The Jeremy Swanson Story
I married Susan Scott on April 26, 1985 in Cape Town South Africa. In 1987 we immigrated to Canada with our baby daughter Kirsten. The marriage was happy and stable and replete with all of the normal stresses and strains of a normal marriage. Short-term conflict was quickly and amicably resolved. There was never any violence or abuse of any kind.
By the 1990s we were established as a highly successful and productive immigrant family with three children. Susan was running her own business Brain Injury Management- later Swanson and Associates, which had been supported and started by both of us. I was enjoying a high profile and highly successful career at the Canadian Museum of Civilization-War Museum. I was well known in the media, especially radio and television, in the diplomatic, veteran, and government circles. I received the Corporation's 1997 Top Employee Award (1st out of 640). I also received the top employee award in 1994 plus many subsequent nominations from the War Museum itself. In 1996 I was recommended for the Order of Canada. In October 2000 Susan and I purchased a large family house (our dream house) in Hunt Club, a prosperous suburb of Ottawa.
Important dates leading to the separation:
October 1999: I began a period of sick leave from work due to physical and emotional burn out. This came about as a result of having to cope with on-going racial and cultural abuse, and constant bullying from a new boss.
December 2000: I went to visit my family in South Africa. Susan encouraged me to take the trip as part of a recovery process. A stay of 6 weeks was suggested and arranged. During that time Susan and I spoke regularly on the telephone. All appeared to be *normal'.
January 2001: Just two days before I was due to return home to Ottawa, I received separation papers, via email, from Susan's lawyers. I was 'told' not to return to the family home. A friend was sent to pick me up from the airport. I moved to a downtown hotel, then as my situation became worse, to an apartment/bed-sit.
January 2001(cont): All attempts at mediation failed. Susan did not want to mediate. She had made her decision to divorce. She felt no compulsion to give a reason. I wanted my say and had questions to ask, but was not allowed to do so within the few sessions that were arranged.
February / March 2001: Susan and I were receiving help from our respective psychologists. Our children were also receiving help from a child psychologist.
POINT to consider: Susan arranged support for her divorce by obtaining a *good mother' reference from a psychologist, who was also a personal friend. This was an ethics offence in contravention of the College of Psychologists code of ethics. There was also an implication that I was a *bad father'.
April 2001: The children's psychologist, another friend of Susan, recommended that my 'firearms collection" be removed from the marital home, as she feared a *murder- suicide situation'. This was despite the fact that there was no evidence of this and she only met me once at a social event. She had never examined me. This is another breach of ethics.
I underwent tests with my own psychologist. Despite the lasting shock and pain experienced as a result of the separation from my family, I was not showing any sign of any form of mental disorder or imbalance. There was no evidence or finding of paranoia. This was formally included in a report.
My firearms collection, and the insinuation of fear, was 'used' by Susan to secure grounds for instigating the divorce. If I could be 'seen' to be dangerous then she could be justified in her actions. The firearms collection was pieced together over 16 years and consists mainly of; Two firearms presented as gifts, along with others donated to the Canadian War Museum (from a grateful veteran) and one item bought for historic value in 1988, and another brought legally into Canada from South Africa as part of my immigration property list. Others retained for sentimental reasons such as a penknife belonging to my late father).
Storage of the firearms in the home was in a double-locked CSA-approved and regulation metal safe. This was located in the basement and was protected by alarm systems. Disclosure later revealed that when Susan called the police in April 2001, three months after the separation, and in relating her 'fear' of having the items in the home, the officers were shown the items strewn through the house, including the master bedroom.
I had left them, as I always did, properly stored and locked away in the safe, according to the law and according to the existing firearms safety regulations. In removing the firearms and placing them around the home, for obvious effect, Susan had created a negative impression of me that was entirely lacking in truth. The firearms issue remains unresolved and I continue to be persecuted through the courts without any charges being maid and not ever being interviewed by the police. This has devastated me, ruined my career prospects and destroyed any hope if renewing my former career and activities I am determined to clear my name and reputation in the eyes of the law and for my children.
May 2001: The child psychologist who only weeks before had declared a 'murder/suicide situation', recommended in a report that the Swanson children would benefit from seeing more of their father on a regular basis. (Contradicting her opinion that I could be a *danger' to my children).
August 2001: By chance, I learned from my son Andrew that the antique firearm collection had been taken from the family home by a team of police officers and the bomb Squad, and in full view of the neighbours and with the children present. The collection had been seized for 'safekeeping', according to the findings of my lawyer, in April 2001. I was not and never have been interviewed by the police. I was never informed of the seizure, nor did I ever consent to the seizure of my collection.
