Fight for baby Liam

Saskatchewan father wants to raise the child his ex-girlfriend gave away

Siri Agrell
National Post

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rick Fredrickson and Barb Hesketh-Jones
CREDIT: Richard Marjan, CanWest News Service

Rick Fredrickson and his fiancee, Barb Hesketh-Jones, are seen in Fredrickson's van, which has a heart for each day since his son, Liam, was born. He had yet to be able to meet his son.

The photographs of baby Liam are posted on a Web site, uploaded there by a Saskatchewan woman who has raised the boy since the days after his birth at the request of his biological mother -- who decided she could not care for him herself.

But the site is also where Liam's biological father, Rick Fredrickson, saw him for the first time, after months of trying to win custody of the child that DNA tests prove is his.

"This was my introduction to my son," said Mr. Fredrickson, who has never met the baby in person and found the pictures as a result of Googling the child's caregivers' names.

The Web site is simply one facet of a bizarre and complex custody battle in Saskatchewan, which pits Mr. Fredrickson and the rights of a father against the couple given custody of the baby by his former girlfriend, and who claim he was nothing more than a "sperm donor."

On Nov. 13, a pre-trial will begin in a Saskatoon court to establish who will win the right to raise Liam, who is now almost six months old, but the dispute has already escalated into a public -- and intensely personal -- battle.

And although Mr. Fredrickson has never met his son, the custodial parents have inquired through their lawyer as to whether he is interested in making child support payments.

"It's entirely common situation where the father admits paternity and does not have custody that he's got an obligation to pay child support," said Dale Blenner-Hassert, a lawyer representing the Rollers. "It's not about to whom it goes, but that it's for the support of the child."

Mr. Fredrickson, however, says he has no plans to send money to "a third party when I have been saying all along that I want to bring him up myself."

Liam was born on April 26, 2006, at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.

His mother, Oriole Bird, had been in a relationship with Mr. Fredrickson that had ended the previous November. She had never told him she was expecting a baby.

Instead, she arranged a custody and guardianship agreement with Brian Roller and his wife, Nicola Sherwin-Roller, a married couple she knew who live in nearby Prince Albert, Sask., and who are unable to have children of their own.

The custody arrangement, which legal experts say is a precursor to formal adoption, awarded them the right to raise Liam as their own, collect the federal child tax credit and even apply to change his last name to their own.

The agreement was dated April 27, 2006, the day after Liam's birth. It stated that "the biological father of the child is not known."

But court documents show that Ms. Bird did know who the father was, and that on April 23, Mr. Fredrickson had found out as well, through a phone call from her stepbrother.

After that call, Mr. Fredrickson says -- in interviews and sworn affidavits -- he did everything possible to establish his involvement in the child's life.

He tried to make contact with Ms. Bird, but she would not take his calls, and so he communicated to her family that he and his new fiancee were willing to raise the baby.

Then, Mr. Fredrickson says he began contacting social service agencies, trying to determine his legal rights and how to establish the baby's paternity.

He was told red flags would be raised and that after the baby was born, authorities would intervene.

But Mr. Fredrickson was not notified of Liam's birth, and found out only weeks later that the baby had gone home with another family.

The agencies he had contacted earlier now told him the matter was a custody dispute and outside their jurisdiction. They advised him to get a lawyer and a DNA test.

Mr. Fredrickson did both, and when the paternity test came back, he was both a new father and a newly minted father's rights advocate.

But soon things became even more complicated.

Dorothy Bird, Oriole's mother, told him she believed her other daughter, a family services director for a native band, had surreptitiously arranged for her friends, the Rollers, to take custody of the baby.

Mr. Fredrickson began to suspect that money had changed hands, a claim he says is supported by the new car his unemployed former girlfriend bought shortly after giving birth.

He has taken that story to the news media and related it in an interview with the RCMP, who were asked by the Canadian Children's Rights Council, a father's advocacy group, to investigate a possible "illegal adoption."

Reached at his Prince Albert home, Mr. Roller said he would not respond to "lies and bulls---" and said Mr. Fredrickson's biological role in Liam's birth "is the only true thing" in the case he has brought forward.

Mr. Blenner-Hassert said claims of illegal activity by his clients are "entirely false."

"No money, no backroom deal," he said. "It was simply a private custody agreement between two parties."

But his clients are also firing back with allegations of their own.

In an affidavit sworn by Nicola Sherwin-Roller, she alleges Mr. Fredrickson was once charged with "communicating with another person for the purpose of engaging in prostitution with an underage individual."

"I am very concerned that the Petitioner is but the provider of the sperm that produced Liam and is nothing more to him," she stated. "Further, I am concerned that the Petitioner is not a safe and trustworthy individual."

Mark Vanstone, Mr. Fredrickson's lawyer, said his client -- "like a lot of people" -- was once charged with a criminal act, but that he maintains his innocence and was never convicted.

"How they got that information is another source of interest for us," he said.

The personal attacks have added to already complicated court proceedings and tense communications between both sides.

On Oct. 4, a judge ordered that Mr. Fredrickson would be given one hour a week to visit with his son. But when the day of the first visit arrived, Mr. Fredrickson claims the Rollers cancelled, saying the timing was "inconvenient."

