Grandmother of P.E.I. boy sent to Alberta still waiting, 6 months after top court ruling

·5 min read
The grandmother of a P.E.I.-born boy at the heart of a recent Supreme Court of Canada custody case holds a photo of him during a recent interview.  (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
The grandmother of a P.E.I.-born boy at the heart of a recent Supreme Court of Canada custody case holds a photo of him during a recent interview. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

A P.E.I. woman whose grandson was taken from her by provincial child protection officials nearly three years ago says she will never give up hope they will be reunited, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ordered.

The Charlottetown woman said she had many sleepless nights after the director of child protection removed the boy in August 2019, and placed him with foster parents who were strangers to him.

Four weeks later, the director sent the boy to Alberta, for a visit with his biological father that was supposed to last for three weeks.

The boy has never come back to P.E.I. — despite a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last December that said it was in his best interest to live with the maternal grandmother who had been his caregiver for most of his life, rather than the father he had met just a few months before his removal.

"This case has been going on for over two and a half years. That's not right. That's not right. This is a little boy's life that's in limbo," said the grandmother.

I brought him up ... since he was a small little baby. They turned me down. That was wrong, very, very wrong. - Boy's maternal grandmother

The Charlottetown woman puts the blame for that limbo on provincial child protection officials.

She says they placed the boy "in three or four different foster homes … after he was apprehended, not allowing the maternal grandmother to take care of the child. After all, I brought him up… since he was a small, little baby.

"They turned me down. That was wrong, very, very wrong."

Wendy McCourt was Prince Edward Island's director of child protection at the time of the events described in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, but has since retired. CBC News tried to reach her for comment about her actions, but she did not return phone calls.

CBC News is not naming the woman, the boy or his father in order to protect the identity of the child.

'It is tough'

Choking back tears, the grandmother told CBC News during an interview at her house that she wants only what is best for her grandson, who is now eight.

She believes that is living with her in Prince Edward Island, a stand that is supported by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

When she spoke to the boy after he was flown to Alberta in 2019, she said, he "would beg me to ask the judge to bring him home.

"He begged. He said, 'Please, Nanna, ask the judge to bring me home.' I said, 'I'll see what I can do,'" the woman said, wiping tears from her eyes.

"It is tough, yes. And I still don't have [him]."

Marriage ended in 2013

The man's ex-wife had not told him she was pregnant when they separated and she moved to Prince Edward Island in 2013.

He found out he had a child only when Child Protection Services in P.E.I. contacted him in early 2019, after the boy's mother experienced worsening mental health and he was removed from her care.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

The Calgary man immediately began preparing to be a father. Among other things, he flew to P.E.I. to meet his son, setting off a series of events that led to court action as the maternal grandmother sought to keep the boy in her care.

After the Supreme Court ruled that the mere fact of being a biological parent should have minimal weight in a custody decision, and not be the decisive factor, the child was supposed to be returned to P.E.I. in March.

That didn't happen.

An Alberta court issued an emergency order that basically put the Supreme Court decision on hold until another hearing could be held.

The reason: The father's lawyer is arguing there has been a "significant material change in circumstances" since the ruling.

'He's attached to Calgary' now

Elise Lavigne, a lawyer with the firm Matkovic Allan in Calgary, says that's because the boy has now developed a strong bond with his father. (CBC News asked to speak with the father about the case, but Lavigne said she would talk on his behalf.)

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"When the little boy was told about the fact he was returning to P.E.I., he had an extremely difficult and traumatic emotional and psychological reaction," said Lavigne, adding it took over an hour to get the child under control.

'He was terrified that he would lose his father, who he had developed a really strong bond with.' - Elise Lavigne, lawyer for boy's father

"He was terrified that he would lose his father, who he had developed a really strong bond with."

The father is now waiting for another court hearing, which will be in P.E.I.

"What's really important in all of this is that we not lose sight of what this is all about: a little boy who's been with his father and his paternal grandparents and who's built a relationship for almost three years now," Lavigne said.

"He's attached to Calgary. He has friends in Calgary."

'We will be together,' grandmother vows

During the next court hearing, a lawyer will be appointed to represent the boy so that the boy's wishes can be considered when the case goes before the courts again.

His grandmother said she won't stop fighting until the boy is back with her in P.E.I.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

She's already going over what she'll say to him when he returns.

"I'd tell him I love him. And I miss him. And everything is going to be OK. And it is," she said.

"We will be together."

TOMORROW: What the Prince Edward Island child and youth advocate has to say about the case. 

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