January 2002: I returned to work to be told that my job no longer existed and I was dismissed. So began a long-standing battle with the Canadian War Museum to fight a case of constructive dismissal. This was finally resolved in February 2003 after a long and bitter struggle in a secret and confidential settlement for personal damages.
November 2003: My lawyer attended a JPT re: the confiscation of the firearms. There were no charges against me and the judge expressed her disbelief as to why firearms were being discussed at all. They were to be held for safekeeping for 12 months. The firearms are still in police custody as new evidence without disclosure is being presented every time the firearms are supposed to be returned. I have not been able to register these while they are being held and I am unable to store them securely at any address since the separation. The police could destroy them although there was no need for them to be removed from the marital home in the first place. I am fighting this as it impacts negatively on my CPIC record, and me.
November 2003: I was forced, by lack of finances, to leave my down town apartment (bed-sit) to live in the YMCA. I reside there now in a tiny room without most of my personal property and I survive on handouts and on welfare while continuing my search for employment.
December 2004: Unable to reach an amicable settlement, and despite several efforts to achieve a fair settlement, my case endured a 5 day trial. I refused a $10,000 'payoff' in return for my share of the marital home which had been offered on the condition that I 'disappear' and waive my right to any share in anything from the home and the marriage. I felt hurt and insulted by the idea of the 'pay off' and refused on that basis.
January 2005: The judge's decision which gave everything I own to my wife including custody of my children was skewed and biased in several respects of the Family Law case. The judge's decisions were based in the lies and obfuscation of Susan Swanson and her lawyer. He made me the loser in every way.
As of the end of January 2005, I lodged an Appeal against the judge's decision on the grounds that the judge accepted statements from Susan's counsel without asking for proof of accusations made against me OR provided incomplete or incorrect information. I was accused of purposely remained unemployed. No account was made of the difficulty any 52-year-old man, however skilled, experiences finding suitable employment after a legal contract situation with the Canadian War Museum, and where your reputation is tarnished. I was also accused of *hiding' money in 'offshore accounts" and spiriting money away to 'exotic resorts" in order not to pay child or spousal support. No money was ever hidden.
I was not aware of any financial difficulties being experienced by my wife. The first I ever heard about 'difficulties" or 'bankruptcies" was in August of 2004 at a case conference. As far as I knew, Susan was still living very well indeed as she was earning in excess of $100,000 a year. I was living on the breadline and had been since January 2001.
Any money that existed was used to live, fund the constant legal fights instigated by Susan and her associates, and to pay debts. This was never taken into account and the judge did not even consider my offer of truth on the issue. Susan's counsel was believed without question and without opportunity to offer a contribution to mitigate the facts behind the lie. No request was ever made by the case conference judges or the trial judge for evidence to support the accusation of hidden funds. It was again another callous blind acceptance of a lie without any reference to my true position.
POINT to consider: Susan and I signed a pre-nuptial agreement in South Africa in 1985. Under the terms of the agreement there was to be an equal split of all property, custody, money etc*in the event of a divorce. Mrs. Swanson's Counsel stated that there was an outstanding *loan' of $14,000 (should have been R14,000 SA rand-which is NOT $14,000), to my father. Susan knew that this was not a loan but a gift, and an advance on the will to enable us to buy our first home. It was never a loan. The Judge never gave reasons why this was an impediment to the pre-nuptial being realized. He blindly believed Susan's version, without a request for proof of *loan', and the pre-nuptial was therefore casually made 'void", despite the fact that it would have provided for an equitable split of assets and made the custody situation tolerable.
Susan's counsel stated that Susan's business had gone into decline (applied for bankruptcy listing) due to the added financial pressure on her since the separation. This, they said, was due to the fact that I was refusing to pay child support. No proof of this was ever offered and no details were ever presented. In the initial service of divorce papers it had been stated that NO child or spousal support was being asked for-just an 'unequal' division of property.
My lawyer did not ask for proof either. The more crucial and truthful factor in the alleged decline of the business was to do with the fact that just after the marital separation, Susan's senior business associate and therapist left the business taking clients and contacts with her and went into opposition in business. In a prior meeting the accountant Ms. LaVictoire, offered this as a reason for decline, but did not offer this as a reason again, at trial. My lawyer offered no defense or intervention.
