ID v DB, 2022 ABKB 831


10.52: Declaration of civil contempt
10.53: Punishment for civil contempt of Court

Case Summary

At Trial, the Court had previously found that one of the Parties was in Contempt of Court (the “Contemnor”) for breaching a consent Order entered into by the Parties (the “Consent Order”). In considering the appropriate sanctions for civil Contempt, the Court noted Rule 10.52(3)(a)(i) and the available sanctions for Contempt of Court set out in Rule 10.53.

The Court stated that a finding of civil Contempt has two goals: (1) securing compliance with Court Orders, and (2) protecting the administration of justice. The Court noted that the common law test for civil Contempt requires that: (1) the terms of the Order in question must be clear, (2) the breaching Party must know about the Order and its terms, and (3) the breaching Party must have intended the act or omission that resulted in the breach.

The Court further set out that in the family law parenting context, (1) jail sentences ranging from 2 to 90 days have been imposed on contemnors, (2) in most cases the contemnor was given the chance to reduce their sentence through subsequent compliance, and (3) higher sentences were imposed in situations where the contemnor had a demonstrated history of verbal and physical abuse.

In determining the consequence for the Contemnor, the Court noted that the Contemnor (1) admitted on a number of occasions, including before the Court, that he knew about the terms of the parenting Orders, but chose to disobey them; (2) was informed of the consequences of Contempt by other Justices; (3) was specifically held in Contempt at one point by Justice Macklin, who ordered him to pay Costs; (4) had been warned on several occasions prior to the Trial continuation that his continued disobedience might one day result in his incarceration; and (5) had been unable to provide the Court with a reasonable excuse for not following the terms of the Consent Order.

The Court found that the Contemnor had breached the Consent Order beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court determined that the monetary fines in the circumstances would put additional pressure on an already toxic family situation and were simply not a significant enough a consequence given the egregiousness of the breaches. Instead, the Court determined that incarceration was necessary because it would erode the respect for the administration of justice and rule of law to allow the Contemnor to continue to disobey Court Orders. The Court additionally noted that criminal Contempt was distinguishable from civil Contempt because the Contemnor would not accrue a criminal record but would still face the consequences of his intransigence.

The Court determined that the appropriate consequence for the Contemnor was six days of jail, with the implementation of the sentence suspended for six months pending family reunification therapy after which it would be possible that it could be suspended indefinitely, depending on the Contemnor’s level of future compliance with the reunification process. The Court reserved the issue of Costs for six months.

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