied the initial court-ordered nine hours a week with newborn Jenna.The next hurdle was an allegation by Grenier of sexual abusing his daughter. It was found to be without foundation and prompted Judge P.H. Wallace to suggest it "was worse than mischievous ... that someone would play with the system in such a way is intolerable."

His predicament was also one of the cases cited by Senator Anne Cools to support her legislation to penalize those who knowingly perjure or make false allegations to the courts."It's long overdue because if a father can go to jail for not paying support the custodial parent should also face the same penalty for denying access," said Stacey Robb of Dads And Divorce Strategies, a self-help group that initially helped Ellen with his case."Kids shouldn't be denied a relationship with their parent unless abuse is clearly proven."

Received - 14 January 1997

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