A British Columbia man whose name was left off birth certificates for his triplet sons suffered sex discrimination, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled yesterday in its first decision in favour of male equality rights.
The court struck down a law that caused Darrell Trociuk to be excluded from birth registration documents and in so doing shifted away from using equality guarantees only to help historically disadvantaged groups such as women, minorities and the disabled.
Since 1985, when the Charter of Rights equality guarantee came into force, the court has used as a yardstick whether an individual alleging discrimination is part of a historically disadvantaged group.
"This argument is ill-founded as a matter of logic and law," Madam Justice Marie Deschamps said in the ruling released yesterday. She said the yardstick remains important, but it cannot be used to reject a claim of discrimination out-of-hand from someone who is not part of a historically disadvantaged group.
"At the end of the day, it is a victory for men," Mr. Trociuk's lawyer, Daim Shane, said yesterday. "But in the long run, I think it will help parents and children overall. I hope it will all lead toward more use of joint custody."
The British Columbia law that was struck down also included a provision that prevented Mr. Trociuk, a 37-year-old Vancouver landscaper, from helping determine his children's surname.
Judge Deschamps wrote in the unanimous ruling that it is wrong to bar a father from a seminal life event. "Including one's particulars on a birth registration is an important means of participating in the life of a child," she said.
"A birth registration is not only an instrument of prompt recording. It evidences the biological ties between parent and child - and including one's particulars on the registration is a means of affirming those ties."
Judge Deschamps concluded that Mr. Trociuk's dignity was seriously denigrated after his estranged girlfriend - Reni Ernst - listed him on birth forms as "unacknowleged."
The triplets were born on Jan. 26, 1996. Soon afterward, Ms. Ernst filled out the statement of live birth on her own, marking the father as "unacknowledged by the mother."
Judge Deschamps conceded there is good reason to have a provision available to rape victims that allows them to exclude fathers from birth registrations.
The effect of the Supreme Court ruling is suspended for a year to allow British Columbia and provinces with similar provisions to rewrite them more carefully.
Ms. Ernst said in an interview yesterday that the problem arose only because Mr. Trociuk tried to give the children his surname while she was "lying on my death-bed" following a difficult birth.
"I had offered him a hyphenated name before the boys were ever born," the 47-year-old woman said. She said that since Mr. Trociuk would settle for nothing less than having only his surname on the certificates, she simply wrote "father unacknowleged by the mother."
Ms. Ernst said she was delighted with the Supreme Court decision and fully supports the right of a father to have a hyphenated name for his children.
"I've been slammed from here to Germany," she said. "I actually think it is wonderful that fathers can be recognized," she said. "It is a huge stride forward for fathers' rights. This is a boon for my sons, too."
Mr. Trociuk lives in Vancouver. His estranged girlfriend and her sons live in Nanaimo, about 2 hours away by car and ferry. The father has visitation rights allowing him to see the three boys for six hours a week. However, Ms. Ernst said he actually makes the trip to Nanaimo about four times a year.
Mr. Trociuk did not respond to an interview request.