‘Sneaking thieves in the night’
Thursday, July 8, 2004
By Rachel Boomer
Carline VandenElsen exits the courtroom after her bail hearing in Halifax yesterday. The hearing will continue this morning. (Photo: Scott Dunlop)
The Children’s Aid order that ultimately took a five-month-old baby from Larry Finck and Carline VandenElsen had its roots not in abuse or neglect, but in a warning from Ontario, where VandenElsen was embroiled in a legal battle over the kidnapping of her triplets.
After getting a warning from Ontario authorities in December that VandenElsen was about to have a baby and that she might have mental-health problems, Children’s Aid workers in Halifax asked a court for the right to supervise the couple in their home and assess their parenting skills, Halifax provincial court heard yesterday.
But when Finck refused to allow authorities into the house or to assess the couple, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge ordered that the infant be taken from her parents and put into foster care, Crown attorney Len MacKay told the VandenElsen’s bail hearing.
It was the first time the reasons behind the contentious order have been made public. Until now, they’ve been sealed from view, the norm for Children’s Aid custody orders heard at Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
At yesterday’s bail hearing, VandenElsen testified she was determined not to give the child up.
“I did not present my baby on a platter to Children’s Aid,” VandenElsen said.
A longstanding court battle over access to her triplets prompted VandenElsen to flee to Mexico with the children. VandenElsen testified yesterday that experience led her to mistrust Children’s Aid and the courts, which she felt didn’t give her a fair shot at having custody.
So when the local Children’s Aid authorities applied to supervise the couple, VandenElsen said she feared they would eventually seize the baby for good. In January, she fled the province with the baby for a few months, eventually coming back to the couple’s Halifax home.
“I lost my last three babies. I didn’t want to lose my nursing infant.”
For the most part, VandenElsen was calm, soft-spoken and clear on the stand as she answered questions and carefully fielded cross-examination from MacKay.
She insisted she won’t run away again if Judge James Burrill lets her out on bail, saying she wants to battle for custody of her baby in the Halifax courts.
“I need to stay and try to get my baby back. I can’t leave without her. She means too much to me,” the thin 41-year-old pleaded, her voice quavering and tears forming behind her glasses.
“I want to try to get justice for my family through the proper legal channels. If I give up now, I might as well give up everything.”
But a note of anger crept into her voice as she described police attempts in May to enforce a court order to seize the five-month-old baby from the home.
“I don’t think they had the grounds to come in like sneaking thieves in the night to take a nursing baby from its mother.”
Burrill is expected to make a decision this morning.
SEIZING OF A CHILD
• Dec. 18, 2003 — Carline VandenElsen’s ex-husband contacts Children’s Aid workers in Stratford, Ont. to say his ex-wife was having a baby and warns that she is mentally unstable.
• Dec. 19, 2003 — A Canada-wide apprehension alert is issued from Ontario for VandenElsen’s unborn baby.
• Dec. 23, 2003 — VandenElsen gives birth in Halifax.
• Jan. 14, 2004 — Nova Scotia Children’s Aid issues a notice for Larry Fink and VandenElsen to appear in Family Court on Jan. 15.
• Jan. 15, 2004 — VandenElsen leaves Halifax and fails to appear at hearing.
• May 19, 2004 — Halifax police knock on the door of 6161 Shirley St.
— Source: Testimony from Carline VandenElsen during her bail hearing