Financial situation at end of trial:
The evidence presented at trial confirmed that my financial situation is dire and I do not have the ability to pay a cost order. My sole source of income is from social assistance. The only savings I did have, namely the remaining money from my settlement with my ex-employer, was transferred to Susan. In addition, my interest in the matrimonial home has been transferred to Susan in trust for the children.
I now also owe a substantial equalization payment to Susan as well as extensive credit card debts and tax arrears to Revenue Canada. My losses are in the region of $350,000. I am emotionally distraught, in fear of my life and financially drained. I have little hope of recovery and have no way of meeting debts and costs put upon me, or even a means to continue a normal life.
I filed for an appeal because I feel that I have no choice. That has been denied me as the Ottawa Court Clerks stole (yes literally) the deposit I made to purchase the transcripts before I could even perfect it. Nor could I afford the $30,000 cost for a lawyer. I've lost everything: My family, my property, the home equity and any hope of financial stability or stable career. I need and want a re-trial somehow and an examination of the system. Justice has been completely skewed and denied. Fairness and truth has similarly eluded me. I have been destroyed by the State and legal system.
I want my case to stand as a prime example of what has been happening to husbands and fathers all over Canada, every day, because of the biased and discriminatory Family Law system. With assumed guilty from the point of separation, some fathers spend years attempting to prove their innocence and their right to co-parent their children. Some never make it.
I have not seen my children for over three years. Every visit was becoming a painful part of the antagonism between husband and wife. The children were sensing a 'comfort" disparity between my impoverished lifestyle and their life at home. The children have been the ones really suffering. Unable to afford treats and trips, and often-even food for the children when they were with me, I could only offer the children my time and attention. It was no wonder that one of the children described visiting' dad' in his bed-sit as something that the children's then Psychologist subsequently termed a 'hospital visit". I could not, in the best interest of my children, put them through any more of that pain.
Concluding points: If the law is meant to protect and serve, why can't those objectives apply to husbands and fathers too? Many of the true horrors and complexities of this case cannot possibly be included here. The case is a maze of legal catch-22's and impossible obstacles that have created a nightmare of a life for me. Susan provided false and misleading information to the police in order to harm me and get what she wanted and the Law supported her. Somehow, I need to be able to walk away 'innocent, for the sake of his children.
As I see it, the Fundamental Status of Law under the Charter is being completely ignored in my case and many others. I have nothing left with which to fight, but yet I have fight to be a father again to my children. I can live without the material things in life: but not my children.
Jeremy Swanson - Factsheet - 4 - the Firearms issue
Jeremy's firearms collection comprises the following:
- 1 - Swedish Mauser/Husquvarna 6.5 X 55 caliber M38 1943 vintage bolt action rifle no 670590
- 1 - No 3 Mk 2 P-14 Springfield mark 22 .303 1940's vintage bolt action rifle no ERA 92271
- 1 - Rossi 1894 Winchester- copy lever action carbine .38 special caliber no K 0 27629
- 1 - No 3 Lee-Enfield BSA-manufactured .303 rifle (Royal Siamese Armoury-1922 vintage no. 8227
The collection has been pieced together over 16 years and consists mainly of 2 firearms presented as gifts (these were along with others donated to the Canadian War Museum) from a grateful veteran and 1 item bought for historic value in 1988 and another brought legally into Canada from South Africa as part of my immigration property list. They are for recreation and historic purposes only (target practice at local range and ownership). The confiscated collection contains various other items of sentimental value including a penknife belonging to Jeremy's late father and a Ghurkha Kukri presented by another veteran. Also taken were a toy Luger pistol and several non-working and damaged pellet guns which are quite legal and non-lethal.
Storage of the firearms: was in a double-locked CSA-approved and regulation metal safe. All the working firearms had trigger locks on as well-despite the fact that this was not required because of the safe storage. This was located in the basement at the family home: Number 22, Pittaway Drive, Hunt Club, Ottawa, protected by alarm systems.
When Jeremy was away form home on business the keys would be left in the home. He did not ever carry the keys with him.
Before leaving for South Africa Jeremy checked the security of the small collection of firearms and ammunition ALL of which were always stored in the locked gun cabinet in the basement. This was standard practise whenever he was out of the home for any length of time. He saw it as a routine job and within the safety parameters he has learned over many years of owning firearms. The firearms, and in fact any dangerous items were always safely stored and sharp implements like the camping machete etc were never left unsecured in the house. The camping equipment was all kept in the garage.
