B(RM) v B(DT), 2019 ABQB 826


10.51: Order to appear
10.52: Declaration of civil contempt
10.53: Punishment for civil contempt of Court

Case Summary

In a contentious family matter, the parties had appeared before the Court on at least 19 occasions to determine parenting and financial issues, and continued to disagree about finances. Their Case Management Justice ordered a Summary Trial to proceed on an expedited basis.

Although the Summary Trial dealt mostly with custody and parenting issues, the mother also sought an Order holding the father, who had admitted under Oath to violating five previous parenting Orders, in contempt of Court. The mother sought a fine of $5,000 for each parenting Order that the father breached.

Inglis J. explained that deliberate failure to obey a Court Order “strikes at the very heart of the administration of justice”, and that the father’s failure to abide by the Court’s Orders was both damaging to his family, as it resulted in protracted litigation, and to the Court system. Inglis J. further explained that civil contempt is governed by Rules 10.51 to 10.53, and that while the Court has inherent power to convict a party of contempt of Court, it should only do so if there is “an urgent and imperative to act immediately”.

Her Ladyship noted that, although it may appear that the Court does not have the discretion to Order that a fine paid by the contemnor be payable to the opposing party, there is precedent in Alberta for such fines. Moreover, the Court has broad discretion to impose a remedy or punishment in the face of contempt of Court. As such, Inglis J. held that it was possible to direct any fine for contempt by the father to be payable either to the mother, or to the Court. However, Her Ladyship also explained that in the context of family law proceedings, the Court should consider the best interest of the children in assessing whether a punishment for contempt of Court is appropriate.

Inglis J. ultimately directed one $5,000 fine payable to the Court for the five Orders. However, Her Ladyship also put the father on notice that “further contempt may well result in far more serious consequences”, including potential jail time.

In respect of Costs, Inglis J. noted that full indemnity Costs or enhanced Costs may be imposed where a party is in contempt of Court, because the contempt may have resulted in wasted time and resources, and to express the Courts’ disapproval of the contempt. In this case, additional Court intervention was required as a result of the father’s refusal to abide by the Court Orders. As such, while Inglis J. did not award full indemnity Costs to the mother, Her Ladyship awarded Costs at a rate of double Column 3 Costs.

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