ADVOCACY

Where is the Outrage?
The story of a Father and Three Brave Girls

Once again, our Canadian Courts have failed Canadians and our children. Three Chatham, Ontario school children, three of our own citizens (unless in Canada children have become non-persons) have been removed from their home and forcibly taken to the United Kingdom to reside with their mother.

An International Convention (Hague) designed to prevent child abduction has been invoked and accepted by Ontario Court Justice Lucy Glenn. The children had defied an earlier effort to enforce her order, when the police officer was unwilling to use force to accomplish the deed.

No such officer was apparently on hand this last time, only an F&CS social worker who decided that it was her job to oversee the transfer.

The three children, Leah (10), Hannah (7), and Nicola (5) were taken from their school, against their expressed wishes, returned to their mother, and are currently in the United Kingdom. Speed was apparently more important for judicial reasons and took precedent over the measured best interests of the children. Professional testimony was ignored that suggested precipitous action would place the children at risk.

That wonderful phrase in Family Law, "the best interests of the child" has again been shown to be a sham. The children apparently didn't understand that their new "habitual residence" was now the United Kingdom because their parents lived their as a family for just over a year.

A disturbing aspect of this case is the indifference of the Canadian population and media to this event. Many Canadians ridicule the Americans for their media frenzy with the Terry Schiavo (e.g., life support decisions, etc.) case in Florida, but at least they are willing to engage in the debate. Canadians seem to prefer a Royal Commission or Public Inquiry.

Has any politician been heard on this case where Canadian children are going to have their primary parenting care determined in a foreign court?

The problem that exists in Canada is the fade away father. This decision continues to marginalize the importance of fathers in a child's life and the rights of children to be heard and to have two parents.

Consider the following as a test of this view to illustrate the point.

What if Mr. England had chosen to separate from his wife to be with his male friend? He had been unhappy for a long time. Mrs. England then chose to return to Canada with the three children to consider her next steps and she decided to stay and enroll the children in public school. Mr. England then tried to invoke the Hague Convention. The children did not want to leave their mother. Do you believe Ontario Justice Lucy Glenn would have enforced the Hague Convention and required the children to go with their father; and for Mrs. England to fight her case in a British Court? Would Canadians quietly allow this to occur? Would the children have been pulled from their school in mid-year to go to the U.K.? Would the politicians have remained so silent?

Of course not.

The test for our society's approach on the importance of both parents to the healthy development of children may be found in our response to this scenario.

Understand the obstacles faced by Mr. England. He will have to fight for his children in a British Court that is just as father unfriendly as Canadian Courts. The emotional and financial costs will be staggering and he will likely face a Judge similar to our Justice Lucy Glenn. In the end he will end up with his children approximately 15-20% of the time at best and gradually lose a meaningful role in their lives.

Mr. England is dead in the water unless he chooses to move to the U.K. and accept, hopefully, a limited (30%) parenting time. He will have to quietly acknowledge his children's mother's new partner as an active parent to his children. He will have to turn a deaf ear to his children's pleas to come home to him again and again.

Justice Lucy Glenn has made Mr. England the villain and suggested from press reports that his return to Canada was essentially abduction and his efforts to respect his children's wishes were negligent, contributing to their desire to remain with him. This possibility appears to be outside her imagination. From all accounts Mr. England was not even informed of his children's exact destination, nor was a schedule arranged for communication between dad and the children.

Where is the outrage? Where is common sense? Has the contributions of fathers been marginalized to the point where a loving father's role in his child's life is at risk to whatever the choices of the mother and our Courts? Is our children's desire to have two loving parents supporting them throughout their lives become secondary to our gender beliefs around parenting?

Three children, Leah, Hannah, and Nicola are just the latest victims of a complicated family breakdown. Every Canadian family can fall victim to a separation (37% divorce rate) with their own unique and similar circumstances. Our challenge is to help families to meet the parenting needs of their children in their changed family circumstances.

"As your children go through their own passages of mourning, don't speak to them about how they might be feeling, honour their expressions of those feelings." - Barbara Coloroso, Author: Parenting Through Crisis

Justice Lucy Glenn failed these three, brave girls.

They have company in every community, in every Province of this Country. Our collective silence dishonours all of us, but the victims are the children and their missing parents and grandparents, whose hearts are broken.