Cross-Reference to: Fact sheet 2 - matrimonial: The 'disclosure' documents state that in December 2000 (after Jeremy's departure for South Africa) Mrs. Swanson (allegedly) telephoned the police and asked them to remove the firearms from the home. The document states that an (un-named) officer took the call but felt that Mrs. Swanson was acting prematurely - with Mr. Swanson 9,000 miles away) There is doubt that Mrs Swanson ever made this call. It is felt she has provided this information after the fact to make herself and her case more credible. Had this call have been made at all Mr. Swanson would not have known anything about it and Mrs Swanson would then be admitting that the separation and divorce were all planned in advance before Mr. Swanson even left Canada.
On the 21st January 2001 while still in South Africa, Jeremy received separation-divorce papers from Susan Swanson by email. This was just 2 days before he was due to leave SA to return home to Ottawa.
He is told that he cannot return to the family home (22. Pittaway Drive, Hunt Club) and that all the locks and alarms had been changed.
Jeremy did not return home and has not been near the home since December 14th 2000. Although there was no legal impediment to his returning home Jeremy left the airport for hotel accommodation and then in April 2001 he moved to an apartment down town. He has never had a restraining order of any sort served and it has never been required.
During this time he secured legal representation (John Goodwin) for the matrimonial case.
Attempts at reconciliation through mediation broke down. A semi-amicable relationship existed, which included face-to-face meetings when the children were dropped off for visits with Jeremy. Mrs Swanson went to the apartment where Jeremy was then staying, just once. Jeremy even travelled in Mrs Swanson's car in February 2001.
At this time Mr. and Mrs. Swanson were receiving help from their respective physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists as a result of stresses and strains of career and family issues. Jeremy Swanson with Dr. Dana Smyth and Dr. Anne Galipeau: Susan Swanson with Dr. Anne Boland and unknown others. The children were seeing Dr. Maggie Mamen a child psychologist known to Mrs. Swanson. Jeremy had no knowledge of the children's treatment until he found out later by chance. Eventually he agreed to the continuation of the treatment for the benefit of the children. Both Mr. and Mrs. Swanson were keen for the children to be helped through the effects of the separation. They were missing their father and confused by the separation.
Prior to the separation but unbeknownst to Jeremy, a friend of Susan Swanson, Dr. Helen Pigeon generated a written statement on her professional letterhead to provide Susan with a "good mother" statement: by implication this cast doubt over Jeremy's abilities as a good Father.
Susan had been seeing her own psychologist prior to the separation and has admitted to being under severe depression and medical care from December 2000 until April end 2001. Her instigation of the separation surprised her own psychologist who did not anticipate her action. Statements Susan made to her psychologist about Jeremy were repeated to Jeremy's psychologist who then tried to indicate to Susan that she was wrong in her assumptions. Susan then cut Jeremy's psychologist from further contact with her own Doctors.
Dr. Dana Smyth did not find any evidence of mental disorders in Mr. Swanson of any kind and this was after carrying out extensive testing. These findings were recorded in a report.
Dr. Maggie Mamen, the children's Psychologist, while not having met Jeremy in any thing other than a social capacity (she is a friend of Dr. Reesor-Pigeon) claimed Jeremy to be "...a Murder-Suicide risk as well as a risk to kidnap his children......."
Jeremy moved into the downtown apartment and was still receiving medical disability benefit through his employer's health care company, Sunlife. Susan Swanson had also visited the apartment with the children to bring Jeremy food and some of the belongings and clothing he had requested.
The disclosure documents show that (X-ref: Firearms issues - Disclosure papers) record that in December 2000 Susan Swanson allegedly had called the police and asked officers to remove Jeremy's firearms collection from the marital home. Jeremy had left for SA just days before she says she made the call. There is no evidence at all that she made this call and it is doubtful that this is the truth as this revelation is new and was made to try and close the credibility gap caused by the 4 month gap between separation and reporting the firearms. The police did not remove the firearms until Susan made this alleged second approach to them: the guns were removed on the 6 April 2001. This followed the intervention of Dr. Maggie Mamen - the child psychologist for the Swanson children. The day before (April 5th) Dr. Mamen recommended the removal of the firearms on the basis that she suggested a 'murder suicide' risk. She did this although Dr. Mamen had never treated or even assessed Mr. Swanson and Mr. Swanson was not a patient of Dr. Mamen.
THEN just a month later in May 2001, Dr. Mamen stated in a report (email copy held by JS that, that in her opinion "...the Swanson children needed to see more of their father and on a regular basis." (Copies of Mamen reports are available.)
