Panic attack halts bizarre divorce trial

An unusual divorce trial that involves a Filipino man with two wives was put on pause Wednesday, when a key witness appeared to suffer a panic attack and was sent to hospital. First Evangeline Ramirez, 61, sobbed. Then she covered her face with her hands.

An unusual divorce trial that involves a Filipino man with two wives was put on pause Wednesday, when a key witness appeared to suffer a panic attack and was sent to hospital.

First Evangeline Ramirez, 61, sobbed. Then she covered her face with her hands.

Then, after the judge had called for a brief recess for her to regain her composure, Ramirez appeared to faint outside the courtroom, prompting paramedics to be called.

It was just the latest twist in a trial that’s attracted placard-bearing protesters and raised peculiar questions about the property rights of an admitted bigamist.

At the heart of the dispute is the validity of Ramirez’s marriage to Benjamin Toquero, 64. After their split last summer, it came to light he had another wife, and five children, back in the Philippines.

She insists this was news to her at the time of their breakup. She’s argued the previous marriage invalidates any claim he may have to her money and property.

But Toquero insists she always knew about the previous marriage. Divorce doesn’t exist in the Philippines and annulments are pricey.

And, even if their marriage is invalid, Toquero’s lawyer has argued that he has common-law rights to her assets, because of the past 15 and a half years the couple has spent living together and building their janitorial business.

The trigger of Ramirez’s meltdown seemed innocuous enough at the time. While she was on the stand, her lawyer had asked about the financing details of a white Chevy Malibu jointly owned by her and her husband.

Ramirez explained the vehicle had been purchased for Ramirez’s daughters and nieces, after they complained about Toquero “touching them,” she said before breaking down.

Much of the three-day trial has dwelled on the pedestrian details of the working lives and possessions of each spouse, while these allegations of abuse have lurked in the background.

A court-filed statement by one of Ramirez’s daughters, Sarah Yvonne, accuses Toquero of making sexual advances to her and other employees at the cleaning business. Toquero denies this.

In court documents, he admits to having committed adultery with a woman in 1997. The couple separated twice, but made amends.

Toquero lost his job as a janitor with the Department of Education. Two supervisors accused him of kissing them and touching their groins, according to court documents.

Toquero denies all this in a court-filed statement, accusing one woman of being “a big liar, jealous, mean and bossy,” and the other of plotting a “conspiracy to destroy my life.”

He eventually received a $12,000 settlement from the government, he says in a court filing.

Ramirez has accused Toquero of sexually abusing her. He also denies this.

Toquero insists he’s the one being harassed. In court statements, he alleges that Ramirez routinely threatened to have him deported.

From the moment he arrived at the airport, Ramirez put him to work at her janitorial business and only provided him a monthly allowance of several hundred dollars, he writes in a court document.

Ramirez has suffered panic attacks before. She was sent to hospital in June of 2010, after she and Toquero had an argument.

Toquero was later charged with uttering threats, after Ramirez told RCMP he had threatened to burn their house down. He was issued a peace bond that required him to stay away from her for one year.

Ramirez grew increasingly agitated on Wednesday morning after she took the stand. She frequently gave confusing and contradictory answers to questions about the value and ownership of assets.

Judge Leigh Gower frequently reprimanded Ramirez’s lawyer, Carrie Burbidge, for asking vague questions, until she was reduced to tears. The judge apologized and briefly adjourned.

Ramirez broke down a short time later.

Her hospitalization on Wednesday prompted lawyers to adjourn the trial, which was set to adjourn that afternoon. It’s now to resume today, if Ramirez is fit to appear. Otherwise, it will resume on September 28.

Contact John Thompson at

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