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Toronto man arrested for allegedly performing marriages without legal authority
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, August 31, 2016 9:15AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 31, 2016 8:57PM EDT
A 69-year-old Toronto man is facing charges after police say he allegedly performed marriages for Ontario couples without legal authority.
Police allege that in August 2013, the man’s licence to perform marriages was revoked but despite this, he continued to offer his services at weddings.
It is not clear why his licence was revoked.
Investigators said the man performed marriages in Ontario under the names Paul Cogan and Paul Martin and advertised his services on the online classified site Kijiji.
So far, police have only laid charges in connection with one couple but Anne-Marie Flanagan, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, said that a preliminary review has found that 48 couples have been impacted.
Det.-Const. John Ozols said police believe the man forged the signature of a licensed minister on the marriage documents and police were alerted to the forgery by Service Ontario.
"To register marriages, Service Ontario require original copies of the marriage licence and when they received a photocopy, obviously they questioned why a photocopy was sent," Ozols said.
"They looked through the licence, saw the name of the officiant that was on the licence and called that officiant to find out why he had sent a photocopy. That particular officiant advised Service Ontario that he had never performed that marriage."
A website advertising the man's services describes him as a "spiritual minister" who has performed more than 2,000 wedding ceremonies across Ontario.
The suspect, identified by police as Paul Cogan, was arrested in connection with the case on Tuesday.
He has been charged with solemnizing a marriage without authority, fraud under $5,000, forgery, personation with intent, and uttering a forged document.
He was released on $500 bail at a hearing on Wednesday.
Ozols said police executed a search warrant at Cogan's residence on Tuesday and are currently going through all of the evidence.
Ozols said he has been in touch with the ministry to discuss next steps for all potential victims.
"I’ve been advised by the ministry that they should not panic about this that there is a remedy that they can undertake to make sure that everything is OK," he added.
Speaking to CTV Toronto, Flanagan said the ministry will be contacting all affected couples.
Couples who were married by Cogan between August 2013 and July 2016 can also call 1-855-235-8932 or 416-849-9447 for assistance.
"According to the legislation, the sole fact that a couple was married (by someone) unauthorized to perform marriages does not invalidate the marriage," Flanagan added.
"We can't speak to whether a marriage is valid or not but it doesn't necessarily invalidate (it)."
Michelle Sample, a family lawyer, said that cases do arise from time to time where a couple is married by an officiant who isn’t actually able to solemnize a marriage.
“We can certainly sympathize with all these couple who wake up morning and suddenly realize that the marriage they thought they had might not be, but they can probably rest easy,” Sample said.
Ontario legislation allows for couples’ marriages to be legally recognized anyways so long as they meet four criteria.
Couples must have intended to have a legally binding wedding, not be disqualified from taking part in the marriage ceremony for reasons such as impairment, and the couple must have lived together after the marriage ceremony.