It was only in August 2001-by pure accident- that Jeremy Swanson learned from his son Andrew that the collection had been taken by the police from the family home in April. Susan Swanson maintained that the firearms were 'removed for safe-keeping'.
Jeremy's lawyer at the time wrote to the police who called him back to claim the firearms were seized for "safe-keeping" but that 'undefined' charges were to be laid against Mr. Swanson.
Other 'firearms' supposedly recorded by police as being in the house were nothing but non-working replicas and display pieces. Non-working replicas were described as "hand-guns" and a replica non-working 17th Century Musket was recorded in the file as being an "assault weapon".
Jeremy then contacted the police in September 2001 and spoke to Detective Quesnel- who told him that no charges were to be laid and that the collection could be returned. Jeremy told the officer that he could not take it back at present due to his inability to store the firearms securely in his current accommodation and requested that the firearms remain in storage for awhile. The police were not happy to keep them at that time and wanted an arrangement to be made for someone else to keep the collection until Jeremy could store them. This was arranged and details sent to the police in this connection.
In early 2001 Jeremy's lawyer - John Goodwin and Susan's lawyer Derek Nicholson discussed the firearms issue. However none of this information-even the meeting itself was ever conveyed or reported to Jeremy at the time.
In March 2001 Jeremy lodged a complaint with the College of Psychologists) re: the behaviour of Dr. Helen Pigeon-Reesor, a known friend of Susan Swanson.
Jeremy received a response from the College of Psychologists claiming that no transgressions against the code of ethics had taken place. Jeremy later took part in a teleconference with the Health Professions Review Board re: his appeal against the ruling of the College and Dr. Reesor took part as well. Reesor was rude and threatening and tried to convince the appeals board that the firearms were an issue in defence of the complaint. The Appeals Board did not agree and told Dr. Reesor that the firearms were not to going to be considered as they detracted from the core reasons for the appeal and the complaint in itself.
On the same day the doctor's partner-husband Dr. Ken Reesor wrote to Police Chief Bevan recommending that the firearms collection NOT be returned to Jeremy Swanson. The basis for this recommendation was that, in his opinion, no one should believe a statement/letter from anyone saying that Jeremy Swanson should take possession of his firearms. He also made statements about Jeremy's mental ability.
In April, Susan said in a follow-up statement taken by police officers that she was 'still afraid' even though there was no prohibition order, there had never been violence in the home or the marriage and Jeremy had not been near his own home since December 14th 2000.
IMPORTANT: Jeremy Swanson had never been a patient of Dr. Reesor (or his wife Helen Pigeon-Reesor) and had only met him briefly once at a social gathering.
After discovering that Dr. Reesor had made libellous and derogatory statements and had commented on Jeremy's mental health (i.e. the mental health of a person who was not his patient) Jeremy lodged a second complaint with the College this time directly against Dr. Ken Reesor. His point being that Dr. Reesor (and his wife) were not qualified or approved to make any statement relating to Mr. Swanson's health or life. They did not know him personally, but only through Susan Swanson.
IMPORTANT: Dr. Ken Reesor is one of the psychologists used by Swanson Associates and is-or was listed on her business website as an associate and business colleague in treatment programs. This establishes a professional connection with Drs. Reesor and Pigeon and Susan Swanson.
The situation now:
Jeremy's private firearms collection is still with the police who have decided that the collection is to be destroyed. (Update: The Court Case in connection with this issue established that there was no basis for the accusations and the presiding judge threw out the application by the police (see below)
Jeremy's firearm licence and firearm training safety certificate were in the home and Susan Swanson refused to give these to Jeremy even after repeated requests -especially when the deadline for registering the firearms drew closer. He has consequently been unable to register the firearms properly although they have been registered with the assistance of the police firearm officer Barbara Piaro in the name of a friend of Mr. Swanson who is the firearm artificer at the Canadian War Museum.
