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CIVIL PROCEDURE - Contempt of court - Impairing order or dignity of the court

Monday, October 05, 2020 @ 9:21 AM  

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Appeal by the father from a decision finding him guilty of criminal contempt in the face of the court arising from the father’s interaction with the motion judge that arose during the civil contempt hearing for the father’s disobedience of a custody order. When the civil contempt matter came before the judge, the father was 11 days late in returning the child to the mother. The father, who was not represented by counsel, refused to stand when asked to do so by the judge. He said that he needed the judge to answer some questions. After the father refused twice to disclose where the child was, the judge sentenced him to prison for contempt. When told to come forward to the witness stand, the father refused. At that point, the judge told the father that he was considering sending him to prison. After a brief exchange, culminating with the father questioning whether the judge had an oath of office, he was sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for contempt. 

HELD: Appeal allowed. The finding of criminal contempt was set aside. In this case, it would not have been apparent to the unrepresented father, in a family law matter, that his conduct was putting him in jeopardy of imprisonment. The judge did not clearly advise him that he was facing a criminal contempt in the face of the court. While the judge had every right to cite the father for contempt in the face of the court, he proceeded to sentence him to 30 days’ imprisonment without following the usual steps required by natural justice by giving the father proper notice of the consequences by first citing him for contempt and then providing him with an opportunity to consult counsel.

Van Easton v. Wur, [2020] M.J. No. 199, Manitoba Court of Appeal, R.J. Chartier C.J.M., C.J. Mainella and J.L. leMaistre JJ.A., August 27, 2020. Digest No. TLD-October52020002