A Toronto man who believes he is the son of John Diefenbaker cannot sue members of his own family for allegedly cutting him out of an inheritance, an Ontario judge has ruled.
George Dryden says he will appeal, noting that his basic allegation remains untested—namely, that the man he grew up believing was his father mistreated him, and connived to keep family wealth out of his hands because he knew George was not his son.
Dryden alleges that his non-biological father, Gordon, knew all along that George is the child of Canada’s 13th prime minister.
“This is certainly a bit of a disappointment,” he said Monday. “But it’s not a fatal blow. In our view it’s a minor delay. We’re confident things will go differently when we get the case before the Court of Appeal.”
The Ontario Superior Court decision marks the latest twist in a family saga with historical and political dimensions. George established in August through DNA testing that Gordon Dryden—the longtime treasurer of the Liberal party of Canada—is not in fact his dad.
Whether Diefenbaker is the father has not been proven. But before marrying Gordon, Dryden’s mother Mary Lou was active in the Progressive Conservative Party and was seen at public functions at Diefenbaker’s side. Members of her family have told George they’ve long suspected Diefenbaker is his father.
Dryden is now awaiting results from a DNA test arranged through the Diefenbaker Canada Centre in Saskatoon, Sask., which has a number of the late PM’s personal articles. He has said he will not make a claim against the Diefenbaker estate; he just wants to know his parentage.
The court, however, ruled that his family’s decision to keep his lineage a secret does not give him the right to sue.
“There is no duty on parents to disclose the identity of a child’s natural parents and correspondingly the child does not have a legal right to know the identity of their natural parents,” Justice Beth Allen wrote in her judgment. “The court is loathe to interfere with or to disturb parental decisions on what information should or should not be disclosed to their children.”
Nor can Dryden re-open a legal dispute over Gordon’s conduct as executor of a multi-million dollar estate belonging to Mary Lou’s brother, William Lonergan, the court ruled. In his statement of claim, George had alleged that Gordon “extorted legal and financial concessions” from Lonergan, with the effect of cutting George out of the money when Lonergan died in 2002.
George sued the Lonergan estate unsuccessfully in 2004, and wound up settling for $75,000—barely enough to cover his legal fees. In his recent lawsuit, he argued that deal should now be set aside because Gordon had concealed a fundamental conflict of interest—specifically, that he knew George wasn’t his child, and wanted the money to go to his biological son, Barrie.
Allen differed, saying the question of George’s paternity did not appear to influence the disposition of the Lonergan estate.
In a statement issued Monday, Dryden promised to forge on. Justice Allen, he said, “erred in law and failed to address the principal issues at the heart of the litigation, namely, the breach of fiduciary duty of Gordon Dryden.”
George is also fighting to gain access to his mother, whom friends have told him is frail. Gordon Dryden has power of attorney over Mary Lou’s health care, and has ordered staff at a long-term care facility where she is living to keep George away.
The decision does not affect George’s ongoing efforts to determine his lineage. If the recent DNA tests—being performed by the nationally accredited firm Warnex Pro-DNA Services—prove inconclusive, he says, he will try to persuade living relatives of the late PM to consent to tests. He has also heard there are other people who suspect Diefenbaker may have fathered them, and will try to make contact with them, too.