Jeremy faced a court hearing (11 August 2003): the outcome affected his position in his divorce case on the 14 August and it is clear that this was, for Susan, the object of the exercise. Labelled a 'dangerous man' Jeremy would not have been granted an equal share in caring for his three children. It would hinder his chances of employment and the stigma would affect him to a point where it will stop him leading a normal life. Update: The Court JPT ruled that there would be no declaration and the collection should be returned to him in November 2004-subject to his own ability to store the firearms securely. Other non-firearm items that were confiscated were ordered returned immediately. However, the Ottawa Police did not comply with this order. Update: The Crown refused to return Jeremy's property in contempt of the judge's order. (Jeremy's lawyer at the time - Terry Green - said the police could change their minds if they wanted to. This was despite the fact that Jeremy provided a name of a trusted friend who could take the collection for him). JPT in July 2005: Jeremy's then lawyer in attendance on his behalf reported back that the firearms were to be retained, although there were still no charges and that Jeremy would now have to go to court to 'prove' his mental state now AND his mental state for the period since the collection was seized in April 2001. The future of the collection would depend on this. The Crown Attorney has committed the matter to trial in June 2006. Jeremy has been to court to fight this but they refuse to budge.
The battle to regain the firearms continues unabated. (See Western Standard magazine "Fathers Under Fire" 13/6/05
What Jeremy needs:
To be declared innocent in a case built on any suspicions /allegations that he is a 'dangerous man'. His name and record needs to be cleared returned to 'normal'
To fight the accusations that will be made at the trial in June. The persecution and oppression of a legitimate and innocent firearm owner must stop.
Recognition of the fact that Susan Swanson deliberately took the firearms out of the locked case in the basement (she was the only one with the key to the locked cabinet) and took them to the master bedroom of the marital home for police to see there. For this to be seen for what it is - a contrived situation for the purpose of creating a negative impression of Jeremy as a dangerous and irresponsible owner of firearms.
For the police to apologize and use their own system to properly register Mr. Swanson's firearms for him, obtain the proper licences and return all the confiscated items to him at an appropriate time.
Susan Swanson should be charged with wilful 'mischief' and providing false and misleading information to the police in order to harm Mr. Swanson.
To be able to walk away 'innocent' and be proven so for the sake of his children. And to safeguard his credibility and therefore his future standing in society.
To be able to possibly take action against the Police Services, the Chief of Police, Drs Reesor and Pigeon, Susan Swanson, Police investigating officers and others for pain and suffering and other legal damages.
*The College of Psychologists: Jeremy's complaint to the College re: the unprofessional intervention of Dr. Ken Reesor - which had a direct impact on the firearms case - was followed through by the College. Not surprisingly the College's decision (March 2006) protected one of its own despite the clear facts that the doctor acted to protect his wife (Dr. Reesor-Pigeon) and their business interests with Mrs. Susan Swanson.
Fathers under fire:
Dads who own guns are increasingly being labelled "dangerous" by therapists, cops and ex-wives who want to keep them from their kids
Monday, June 13, 2005
Byline: Candis McLean
Source: Western Standard
Only a few years ago Jeremy Swanson was living the great Canadian dream. He had a wife, with a growing business of her own, three kids, a home in Ottawa's exclusive Hunt Club district and a good job in the civil service. Even better, as a top official at the Canadian War Museum, he was living every military buff's dream. He had won employee of the year in 1996, after arranging a life-sized re-enactment of a Second World War air raid, replete with pyrotechnic explosions and Lancaster bombers swooping over the nation's capital. The event was such a hit, Swanson not only won accolades within his department, but, thanks to his dedication to preserving military history, he received word he had been nominated to receive the Order of Canada in 1995.
Today, stuck in a YMCA in downtown Ottawa, Swanson hasn't seen his kids in nearly two years. He's not allowed to, unless both he and his kids undergo a series of psychological tests. The lover of all Canadian military history has been branded a dangerous criminal--not because of anything he's done, but because of what he owns. "They're my children," says Swanson. "Who are these faceless people? I'm speaking for hundreds of men who are being treated as second-class citizens and dangerous criminals." Swanson's Canadian dream turned into a great Canadian nightmare in December 2000, when he travelled to his native South Africa for a much-needed holiday and was served with divorce papers while overseas. "Should you attempt to enter the house or create a disturbance on the property," the notice read, "Mrs. Swanson has been advised to notify the police." The public servant and family man was about to find out what it's like to be branded a potential murderer--simply, he says, because he happened to own guns. And he's not alone: increasingly, say family law experts, firearms are taking centre stage in custody and divorce disputes. With the anti-gun atmosphere in Canada today, almost anyone going through a difficult divorce can be classified a potential threat by law enforcement agencies if he happens to own weapons. And that not only gives the other party the upper hand, it can ruin the gun owner's life forever.
