A B.C. Supreme Court judge in Kamloops has cancelled a marriage annulment after concluding that the woman who appeared before him to consent to the order was an "imposter."
In a ruling he said was necessary — in part — to prevent a "miscarriage of justice," Justice Dennis Hori last week set aside an order he granted almost a year ago after an application by two people who identified themselves via "remote audio connection" as Warren and Gina Zant.
According to the decision, the real Gina Zant "became distraught" when she was told about the annulment — which would have meant the loss of her interest in her ex-husband's pension plan.
"I am unable to determine, on the basis of the evidence before me, who actually appeared at the [annulment] application representing herself as Gina Elizabeth Zant. However, I am satisfied that whoever attended by telephone on that date was an imposter," Hori wrote.
"I am satisfied that where an imposter appears at an application representing themselves as a party, without the consent of the actual party, there is sufficient grounds to set aside the orders made at the application."
Marriage 'null and void', according to correspondence
Hori's ruling follows an unusual set of circumstances that saw the judge reject "most, if not all" of Warren Zant's representations to the court — not least of which was a claim Zant himself was mentally incompetent.
According to the decision, Warren Zant married the real Gina Zant in the tropical Cook Islands on Nov. 27, 1999.
They split nearly two decades later, filing a separation agreement in which they agreed Gina Zant would receive survivor benefits under Warren Zant's Operating Engineers' Pension Plan.
The current set of proceedings was set in motion last year when Warren Zant applied to the court for an order annulling the marriage and removing Gina Zant "from being a beneficiary under [his] pension and benefits plans."
The application included correspondence from the Cook Islands stating that the marriage was "null and void."
A document bearing the signature "Gina E. Zant" was also filed with the court — consenting to the orders Warren Zant was seeking.
"I was fully aware that our marriage in the Cook Islands [was] not legally binding," the document read.
Based on that information and the assurances of the two people who appeared by telephone as Warren and Gina Zant, Hori granted the annulment, as well as the order ending Gina Zant's right to be Warren Zant's pension beneficiary.
Real ex-wife 'unaware of any court proceedings'
That was Nov. 24, 2021.
Warren Zant sent a copy of the annulment order to the Operating Engineers' Pension Plan two months later.
Then the administrator of the Operating Engineers' Pension Plan pension plan called the real Gina Zant — who said she "was unaware of any court proceedings."
According to Hori's decision, a number of different people purporting to represent Zant have since appeared at a series of hearings along with the real Gina Zant and a pension plan lawyer.
Along the way, documents supporting Warren Zant's original annulment application have come under scrutiny.
They include emails purportedly written by an official in the Cook Islands claiming that according to the South Pacific nation's laws: "this marriage is fraud or totally annulled, it does not exist."
The country's senior registry manager for births, deaths and marriages emailed the real Gina Zant to say the correspondence ascribed to her was "fraud documents which you did not [receive] from me."
Hori also concluded the person before whom Warren Zant swore his affidavits in Chetumal, Mexico was not authorized to commission affidavits for use in Canada.
Enrique Alejandro Alonso Serrato was supposed to be "a commissioner for taking affidavits for the Canadian embassy."
But he wasn't on any list of lawyers and notaries public on the government's website, and the embassy confirmed for pension staff that not only did they not employ Serrato, they didn't have an office in Chetumal.
Ex-husband not mentally incompetent, judge rules
Acting on her own behalf, the real Gina Zant claimed she was "shocked" to learn that her marriage had been nullified and her interests in Warren Zant's pension cancelled.
"I gave Warren Zant's representatives the opportunity to cross-examine Gina Zant," Hori wrote.
"However, they did not do so."
Based on those facts, Hori set aside his earlier annulment order.
The judge also went on to reject Warren Zant's application for an order "upholding the legal incompetence of Warren Thomas Zant due to mental health" because it was based on "unreliable" evidence from witnesses who "lack credibility."
Hori said he was "not prepared to accept that Warren Zant is mentally incompetent" — pointing out that if Zant had been mentally incompetent then he couldn't have sought the order seeking the annulment in the first place.
Case was 'very troubling': pension plan lawyer
David Paul, the lawyer who acted for the Pension Plan, said the case was "very troubling."
He said his client and the real Gina Zant were "very pleased" with Hori's decision, but that the situation appears to be someone taking advantage of the extraordinary measures courts have gone through to ensure access to justice during the pandemic.
"Unfortunately, while these procedures have been overwhelmingly successful they've also allowed certain malevolent individuals to use the deficiencies in these remote programs for nefarious purposes," he said.
"I think this case and other cases that come before the courts will give the legal profession a reason to look at how we can even further improve our system to prevent against instances like this in the future."
The parties will be back in court in January when Paul says he'll be making an application for costs.
"It's my submission that the claimant needs to face personal repercussions for this type of conduct," he said.
"I think there also needs to be a loud message to like-minded individuals that our system of justice is based on principles of honesty and that there are serious consequences for fraudulent conduct."