Wow! Dead men can tell no tales nor defend themselves, but judge overturns last will and testament
TORONTO -- Even in death, you might not have the last word: especially if you’re a bigot. [click here to review the judgment in Spence v. BMO Trust Co]
When Eric Spence died two years ago, with no family by the curmudgeon’s bedside, the Jamaican-born man left a last will and testament that disinherited the daughter he raised and left all his worldly belongings to the daughter he hadn’t seen in more than 30 years.
“I specifically bequeath nothing to my daughter, Verolin Spence, as she has had no communication with me for several years and has shown no interest in me as her father,” the spiteful 71-year-old Maple widower wrote in his will.
But in reality, that wasn’t the real reason he cut Verolin out of his will: He was angry that she had given birth to a white man’s child.
“In about September 2002, my relationship with my father came crashing down,” recalled Verolin Spence, 51, in a court affidavit. “That is the time when I told my father that I was pregnant. When he found out that the father of my child-to-be was white, my father told me that he was ashamed of me.”
From that moment on, she said he refused to return her phone calls and wanted nothing to do with her or her son.
In a rare judgment released Tuesday, a Superior Court judge in Newmarket set aside Spence’s will and divided his $400,000 estate equally between his two daughters. “It is clear and uncontradicted, in my view, that the reason for disinheriting Verolin, as articulated by the deceased, was one based on a clearly stated racist principle,” ruled Justice C.A. Gilmore.
“Does it offend public policy that the deceased’s other daughter, Donna, should receive the entire estate simply because her children were fathered by a black man? That, in my view, offends not only human sensibilities but also public policy.”
The judge cited last June’s McCorkill decision where a judge voided the will of a New Brunswick man because leaving his possessions to an American neo-Nazi group violated “public policy” and Canadian hate laws.
It was a controversial ruling now under appeal — should the courts be allowed to overturn a man’s last wishes, even if they are heinous ones?
Until they had that falling out in 2002, Spence had promised everything to his treasured Verolin.
After moving from Jamaica to London, Eng., he had two daughters with the same woman. The couple split when the girls were toddlers and each took a child, with Verolin going to live with Spence. He decided to immigrate to Canada in 1979 and she joined him after completing high school. His second daughter remained in the U.K. and he never saw her again.
Over the next decade, he supported Verolin financially as she pursued a degree at York University, post-graduate work in London and a law degree in New York. He’d often tell her how proud he was that she was the first Spence to graduate from university, she said.
That all ended when she became pregnant by a man who wasn’t black. Furious, Spence wrote her out of the will and left everything to the daughter he barely knew in England.
Because he didn’t outline the real reason for disinheriting her, the judge said Spence’s will would have had to stand if not for the compelling and uncontradicted evidence from the only friend he seemed to have.
Imogene Parchment was best friends with Spence’s late wife Norma. In her affidavit, she said Spence told her many times that he had no further use for Verolin and her “bastard white son” and that he’d changed his will as a result.
Parchment described Spence as difficult and demanding, with an explosive temper. When he was dying in hospital, with no one else at his side, she urged him to reconcile with Verolin. He refused and “went into a rage, banging his fists on the table.”
From the grave, he was determined to punish his daughter for stepping outside her race.
But a court has decided otherwise. Verolin’s lawyer, Michael Deverett, said it was a “painful process” for his client but she’s pleased with the outcome. And the message is clear.
“People should know that if you’re going to make a will that discriminates on the basis of race or is contrary to public policy, beware the courts may not be willing to enforce it.”