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Annulment case supports Tsinman’s call for economic coercion tort

A case involving a woman — who was told her job would only be secure if she married her boss’s friend — would be a good fit for a new tort of economic coercion, Toronto family lawyer Inna Tsinman tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Tsinman, principal of Tsinman Law, is developing a test for the tort that she says would fill a gap when it comes to protecting women in relationships of economic dependency. Such women typically face harassment or distress as a result of the financial pressure to perform sexually, she says.

In a recent B.C. case, Tsinman says the judge's decision outlines the groundwork for the tort.

“Although it’s an annulment case, this is exactly the duress we speak of,” she says.

According to the decision, a man who owned and operated a hair salon where the woman worked “suggested to the claimant that she marry one of his relatives who was residing in India” and he would later sponsor the man to immigrate to Canada as a permanent resident. Her boss said her “employment with the company would be secure only if she accepted this suggestion,” the judgment says.

In granting the annulment, the British Columbia Supreme Court justice refers to the definition of “economic duress” as determined in a 1988 ruling.

“It must place the party to whom the pressure is directed in a position where he has no ‘realistic alternative’ but to submit to it,” the decision says. As well, “duress has the effect of vitiating consent.”

The judge called the marriage a “sham” that was performed for immigration purposes and granted the annulment.

Tsinman says the case also reflects on issues linked to employment law.

“The lines can be blurred in some workplaces, and that could be why this kind of thing would happen,” she says. “The boss almost takes on a patriarchal role.

For example, a woman who grew up in a violent home with a manipulative father will sometimes enter the workforce and find the same personality type in her employer, Tsinman says.

“This person just completely surrenders herself to him. She may not realize it herself,” she says. “She is looking for approval even if the rewards may not be there, just to please him.”

In the B.C. case, the claimant must have been terrified, leading her to leave the marriage before consummating it, and losing her job in the process, Tsinman says.

The removal of specific financial benefits is a key element of Tsinman’s proposed tort, she adds.

“This kind of case should validate and accelerate the acceptance of the tort,” she says. 

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