A B.C. father who has been a vocal critic of his transgender child’s decision to pursue hormone treatment was placed in handcuffs Tuesday and remanded into custody at least until the end of the week after being rebuked by a judge for “persistently and consistently” violating court-ordered publication bans restricting what he can say about the case.
It’s the latest chapter in a case that has morphed from a family law dispute into a quasi-criminal one, touching on the themes of children’s rights, parental rights, free expression and more along the way.
The father previously went to court to try to block his teenage child — who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male and has the support of his mother — from pursuing testosterone hormone therapy in 2018.
But in January 2020, in a decision hailed as a victory for trans youth, the B.C. Court of Appeal reasserted the right of young people to make their own health decisions and called the father’s refusal to accept his child’s gender identity “troublesome.”
“The evidence shows that his rejection of (the child’s) identity has caused (the child) significant pain,” the decision read. “(The child) clearly wants and needs acceptance and support from his father.”
The decision also included an order that the father “acknowledge and refer to (the child) as male and employ male pronouns” and “identify (the child) by the name he has chosen.”
Provincial Crown prosecutors contend that rather than accept the decision, the father has repeatedly appeared on various online platforms, broadcasting and publishing information about the case, contravening court orders that prohibit him from identifying names of parties in the case and details of his child’s medical status.
Last July, Crown counsel filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court, seeking a finding that the father had committed criminal contempt of court — an offence that can result in five years imprisonment.
A trial is set for next month.
But earlier this month, Crown counsel took the additional step of seeking an arrest warrant for the father, prompting Tuesday’s hearing before Justice Michael Tammen.
Crown lawyer Daniel Pruim outlined what he described as “flagrant” and ongoing breaches by the father. He homed in on a fundraising website that had been set up by the father that identifies the father by his full name, contains a video clip showing his face, and in which he declares he is “fighting the far left based on a civil disobedience defence.”
Even after a warrant was issued for his arrest, the site remains active, Pruim told the judge.
“He has continued (the breaches), despite the conditions, despite the increased jeopardy to his liberty,” Pruim said.
The court-ordered publication bans were designed to protect the child, who at times has indicated he is suicidal, the prosecutor said.
“(The father) doesn’t care,” Pruim said. “He thinks his position is more important. … This isn’t someone inadvertently doing this. This is somebody who continually and deliberately flouts court orders.”
Unless some kind of plan can be devised to ensure the father respects court orders, the father should remain in custody until the contempt of court trial next month, Pruim said.
Defence lawyer Carey Linde argued there was “no evidence” that any of the father’s public commentary had resulted in harm and that many people in the community already know the facts of the case, including the child’s classmates and neighbours.
“What is the big secret?” Linde asked. “The genie is out of the bottle.”
Linde asked the court to stay the arrest warrant until the contempt of court proceedings next month and that the father be released without bail.
He also signalled his intention to seek a removal of all the court-imposed publications bans, except the ones that prohibit identifying the names of the family members.
Tammen, the judge, questioned why an application to remove the orders hadn’t been made earlier.
Appearing to grow increasingly frustrated with Linde, the judge asked Linde if he had any ideas for new conditions that could be imposed on the father to give the court confidence that he will comply with the orders until his trial next month.
“It is clear to me he’s not prepared to do very much thus far to comply with court orders. What terms can I impose that will have some sway with him, to ensure compliance?”
Linde didn’t offer any particulars.
“This court absolutely values free speech and the ability of citizenry to have debate — even robust uncomfortable debate. … That’s not what this is about,” the judge said.
“This is about, at its core, (the child’s) psychological well-being.”
Tammen said he would issue a decision Friday. Until then, he ordered the father remanded into custody, bringing jeers from some of the father’s supporters in the gallery.
With files from Wanyee Li