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Report newsmagazine www.report.ca - March 5, 2001
A convicted women claims spousal support from the ex-husband
she almost killed
by Marnie Ko
Shooter Alexander: Entitled to apply for alimony.
ONE afternoon in November 1995, Christine Ann
Alexander visited the small Bowmanville, Ont., bungalow she had
formerly shared with her husband and the couple's two children,
then aged 13 and 15. The Alexanders had recently separated, and
she was home briefly to pack her things. David Alexander came
home to help his estranged wife move out, and although Mr.
Alexander had no intention of reconciling with his wife, the
couple had sex. Afterward, she implored him to give the stormy
relationship another chance, but Mr. Alexander refused. The
rejected woman then shot her husband in the head with a
.22-calibre hunting rifle and was later found guilty of
Christine Alexander is now out of jail on
parole. Last month she was in court, suing for spousal support
in a case that critics say highlights the serious pitfalls of
the country's divorce laws. Ontario's Family Law Act requires
spouses to support the other spouse "in accordance with need, to
the extent that he or she is capable of doing so." The court is
not allowed to consider the conduct of the spouses, with one
exception: if the conduct has been "so unconscionable as to
constitute an obvious and gross repudiation of the
relationship." However, the Divorce Act, which as a federal law
supersedes a provincial act, is adamant: "The court shall not
take into consideration any misconduct of a spouse." In other
words, a husband or wife responsible for breaking up a marriage,
whether through adultery, alcoholism, abusive behaviour or even
attempted murder, could be rewarded with financial support from
the victim. A ruling on the support application is expected in
Mr. Alexander, now living in Oshawa, east of
Toronto, suffers lasting effects from the near-fatal shooting.
He has headaches and bouts of numbness. The bullet remains
lodged at the base of his neck, near his spine, and he cannot
close his jaw completely. The right side of his face is
disfigured and his facial muscles twitch uncontrollably. Despite
his injuries, he is employed as a security guard, earning
approximately $40,000 a year.
His ex-wife, meanwhile, was convicted in 1997
of attempted murder, assault and firearm offences. She spent two
years in pre-trial custody and was sentenced to an additional
two years less a day. After serving just 16 months, she
successfully applied for parole and now lives in the same city
as her ex-husband, relying on a $535 monthly welfare cheque to
support herself. As she earns less income than her ex-husband,
she is legally entitled to apply for spousal support, although
she may not be successful.
Victim Alexander with sons David and Robert:
The bullet remains lodged at the base of his neck.
At Christine Alexander's attempted murder
trial, the court heard evidence the separation occurred after a
lengthy period of abuse endured by the husband. The crown
prosecutor suggested Christine Alexander frequently became
jealous, and assaulted her husband on more than one occasion. In
addition to brandishing knives and guns at him during frequent
arguments, Alexander acknowledged throwing a wrench at him
during one bout. She pleaded not guilty to attempted murder but
admitted shooting her husband, claiming she was unable to
remember why. "I remember I just felt really empty, like a
robot," she said. "I never wanted him dead."
Mr. Alexander remained conscious during the
shooting. He testified his wife continued to hit him with the
rifle butt after shooting him in the head, while screaming "I'm
sorry! I love you! If I can't have you, then nobody can!"
Neighbour Nick Chapman found Mr. Alexander covered in blood on
his back door stoop around 6 that evening, and paramedics rushed
him to hospital in serious to critical condition. At the time,
Mr. Chapman's wife, Gail, noted, "He looked pretty gruesome. The
bullet went in the left side and came out the other."
Since then, court documents filed by Mr.
Alexander state he suffers greatly from depression and remains
fragile, both physically and psychologically. He could not be
reached for comment, but he remarked to reporters last month,
"As if the shooting wasn't enough, now she comes after me for
whatever I've got left."
"Mortality used to be a consideration in
spousal entitlement," says Mr. Alexander's lawyer, Peter Tetley,
also of Oshawa. "In the past, adultery was used to disentitle
spouses from claiming support. Then, a provision passed claiming
conduct is not relevant, only the need and ability to pay
arising out of the marital relationship matters. If we looked
into the history of the Divorce Act, many husbands of means were
working and relied on infidelity claims against their wives to
avoid paying support. The court determined that wasn't right."
Mr. Tetley says this case is different. " I
can't think any judge would have in mind excusing conduct like
this [attempted murder]," he says. He says the court should
dismiss the claim because more than five years have passed since
the date of separation, and due to the "unconscionable treatment
Mr. Alexander received throughout the course of their marriage,
including acts of violence and Christine's ultimate attempt to
terminate his life." Further, argues Mr. Tetley, even if the law
provides for the ex-wife to be entitled to support, " it ought
to be fixed at zero" because of her behaviour.
Belleville, Ont. lawyer Karen Selick, a
National Post columnist, commented in her column last month that
many lawyers have horror stories about spouses awarded support
despite adultery, desertion, violence, alcoholism or mental
cruelty. "In the case of spousal support, lawmakers decided
their overriding social goal is to give an income to ex-spouses
(usually women), regardless of how they behaved during their
marriage, " she noted. Meanwhile, Gus Sleiman, president of the
Calgary-based Men's Educational Support Association (MESA),
blames feminism and the court's favouritism towards women for
allowing outrageous claims such as Christine Alexander's. His
group wants the Divorce Act amended.
"Eliminating spousal conduct in marriage made
it easier to reward women financially because that's where they
gain power and control," says Mr. Sleiman. "It is not proper at
all". Neither men nor women with conduct so serious as to cause
damage to the family, whether through cheating, crime or abuse,
should be rewarded. They shouldn't get custody and they
shouldn't get money."
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