Lisa Kirkman and her daughter, Mia, hope their son and brother, Noah, will soon be returned to their Calgary home.
Calgary-born Noah Kirkman, 11, has been shuffled around four U.S. foster homes, renamed Beaner, and forbidden to practise his Jewish faith. And ever since he was “abducted” 18 months ago, Lisa Kirkman has been desperately fighting Oregon officials to get her son back home.
“They took my son. They have no right to take him,” the distraught mother says of the Oregon courts and foster-care system. “The Canadian government is going to have to get involved.”
The bizarre twist of events began in September 2008, when Oregon police picked up Noah for riding a bike without a helmet while visiting his stepfather, John Kirkman. Authorities discovered Noah has a history with social services in Canada because he has severe attention deficit disorder, and an Oregon family court gave the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) custody of the boy, who in turn was placed in foster care. According to the mother, the court disregards Noah’s relationship with his American stepfather, who never legally adopted the boy but has regular supervised visits in Oregon with his stepson.
To get Noah back, Lisa was ordered by family court to undergo a slew of psychiatric evaluations, home studies, parenting classes and assessments — all of which she has since passed, prompting Calgary Child and Family Services to close her file. And now, DHS is demanding that the mother participate in private therapy sessions, which could cost as much as $20,000.
Meanwhile, a confused Noah wants to be with his family, not his current foster parents who have nicknamed him Beaner, a derogatory label given to Mexican descendents. Noah, who is of Jewish and Native descent, is restricted to supervised visits with his mother.
When Lisa turned to the Canadian government in Ottawa for help, she was told to continue working with a lawyer. “The only person who can advocate for your rights is your lawyer,” Foreign Affairs wrote to Lisa last September, suggesting that she review the federal government publication, “International Child Abductions, A Manual for Parents.” They also assured the mother that her son was in “a safe environment” in Oregon.
When Lisa reminded Foreign Affairs that because her son is a Canadian citizen, he is being held illegally, Ottawa suggested that she contact her member of parliament, Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson, “as this would be a political decision which would fall outside the scope of our consular policy with regard to such cases.”
But when Lisa contacted Richardson’s office, she was told that “the Canadian government cannot get involved” until the Oregon court order is rescinded.
However, international law would supersede state law, says Lisa, who has hired an expert mediator in international child abduction to plead the case. Under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the kidnapping of minors in foreign countries — by a relative, stranger or government — requires governments to hand over children to their “habitual residence.” In Noah’s case this means Calgary, not Oregon, says the expert, Mary Damianakis.
“The courts do not decide who is the best parent or a better parent; the courts’ job is to decide the jurisdiction,” she says.
Desperate parents often seek help from bureaucrats, politicians and social workers who are ill-informed about this subject, says Damianakis. “I don’t think we have people in government who have the necessary tools to help the parents,” says Damianakis. “That’s the sad part of it.”
Perhaps complicating matters is Lisa’s criminal record for growing marijuana, which she says was medical marijuana for her husband, who has been diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, an autoimmune disease. While living in Montreal and editing a pro-marijuana magazine, Lisa decided to move Noah back to Calgary so that he could attend a special-needs school. Noah was visiting his stepfather in Oregon while his mother got things in order for the family to move from Montreal to Calgary.
Lisa believes the Oregon judge who presides over all juvenile delinquency and dependency cases in Lane County, where Noah now lives, has made biased judgments about her competency as a mother.
“He has said flat out in court that he thinks I abandoned my son in the States to avail myself to their resources because I couldn’t get resources in Canada,” she says. “He also said ‘I don’t care if you successfully complete absolutely everything in the court order, it’s not a checklist. I’ll decide if Noah goes home.’ ”
Through his assistant, Judge Leonard told Fast Forward Weekly it would be “unethical” for him to comment on the case.
John, who is still married to Lisa, says the situation is bizarre. “Noah has no status here,” he said from Oregon. “He is considered an illegal alien under U.S. immigration laws.”
Lisa believes if her son had visited his stepdad in any other country, the family wouldn’t be living this nightmare. “There seems to be this prevailing attitude, ‘Well, if the U.S. does it, then it can’t be wrong. It can’t be illegal.”
She’s baffled as to why the court would apprehend only Noah — not his younger sister, Mia, an American citizen who is the daughter of Noah’s stepfather. She was staying with her father during the summer of 2008, when the incident started, and is now living in Calgary with her mother.
Lisa ultimately believes that court and foster-family officials think she neglected her son by dumping him with his stepfather. “They basically made it to sound like I sent my son down to the U.S. with no family there, that he was staying with a hobo,” she says. “If I can’t get my son back, they are going to adopt him out to strangers.”