Gave father more access three weeks before girl was thrown off bridge

Judge haunted by Inara's ordeal

The judge who gave Inara Amarsi's father access to the little girl on Sunday afternoons — three weeks before his attempt to kill her — says he has been grappling with his conscience over the consequences of his decision.
Marvin Zuker, a veteran family court judge, said he was “horrified” to learn the five-year-old girl whose custody arrangement he had decided just weeks earlier was hurled 15 metres off a bridge on Sunday, by the same man who had begged the court to allow him more time with the daughter he loved.
“How can he say to me on Feb. 15, 'I love my daughter,' and do this?” said Judge Zuker, of the Ontario Court of Justice. “My initial reaction was, 'Could we, or should the court, have done something differently?' ”

But the judge, best known as an advocate for children and women's rights, believes no one could have predicted Inara's father, Alnoor Amarsi, would take his own life and attempt to murder his daughter. The little girl remains in critical condition with chest and abdominal injuries.
“It wasn't about the court or anything the court did. It was about revenge or getting even.”
It is extremely rare for a judge to explain a ruling in a media interview.
But Judge Zuker said he has been stung by suggestions in the media the courts should not have given Mr. Amarsi access to his daughter.
It is a frustrating position for the judge, who dedicates much of his time outside the courtroom to working with schools, police and government to reduce youth violence.
An associate professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, he has authored texts on education law, as well as co-authored, with activist June Callwood, Canadian Women and the Law and The Law Is Not for Women.
“I want people to appreciate the stress that goes into these kinds of cases and the difficulty in trying to determine, quite often, who is telling the truth,” Judge Zuker said. “Sometimes it's too easy to blame the system.”

When Inara's feuding parents were last in his courtroom, on Feb. 15, there was no discussion about Mr. Amarsi's mental state or reference to allegations the man had attempted to kill himself in 2001 and 2002. Both parties appeared to be satisfied with their custody arrangement, according to a court transcript.
“For the most part,” said Shamsha Amarsi's lawyer, Lana Pryce, “things are going well.”
The couple had been before Judge Zuker many times since splitting up three weeks after their daughter's birth in November, 1999.
The last court appearance addressed routine issues of child support and visitation hours.
Shamsha Amarsi, who earns $47,000 working for Air Canada, wanted to increase the $62 a month she received from her former husband to $184. Usually unemployed, Mr. Amarsi had finally secured a $21,000 income, working as a customer service representative.
Judge Zuker agreed to the increase but did not require Mr. Amarsi to contribute to Inara's $5,000 private school fees.
Mr. Amarsi's demands were more controversial. He wanted overnight visits with Inara, in addition to the unsupervised visits he was already granted in the couple's January, 2004, custody arrangement that allowed unsupervised visits on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons, as well as daily telephone calls.

Previously, Judge Zuker had prohibited overnight stays because Mr. Amarsi lived in a rooming house full of strangers.
According to the court transcript of the Feb. 15 hearing, Ms. Amarsi's lawyer contested the overnight request, but proposed additional Sunday visits instead.
Judge Zuker accepted Ms. Pryce's proposal, according to the transcript, and lashed out at Mr. Amarsi for moving in to an apartment in the same building as his ex-wife, near Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue East.
“I'm telling you that, why, if two people are separated, when this man has the whole of Toronto to move into, he decides to move into the same building. I'm surprised he didn't move next door.”
“Come on ... the only reason is control, that's all control. I mean, we weren't born yesterday.”
Mr. Amarsi countered he was living with a family he knows “from back home” that took him in when he was “in trouble.” “Unfortunately, they live in the same building,” he told the judge. “I have no control over that.”

He also begged the judge to award him “makeup” access of 36 hours, time he alleges Ms. Amarsi took from him. “I would like to have my 36 hours that I've lost with my daughter, sir.”
“I love my daughter, Your Honour, and I'd like to spend more time with her,” Mr. Amarsi told the judge.
In the end, both parties, represented by their lawyers, accepted the arrangement and did not raise any issues about Mr. Amarsi's mental state.
“If there was any evidence presented to me suggesting instability, I can assure you in a second, I never would have given him unsupervised visits,” Judge Zuker said yesterday.
Inara, meanwhile, continues to fight for her life at the Hospital for Sick Children. An uncle on her mother's side, Altaf Noorali, last night said her doctors are optimistic.

Heather Sokoloff
11 March 2005

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