On August 17, 2018, Justice Fred Myers released his reasons for dismissing a pastor’s request to extend a July 2018 publication ban and order sealing the court file in respect of a paternity lawsuit brought by the pastor against a former congregant and lover who claimed he had fathered her child.
Martin Kofi Danso, a Toronto pastor and self-styled “prophet”, is the founder of Miracle Arena for All Nations, a ministry that operates 17 churches, including chapters in Toronto. He is also a married father of four children, with twins on the way.
In a sworn affidavit filed with the court, Mr. Danso denied that he ever had intimate relations with the respondent, Chris-Ann Bartley, and claimed she intended to seek child support from him for a child fathered by another man. In her sworn evidence, Ms. Bartley claimed that when she advised Mr. Danso of her pregnancy, he told her that the Lord had shown him that if she had the child, she would die. Ultimately, a court-ordered DNA test would later confirm that Mr. Danso was the father of the now 6-month old child, with a probability of 99.99996%.
At the hearing, Mr. Danso’s lawyer argued that without a publication ban shielding his identity, Mr. Danso would face emotional harm and stress if the public at large were to learn of the paternity allegations against him, and that a ban was needed to protect Mr. Danso’s significant commercial and financial interests, as well as his reputation among his congregants.
Justice Myers was not convinced, and raised the importance of the public’s interest in learning that someone of Mr. Danso’s standing in the community had told lies in a sworn affidavit. Moreover, Ms. Bartley’s lawyer argued that there was a significant public interest in the case, as Mr. Danso presented himself as a church leader, and as a moral, religious and family man, which image stands in contrast with a person who has fathered a child in an extramarital affair.
This was Mr. Danso’s “Bill Clinton” moment, as Justice Myers put it, and his identity would not be shielded.
Although this case involved a child, in which a publication ban is usually granted to protect the child’s identity, Justice Myers’ decision shows that the public interest in open, accessible proceedings outweighed the private considerations of the individuals concerned. As Justice Myers stated, “[i]mportant discussions are occurring among members of a church and the public concerning the conduct or misconduct of the spiritual and business leader of the church. Suppressing the facts in this case will not reduce a proven risk of harm to the baby, enhance any other public interest, and can only prejudice important public discussions.”
Justice Myers also noted that it was Mr. Danso who chose to challenge paternity and deny the affair in a public forum, despite his knowledge of having had an intimate relationship with Ms. Bartley. However, both parents had the ability to protect the child from any further public exposure by reaching a settlement.
One can only hope that for the child’s sake, the case will remain a “Bill Clinton” moment, without attaining “Bill Clinton” notoriety.