The Equitable Child Maintenance and Access Society is Alberta’s largest non-custodial parents’ lobby group. But between an executive’s conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor and an activist’s views on childhood sex, the group is self-destructing [A large photograph of Ms. Malenfant was this article's sole graphic--FC]
An Edmonton fathers’ rights group is self-destructing amid a scandal that includes an executive convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor and an activist who holds controversial views about childhood sex.
Founded in Edmonton in 1992, the Equitable Child Maintenance and Access Society (ECMAS) is Alberta’s largest non-custodial parents’ lobby group, with sister organizations in Calgary, Lethbridge and Fort McMurray. It has been described as a lifeline by embattled divorced parents—mostly fathers—who have been denied access to their children, ordered to pay unreasonable amounts of child support, or been falsely accused of sexual abuse.
In late March, the board of directors of the Calgary chapter of ECMAS resigned en masse and disassociated itself from the ECMAS trade name. The move followed a series of events in which the Edmonton chapter of ECMAS elected [Tim] Adams vice-president on March 12, voted to accept his resignation on March 25, but then voted down a motion to eject him from the group.
Louise Malenfant, a community activist in Edmonton, says published views on childhood sex by Ferrell Christensen, a second man involved in ECMAS Edmonton, further undermine the group’s ability to assist those wrongly accused of sex offences. “You cannot legitimately speak on behalf of the falsely accused while holding the belief that sex in childhood is a good thing,” she says, adding that these two men are among ECMAS Edmonton’s most prominent activists.
In 1996, Mr. Adams, a practising lawyer, was arrested after he approached one of his clients, a 16-year-old prostitute, for sex. He pleaded guilty, received a 15- month conditional sentence, and was disbarred in 1998. Unanimously upholding his disbarment in September, 2000, three Alberta Court of Appeal judges noted that Mr. Adams, who was in a position of trust in relationship to the young woman, contacted her on the street, as well as at home.
After being approached by police, the young woman agreed to co-operate. “Adams, twice the age of his young client, and fully aware of her strong desire to have her boyfriend released from jail, persuaded her to have sex with him,” wrote the judges. “Adams does not deny that the meeting was for the sole purpose of having sex. Shortly after arriving in the hotel room, the complainant stepped out, and the police entered as Adams was pulling up and zipping up his pants and tucking in his shirt. ... She did not initiate the proposition of a sexual encounter. It was Adams’ desire, despite his acknowledgment that what he proposed was inappropriate.”
Ferrell Christensen, for his part, is a professor emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Alberta and the author of a 1990 book, Pornography: the Other Side. While children’s sexuality has decided moral dimensions for most Canadians, in a section titled Sex and Young People Prof. Christensen discusses these issues outside of a moral context.
According to Prof. Christensen, who neither condones nor advocates inter-generational sex, “the idea that sex is bad for young people is at best another self-fulfilling prophesy.” In “cultures where they are not prevented from doing so,” he says, children “begin sexuality, sometimes even coitus itself, at a very early age.” Pedophiles, he believes, are able to lure children because, in our culture, “young people are prevented from having the sexual knowledge, and the sexual contact with peers, that they naturally desire.”
Even more controversially, when discussing the harm he believes society’s attitudes toward childhood sex cause, he equates loving parents, who teach their children sexual restraint, with pedophiles: “Given that children are particularly vulnerable to coercion,” he writes, “protecting them from being pressured or forced into something which, in present social conditions, can be highly distressing or even psychologically damaging is a serious concern (though it is potentially no more so than the practice of coercing them not to act sexually).”
Elsewhere, he says: “Stories of emotional distress from early sexual experience are often told in this society, but it is clear that the real sources of such trauma, other than those involving unwanted pregnancy, coercion, or disease, lie in the accompanying social attitudes. Ironically, in fact, it is the very fear and guilt that children are taught to keep them from being sexual that cause the problems.”
Ms. Malenfant and Prof. Christensen had a personal falling out last fall after she accepted his invitation to move from Winnipeg to Edmonton in order to work with shell-shocked divorcing parents. Prior to their estrangement, Prof. Christensen briefly paid Ms. Malenfant a modest salary out of his retirement savings. Now that she has read his book, Ms. Malenfant—who has helped dozens of men who’ve been falsely accused of abuse during divorce proceedings clear their names—says the last thing people facing false allegations need is to be associated with someone who publishes analyses of childhood sex most parents would consider highly controversial.
In interviews with the National Post, four people involved with ECMAS Edmonton in the past three years confirm that Prof. Christensen is a dominant personality in the group and a strong supporter of Mr. Adams. Due to worries that public identification might negatively affect their ongoing divorce cases, the Post agreed to grant them anonymity.
