THE INVESTIGATORS

Why 'predatory marriage' caught our attention

Moira Welsh, who often writes about issues affecting Canada's growing population of seniors, talks to The Investigators about her Jan. 6 story which used a recent Ontario court ruling to explore the phenomenon of predatory marriage.

Moira Welsh: 'A person who is very vulnerable is being taken advantage of, basically for their finances'

In many Canadian provinces, a marriage can revoke an existing legal will. That makes seniors and other vulnerable people who may no longer have the full ability to make decisions for themselves easy prey. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

A catchy headline can prompt you to read a story, but so can an unexpected turn of phrase.

If that term is as intriguing as the one used recently in a Toronto Star newspaper story, it can also go a long way towards cautioning people about a potential threat.

"Predatory marriage is a very powerful phrase," says Star reporter Moira Welsh. "It really captures people's attention."

Welsh, who often writes about issues affecting Canada's growing population of seniors, talked to The Investigators (Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET / Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET on CBC News Network) about her Jan. 6 story which used a recent Ontario court ruling to explore the phenomenon of predatory marriage.

"What it means," she said. "is that a person who is very vulnerable is being taken advantage of, basically for their finances by probably, a younger person."

In this case, the gentleman was found to be incapable … so that enabled the judge to void this marriage.- Moira Welsh, reporter

In many Canadian provinces, a marriage can revoke an existing legal will. That makes seniors and other vulnerable people who may no longer have the full ability to make decisions for themselves, easy prey for those who push them into marriage, gaining quick access to a lifetime of assets.

As Welsh pointed out, B.C. and Alberta have updated their estate laws to try to prevent that from happening.

While Ontario hasn't done that, a recent court ruling from the province's Superior Court could provide some legal precedent for future cases.

It ruled in the case of a Novar, Ont., man who had suffered catastrophic brain injuries in an accident that, for a time, left him in a coma. To the shock of his family, within days of his release from hospital, Kim Kevin Hunt was suddenly married to a former girlfriend.

"Within three days his ex-girlfriend had him what the judgment called 'spirited away' to a wedding up at Blue Mountain in a motel and his sons had no idea this was going on."

Toronto Star investigative reporter Moira Welsh: 'If a caregiver is moving in and isolating your father, mother, aunt from the rest of their family, that's a red flag.' (Moira Welsh/Facebook)

His adult sons argued his injuries had compromised Hunt's ability to appreciate the legal and financial consequences of the marriage.

"In this case, the gentleman was found to be incapable of caring for his own property and his own personal well-being, and so that enabled the judge to void this marriage."

6 years in court

Though Hunt isn't a senior, Welsh says the judge's wording in his ruling could be used to protect older Canadians, because it "made a big difference in terms of the way that law can be interpreted."

But Welsh notes the case spent more than six years before the courts — a long and stressful time for the man's grown children, and a cautionary tale for other families where the situation may be even less clear-cut.

"If a caregiver is moving in and isolating your father, mother, aunt from the rest of their family, that's a red flag," she says.

"If you have the benefit of living for a long time and perhaps outliving your friends just because you're a strong person, you're very vulnerable to this — for losing the accumulated wealth that you've built up which was meant to go to your family."

Companies make clothing recycling claims that make you feel like you're doing good. But, what's happening behind the slogan? Plus, why the phenomenon of predatory marriage should be on everyone's radar. The Investigators Saturdays at 9:30 pm ET and Sundays at 5:30 pm ET on CBC News Network. 22:21

Also this week on The Investigators:

  • Go Public reporter Erica Johnson talks about why hard-sell sales tactics at some of Canada's biggest companies are prompting Canadians to speak out.
  • Tyana Grundig of CBC's Marketplace talks about why much of the clothing we donate doesn't go where people might think.

About the Author

Diana Swain

Multi-award-winning journalist Diana Swain is the senior investigative correspondent for CBC News and host of The Investigators on CBC News Network.