Divorce trials rarely attract public attention, let alone a row of placard-bearing protesters that stood at the entrance of Whitehorse’s courthouse on Monday at noon.
But this case is hardly typical, as the signs carried by the eight protesters indicated.
“Deport Ben. He’s an illegal alien,” said one. “Canadian law does not support bigamy,” said another.
The trial underway pits Evangeline Ramirez, 61, against Benjamin Toquero, 64. The twist is that Toquero has another wife and five children in the Philippines, the country from which both he and Ramirez originate.
Linda Bonnefoy helped organize the rally. She expressed concern that, if Toquero is allowed to remain in the country, it could set a dangerous precedent for tolerating bigamy, which is a crime in Canada.
Bonnefoy was joined by the friends and family of Ramirez, who insists she knew nothing of Toquero’s previous marriage until they split in the summer of 2010.
But when Toquero took the stand that afternoon, he insisted this version of events is all wrong.
He disclosed his previous marriage to Ramirez soon after they struck up a pen pal relationship, he said.
At the time, he was working as a boilermaker in Saudi Arabia. She was a nanny in Singapore.
Rather than being bothered by the existing marriage, Ramirez responded, “We’re the same,” said Toquero. She wasn’t married at the time, but she had two children.
“She knew everything,” said Toquero. “I told her everything.”
He visited and they hit it off. Later, when Ramirez emigrated to Canada, Toquero soon followed. They married at Whitehorse’s Sacred Heart Cathedral in November of 1994.
Toquero’s immigration papers claimed he was single and unmarried. This was Ramirez’s idea, he said, so that his entry to Canada would be expedited.
Yet, once the married couple began to bicker, Ramirez would threaten to have Toquero deported, he said.
She hid his passport to prevent him from becoming a Canadian citizen, said Toquero, prompting him to seek a divorce.
Ramirez has accused Toquero of being physically and sexually abusive. Not true, he told the court. But she threw a coffee mug and a kitchen knife at him on one occasion, he said.
And Ramirez encouraged one of her daughters, who is also married, to report she was single when she entered Canada, Toquero said.
Ramirez disputes this, and pretty much everything else Toquero has to say.
At the heart of their dispute is whether their marriage remains valid. You’d be forgiven for expecting the court to deal with that matter first.
Not so. Divorce lawyers spend most of their time counting money. So much of the three-day trial, which wraps up today, has dealt, in mind-numbing detail, with the details of the couple’s possessions and working lives.
But Toquero’s lawyer, Norah Mooney, made it clear during her opening statements that she considers her client to have a common-law claim on the couple’s assets, after spending 15 and a half years living together and helping build their janitorial business.
“It’s only fair and just to share their equity, once the debts are repaid,” said Mooney.
Ramirez handled the money. And, according to Mooney, “she has not been a prudent financial planner. There’s a huge amount of debt.”
By Mooney’s reckoning, the couple owes $575,000, when the mortgages for both houses are lumped in. This number could be inexact, because Ramirez hasn’t disclosed all of her financial assets to the court, despite repeated requests.
Given all this, Mooney proposed selling both houses, paying the debts, and splitting the difference – with the majority going to Toquero.
Toquero and Ramirez’s accounts diverge widely.
Both claim to have toiled day and night for their janitorial business, while the other did comparatively little. Both had witnesses called to attest to their own good character.
Toquero didn’t receive a salary while working for the family business. Instead, he received a meagre allowance, usually $40 every two weeks, he said.
Following their divorce, Ramirez has done her best to make Toquero’s life miserable, the court heard. He found his cellular phone, home electricity and automobile insurance all abruptly cancelled.
Toquero wants several cleaning contracts to supplement his income as an automobile mechanic at Walmart, but Ramirez has refused. She similarly hasn’t made court-ordered support payments to Toquero, now worth $5,000.
Meanwhile, Ramirez has started a new janitorial business, solely in her name, while using their joint company’s equipment to run it, said Mooney.
Toquero also sees himself in the midst of a concerted smear campaign. Since their divorce, Ramirez has asked RCMP and border officials to deport him.
He’s embarrassed to see details of his personal life reported in the newspaper.
One of his friends, Beth Ng, told the court that Filipino workers at Walmart had heard from Ramirez that Ng was Toquero’s “new girlfriend.” In fact, she’s happily married to Tim Ng, who counts Toquero as a good friend.
Some details described by Ramirez are untrue, said Mooney. He doesn’t drive their jointly owned Chevy Malibu, as Ramirez had stated previously in an interview. He uses a 1996 Plymouth Breeze to commute instead.
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