One woman says Prof. Christensen has “worked very hard” for the organization but that he has also suggested “at least, maybe eight times” that her nephew fire his lawyer and hire the disbarred Mr. Adams instead. “We went to court a few times and you know the high cost, we just couldn’t afford the cost anymore,” she says. “And he said: ‘Dump your lawyer. You don’t need a lawyer, [Tim] Adams will help you. Just go to [Tim] Adams.’ ... He’d phone quite often about different meetings and we’d get talking about different things. And he says, ‘Well, you know, I think you’d be really impressed with [Tim] Adams.’ “
ECMAS Edmonton’s support group meetings, which attract both regulars and newcomers, begin with the disclaimer that the group is not offering legal advice. But another man says a recent proposal to test run a second group per week was opposed by Prof. Christensen. “I remember him saying, ‘I’m extremely opposed to this. This will be horrible. It’s not a good idea. We can’t have some other support group meeting without the ability to offer legal advice,’ stating that [Tim] Adams, who comes to the support groups, is some kind of legal advice.”
Prof. Christensen has often remarked, “ ‘What you should do is call [Tim] ... [Tim] is a lawyer, you should talk to [Tim].’ I’ve heard him say that, several times,” reports the man. “But he’s never said, ‘[Tim] is a disbarred lawyer but he can still help you.’ ... Ferrell’s very adamant and very sure that the only person that can really help in that group is [Tim] Adams. I don’t know what the hell that’s all about.”
According to another man, Mr. Adams frequently responds to people’s questions about their legal options. “He would say, ‘Well, legally, you’re allowed to do this, this and this’ ... for his advice, after the meetings, he wanted $100 an hour for counselling services.”
This man says he has seen Mr. Adams hand out business cards at support group meetings “probably at least 20” times. “He kind of feels them out as to who’s got money and who doesn’t. We tell our story and what’s happening in our situation, and both him and Ferrell kind of ask about the financial aspect.” Prof. Christensen has urged him to hire Mr. Adams, he says. “Just the one time. It was at a meeting, but I don’t remember if it was during a meeting or afterwards. We usually go downstairs to [a restaurant] and tend to BS a little. And that’s what [Tim] calls his office. It’s kind of an inside joke.”
Another woman describes Prof. Christensen’s “very persistent” attempts to persuade her son to become a client of Mr. Adams. He “constantly kept calling. ‘Why don’t you quit your lawyer, go to [Tim] Adams, go to [Tim] Adams. ... So, then one day I thought well, I may as well call him and get this thing over. So I phoned him and ... he said well, yes, we could come and see him, but he charges $90 an hour. But then he also mentioned ‘I can’t represent you in court.’ ... So we never did go to [Tim] Adams. But the issue was certainly pushed by Ferrell to us.”
Just before the Post contacted Prof. Christensen, he sent an e-mail which began: “You have no idea of the harm you are about to do.” When the Post replied with a list of 13 questions asking, among other things, whether he has ever urged anyone to hire Mr. Adams, and what he means by certain passages in his book, he declined to answer.
On March 25, ECMAS Edmonton considered a motion to suspend Prof. Christensen from the group for three months in order to “investigate whether his views conflict with the guiding principles and policies of ECMAS.” According to the group’s president, Bob Bouvier, there “were two irregularities in the voting for this issue and the board will need to reconvene to vote on this motion again.”
[Tim] Adams told the Post that although he joined ECMAS Edmonton during his marital breakdown, he himself is not a non-custodial parent. He admits he makes contact with a quarter of his paralegal clients through ECMAS, but denies he is motivated by financial gain.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we run the support group meetings and ... I spend probably six hours on every Tuesday. We have a formal meeting and then we have a less formal gathering afterwards. That’s all volunteer time,” he says.
When asked whether he hands out business cards at support group meetings, Mr. Adams says, “Occasionally. The overwhelming majority of the time that my name and number is given out is just so that I can refer them to a lawyer because they’re not happy with the one they’ve got or they don’t have one at all.”
Mr. Adams says he tells his clients he is disbarred and gets them to sign a waiver acknowledging he is not permitted to dispense legal advice. “I’m a registered business, Affordable Paralegal Services. I have a business licence.”
But Mr. Adams’ business card makes no mention of his company and still includes the LL.B designation that indicates he earned a law degree.
“It’s just got my name, address and phone number,” he says. “Yeah, my credentials are there. But once those [business cards run] out I’m just going to put my name and I don’t know if I’ll put the company on it. Because I ran into a situation where that was misunderstood so that’s obviously going to be changed when I order the new cards, which should be any time.” [Back]