Saturday, December 10, 2011

A painful, late truth for young Victoria woman

Are there some parents so awful that they deserve to never see their child again?
Probably. But we've got a process for that in Canada, and it doesn't include kidnapping your own child against court orders.
I have great sympathy for everyone connected to the saga of the 20-year-old Victoria woman who has just learned that much of what she thought to be true about her life was a lie.
She does not even have the name she thought she had; she hasn't heard her real name since she was taken from Toronto by her mother after a 1993 custody fight.
The courts will sort out the truth of this crime. There's little served by people like me speculating about the mother, Patricia O'Byrne, who has been accused of taking her little girl, or trying to second-guess an Ontario court decision from 18 years ago.
But whatever the details turn out to be, it must be said that a grave injustice has been done to this young woman. What must it feel like, to find out at 20 that the foundations of your life have been built on sand?
She is now learning she has a father. A brother. A whole other extended family in Ontario - one that has been looking all over the world for her for the better part of two decades.
She's got a name she didn't know about, and no doubt some pointed questions for friends and family in Victoria who presumably helped keep her mother's deep, dark secret.
She's got 18 years of catching up with another side of her family who she likely has no memory of, including a brother who is close to her age.
And how unfortunate that she has to experience all these mind-blowing revelations amid the glare of national media interest.
But her father, Joe Chisholm, is over the moon to have finally found his daughter, and the saga makes for one heck of a story.
What makes a parent kidnap their child? Mothers and fathers are equally likely to be the offending parent, says the support organization Victims of Violence.
Often it starts with anger over a court decision around custody. Sometimes it's about fear, or a concern that the child isn't getting good care when with the other parent. Fortunately, most of the 230 or so parental kidnappings in Canada every year are resolved within a week.
Not so in this case. The girl was taken from Toronto after an Ontario court awarded joint custody to O'Byrne and Chisholm in 1993.
Ontario RCMP have had an open file on the kidnapping ever since, but it took a tip to the Missing Children Society of Canada this summer to bring the investigation to Victoria.
Chisholm has maintained a poignant blog on MySpace. There are years of unread Christmas greetings and happy birthdays to his daughter on the site.
"Happy birthday," reads one from Sept. 20, when his daughter turned 20. "Wherever you are and whatever you are doing I am thinking about you and I wish you and your family well. I await the day that we can meet again. Love, Dad."
Chisholm has found his happy ending, it appears. O'Byrne has landed in a nightmare. Being charged with kidnapping might not even be the worst of it, considering how it must feel to be caught out on such a massive lie.
The case is a good reminder that whatever we think is "in place" in our systems to protect us from such crimes is a fiction in itself. The daughter, whose name is now covered by a publication ban, went to school under a false name and nobody noticed. Her mother worked for government for years under an alias, with no one the wiser.
Neither kept a low profile. The mother was an active member of the school community, and well thought of. Yet a desperate dad just four provinces away never caught a whisper of any of it. If it weren't for the tip to Missing Children, this crime might never have been solved.
Who called in that tip? I like to think it was someone who loved this young woman, and couldn't bear to deny her the truth of her life any longer. I'm sure it took a lot of courage to make that call.
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple," opined the playwright Oscar Wilde.
We can only hope it heals this shattered family.


kootcoot said...

This is a wonderful thoughtful post, Jodie. I too grew up as a war prize between two families, but at least I always knew who the other side was and who at bottom I actually was, even though I was very separated from one side. Your take on this, with the sensitivity to the young girl's perspective is really right on!

e.a.f. said...

We still don't know why the mother did what she did and we don't know why people supported her in this. There maybe a whole other story we are not aware of.

I do find it interesting the young woman did not "rush" off to meet with the "other" side of her family.

Perhaps there is more to this than mets the eye.

It is never a good thing to kidnap ones child but sometimes people see no alternative to protecting their child.