It was while attending counselling, several months after returning to Canada, that Swanson says he first heard his wife of 16 years tell a psychologist that she was "scared" of him. In August 2001, he learned from his 11-year-old son that a few months' earlier police had removed Swanson's collection of antique guns from the house. The firearms, a hobby collection pieced together over 16 years, consisted of four legal firearms: two antique firearms presented as gifts from a grateful veteran, one item bought for historic value, and another brought legally into Canada from South Africa as part of Swanson's immigration property list.
They were, Swanson maintains, always stored in a regulation, double-locked, government-approved metal safe in the basement. A qualified firearms safety officer by virtue of his military training during conscription in the South Africa civil war, Swanson says he was shocked when disclosure of police documents revealed that when his wife called in the police, she stated her "fear" of having the items in the home.
But according to notes from police, the weapons had not been securely locked up when they were called in to investigate. Though it had been months since he had been in the house, Swanson's wife led officers to a machete under the bed she shared with her husband (he maintains it had always been in the garage with the camping equipment), as well as other knives in the room. Bayonets from both world wars were found in various rooms. The bomb squad was called in after police misidentified a bag of empty brass shell casings as a "bag of loose ammunition lying on the floor," according to officers' notes, and an inert hand grenade--which previously had sported the humorous label: "For service, please pull pin"--was identified by police as a live bomb. BB guns were seized and logged as rifles and a replica seventeenth-century musket, the kind that hangs over the fireplace, was recorded as an "assault weapon." The gun safe in the basement was open, though Susan Swanson was in possession of both sets of keys. The entire collection was labelled a "mini-arsenal." Records show that Susan Swanson phoned and requested the firearms be removed because of her "fear" of them. "So what is meant by 'fear' if the guns are locked away and she's lived with them like that for years?" asks Terrance Green, Swanson's lawyer. "What fear could she have when she knew she had the only keys [to the safe]?"
Police would later correct the erroneous details in their report, but Swanson says his estranged wife exploited his hobby of collecting military paraphernalia to paint a picture of him as an aggressive gun nut--even though he had no prior criminal record and there is no record of any domestic violence (Susan Swanson and her lawyer both declined to be interviewed for this story). It was the children's psychologist who recommended that authorities seize the weapons, because, according to police documents, she feared a "murder-suicide situation," although she had never examined Swanson himself. Another psychologist, after interviewing Susan, recommended the firearms not be returned to Swanson due to his "psychological status." "Both these psychologists made statements that influenced action by the police and yet I was never their patient and had never been examined by them at any stage," Swanson says. "How were they qualified to make such damning and influential statements?" According to a report from Ottawa psychiatrist Dr. Anne Galipeau, who examined Swanson, the former bureaucrat posed "no danger to himself or others."
After the weapons' seizure, Swanson was ordered to appear before a judge on a police submission that he be declared a "dangerous person" by the court. "I was surrounded by drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, armed robbers, and even a man in chains, defending my character without a charge being levelled against me," he says. The judge found that there was no evidence to have him declared dangerous and ordered the firearms and all confiscated items returned to him. His police record, however, still identifies him as a Category 4--the same level as those guilty of assault and bank robberies.
Painting gun owners as unstable potential threats is part of a trend in nasty separation battles, explains one family lawyer, who asked not to be identified. "In an ugly divorce, the first thing you have to do is put the spouse in a bad light," she says. "A common question is, 'Has there ever been any sexual abuse of the children, has he ever threatened you, ever hit you, anything you're scared of, can you even insinuate that he threatened you? Then we can probably get him out of the house and have him look bad in a court battle." The ethics walk a fine line, she adds. "You don't say, 'Make it up,' but, 'Looking back, can you, in hindsight, say it may have been construed as a threat?"
Men's advocate Tamas Koplyay, who works as a management professor at the Universite du Quebec, says it's all part of the business of divorce these days. "Making daddy look bad is the grand strategy for getting sole custody," he says. With custody rights, he says, ex-wives can ensure they have their hands "on the cash machine for life." In Canada, says Koplyay, the government's gun-control zeal has resulted in a vilification of gun owners. "Gun registry laws are a key weapon in creating guilt by association." Ross Bailey, an executive-at-large with the Parents' Coalition of B.C., notes that there are few repercussions for people who stretch the truth about their spouse's gun habits. "False allegations are not against the law," says Bailey. "You can lie on an affidavit and you don't get called on it like you do in criminal court. They can say, 'Yes he does have guns and he has threatened me.' The fact is, the more you lie, the more you get."
