Can a 90-year-old man adopt a 58-year-old adult as his son in order to allow the younger one to acquire ownership of his Toronto Island home?
That was the question facing Justice Markus Koehnen in an application brought by the Toronto Islands Community Trust Corp.
against Peter McLaughlin and Steven Whitfield.
The Toronto Islands contain 262 homes and are one of the most exclusive residential communities in the city. The land is owned by the government of Ontario and lots are leased to residents under the terms of a stringent trust. Homes can only be sold or transferred to people on a 500-name waiting list at prices which are set by regulation. (The list is currently closed.)
A wait of 25 years or more to secure a chance to buy a home is not unusual. Since the waiting list was established in 1994, only 70 island homes and leases have been sold, typically at the rate of one to two a year.
The trust sells any available leases for about $60,000 on Ward’s Island and $76,000 on Algonquin Island. In addition, the value of a house being offered for sale is calculated according to a strict formula and paid directly to the seller, with the average being in the $150,000 to $400,000 range.
There are only three exceptions to this sales regime: under certain conditions, an owner can transfer a home to a spouse, a joint owner or a child — including an adopted child.
Peter McLaughlin has acted as a father figure to Steven Whitfield for 37 years, and wanted to transfer his island house on Nottawa Ave., on Algonquin Island, to his adopted son. The adult adoption was finalized in 2017.
The Islands Trust brought the proposed transfer to court, claiming that adult adoptions could become one way of avoiding some of the restrictions on transferring Islands homes. It asked the court to rule that McLaughlin had no legal right to transfer title to his home to Whitfield.
Extensive evidence produced at the court hearing showed that the relationship between McLaughlin and Whitfield was deep and long-standing, and not a device to circumvent the restrictions of the Island Trust.
In his ruling last month, Justice Koehnen wrote: “This is not a case of two adults with little or no prior relationship engineering an adoption to defeat the purpose of transfer restrictions on Island homes. “This is an example of a genuine family relationship that stretches back decades and that is amply supported by contemporaneous documentation over the course of 37 years. In those circumstances, there is no reason to place any limitation on the definition of child as
including an adopted child under the Islands Act.”
The court allowed the transfer and ordered the Trust to pay court costs of about $58,000 to Whitfield and McLaughlin.
Interested in a spot on the Islands’ homes waiting list? Typically, 15 to 20 people drop off the waiting list each year, making room for new applicants. The Trust announces the opening of the list on its website (torontoisland.org) and in the Toronto Star. The list is left open for four weeks and applications are only available during that period.
But don’t hold your breath waiting.
Toronto Islands Community Trust Corporation v. Peter McLaughlin and Steven Whitfield, 2021 ONSC 206 (CanLII),