Regina's Perry Friedt says that an unregistered .22 rifle that once belonged to his grand-father and hadn't been fired in 30 years was still enough for his wife to be able to portray him as a threat. On March 11, Friedt and his 74-year-old mother ended a 16-day hunger strike in front of the Saskatchewan legislature to protest the unfair treatment he believes he'd received at the hands of the province's family court system--including the fact that he has been unable to see his four-year-old daughter, Emma, for a year-and- a-half. Friedt's wife told authorities that, with the gun in the house, she was afraid her husband might harm her. "As a result of the fact that Friedt may have been a danger to her, she was able to have him removed from the house," says Friedt's lawyer, Leonard Young. Friedt's estranged wife told the court that she had filed previous complaints against Friedt, a truck driver, but Young has been unable to locate any records of prior incidents. "My position is that it never occurred, and that she used information that was detrimental to him that shouldn't have been used to further her goals," says Young. On May 14, a judge permitted Friedt to see his daughter, unsupervised, for the first time in 18 months. "I am satisfied that Emma is not at risk in her father's care," ruled Judge Ryan Froslie.
David Tomlinson, the Edmonton-based president of Canada's National Firearms Association, says he receives at least 60 calls a year from men whose partners have claimed, after a nasty argument, that they are worried about the fact that he has firearms. "Police then come and seize all firearms because if they didn't and something went wrong, the media would crucify them," says Tomlinson. "Then they leave all the knives in the kitchen." Once a seizure has been made, it's up to the guns' owner to seek a court order to have them returned. "Going to court, you're looking at lawyer fees of $1,000 to $5,000, which frequently exceeds the value of the [confiscated] property," Tomlinson says. Usually, the husbands have no option but to give up the guns.
But even going out and buying replacements can be tough for someone who has had them taken during a divorce dispute, says Bailey. With the new Firearms Act provisions, passed under Bill C-68, applicants to the federal gun registry require the signature of a spouse--or even an ex-spouse--on the form. And a clause in the act prohibits anyone from owning a gun that constitutes a "real or perceived threat." That often means an estranged wife can stand in the way of someone getting a gun. "When you get a driver's licence or occupation licence, do you have to list the people you've lived with over the past two years?" asks Bailey.
Not all the cases involve wives accusing husbands, says Green; he knows of one case where a man told authorities he was fearful of his wife, blocking her from renewing her gun licences. But in the overwhelming majority of cases like this, the gun owner is male. With what he sees as widespread abuse of the "real or perceived threat" clause in the act, Green says it's only fair that authorities become more rigorous in investigating the allegations. "It's very easy to say you're afraid," he says. "Then the licence is denied and the person has to go to court to prove through medical reports that he or she is not unstable and that there is no reason for the other party to have fears." Green says there should be clear penalties for anyone who knowingly makes false allegations about someone being a threat.
Senator Anne Cools remembers seeing exactly these sorts of problems with the gun registry a decade ago, when C-68 was still being contemplated by the federal government. In 1995 Cools told the Senate: "Law-abiding citizens view the government's initiative, Bill C-68, as creating a thought process which some will promote as the new Canadian morality: to wit, firearms are inherently evil and so are their owners." She pointed out that feminist groups had persuaded then justice minister Allan Rock "that women and children live in a constant state of threat and fear of death inflicted by men with firearms in their homes," and that "central to the belief system of radical gender feminism is the maxim that firearms constitute the phallic symbol of male violence, and are symbols of the patriarchal society . . . [where] the allowance of guns is a sign of misogyny."
Again, in 1998, when the government revisited legislation on access and custody issues, Cools says, certain groups made the same case. But, she remembers, there was no data or statistics to back any of the claims of male propensities to violence--only anecdotal evidence and appeals to panic. "The Justice Department has been the leader in social engineering and this 10-year period of time has brought forth a lot of public policy premised on the inherent deficiency of men," Cools says today. "The underlying proposition everywhere is that every man is a beast just waiting to hurt his wife or his children."
The fact that Canadian gun laws are so malleable that they can be misused as a weapon during bitter divorce disputes, says Cools, is evidence of poorly written legislation. "A poorly scripted law can be an invitation to mischief," she says. "That's why the crafting of all law in general is so important: it should only capture the mischief that it is intended to capture. It should not be allowed to capture other problems or to invite unprincipled or unscrupulous individuals to bring vexatious or false charges against others." The federal government, she says, bears at least part of the responsibility of making life miserable for hundreds of law-abiding gun owners who have found themselves stripped of their basic rights even to see their own children. Says Cools: "The natural disposition of people in power whenever one makes a law and arms one group of people with a club to beat the other, that club invariably will be used."