Three weeks after the access order was given, he has still only seen his baby via the Internet -- photographs located on a genealogy Web site.

Mr. Vanstone is confident his client will get his wish in the long run.

"It's a case about whether the child has a right to be with his natural parent or not," he said. "And I think there is precedent under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child putting some kind of premium on that relationship."

But Mr. Blenner-Hassert said biology is not a trump card under Canadian family law.

"At best, he's got some access rights," he said. "The test is: What's in the best interest of the child?"

Leslie Belloc-Pinder, a family lawyer and sessional instructor at the University of Saskatchewan, agrees.

Arguing that it is in the best interest to leave a child with a foster parent, guardian or even a social services agency has defeated the claims of biological parents before, she said, in decisions made all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

And the fact that Liam has been raised by the Rollers since birth will work in their favour, she added, as few courts support removing a child from a happy home.

"The amount of time this child has spent with the family is relevant," she said. "I know the dad's point of view is that only happened because he didn't know what was going on, but time is not on his side."

Source: National Post

Father gets support in paternity rights fight

Amanda Knoss, The StarPhoenix

Published: Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The international advocacy group Fathers 4 Justice wants Premier Lorne Calvert to resign because has not addressed Rick Fredrickson nor Fredrickson's paternity rights cause.

Dressed in a brightly coloured blue and red superhero outfit, Fathers 4 Justice board member Kris Titus read a statement at a small press conference Tuesday in front of Calvert's constituency office on 22nd Street West.

She was joined by a small gathering of Fredrickson's friends and family, including Fredrickson's fiancee, Barb Hesketh-Jones, and his brother, Darren Fredrickson. A couple of supporters held up a bright banner emblazoned with the words "Fight For Our Children" and "Truth Equality Justice." Titus is from Orono, Ont., and is in Saskatoon to lend support to Fredrickson and his case.

"This tragedy is shared by us all," Titus said.

The results of a DNA test showed Fredrickson is the father of five-month old Liam Edward. The baby has been in the custody of a Prince Albert woman, Nicola Sherwin-Roller, and her husband since Fredrickson's ex-girlfriend, who does not want to raise the child, gave birth to him in a Saskatoon hospital in late April. By that time, Fredrickson had been informed of the pregnancy and had been saying he wanted to be a father to the baby.

A DNA test proved his paternity in July, and the resulting custody battle is awaiting trial. Meanwhile, the Rollers are seeking child support.

A pretrial hearing has been set for Nov. 17, but a hearing on a publication ban request will be held with both families today at 10 a.m.

Mark Vanstone, Fredrickson's lawyer, will be issuing a statement after the hearing.

Titus is enthused Fredrickson is sticking with his struggle.

"This is about much more than just one family in Saskatoon," she said.

In calling for the resignation of Calvert, Titus said she wants to see a representative for the province who will take the issue of biological paternal rights more seriously.

Fathers 4 Justice believes both biological parents should have equal rights to a child.

Jay Branch, a spokesperson for Calvert, said it would be inappropriate for the premier or any member of government to get involved in a custody matter.

Titus expects the case to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"The family is a pivotal part of our society," Titus said. "If our government won't step up to protect this issue, who will?"

Source: StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
archived by Darla McKinstry

In articles not copied here, the court ordered the father Rick Fredrickson to pay child support to the adoptive family, and banned publication of his name in Saskatchewan, though it had already been published in the articles above.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dad loses custody fight

Baby stays with adoptive parents, court rules

Darren Bernhardt, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The biological dad in an emotional custody battle for an eight-month-old boy has lost his case and his visitation rights have been suspended for one year.

The decision by Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, released Monday morning, found the dad “capable of providing a positive adult presence in the baby’s life, but not in a parental role.”

While blood ties are one factor, they don’t trump the paramount consideration of the child’s best interests and which environment best provides for all the child’s needs, Justice R.S. (Shawn) Smith ruled in his 35-page decision.

“The court must also consider the uncertainties associated with transferring a child from a known situation of security and stability to a situation with many unknowns. In the case of an infant, the court must consider the potential harm to a child in disrupting attachments have developed or are almost formed.”

As such, access to the child by the biological dad is being temporarily prohibited to allow a period of “familial calm” to facilitate bonding and attachment with the custodial parents.

Source: Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Note: The full decision of the Saskatchewan court (pdf) is online.

Addendum: Here is a photo of Liam, obtained on February 25, 2007 from a sympathetic supporter who is safest remaining anonymous.

Liam Fredrickson

City man to appeal custody decision

The StarPhoenix

Published: Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Saskatoon man who lost his custody battle with a Prince Albert couple over his biological son is appealing the decision.

A Saskatchewan judge ruled last month that the Prince Albert couple has the right to raise the nine-month-old boy and the biological father cannot see his son for one year. In the ruling, the judge said the father is "capable of providing a positive adult presence in the baby's life, but not in a parental role." The father said he's hired Reginabased lawyer Brad Hunter for the appeal case.

The father ended a relationship with the baby's mother and was unaware of the pregnancy until days before the baby's birth. In a document giving the Prince Albert couple guardianship, the mother stated the identity of the biological father was unknown.

Since the birth, the baby has been raised by the Prince Albert couple.

Source: StarPhoenix

The text of the appeal is online.

Father in custody battle dies in crash

Michelle Martin, The StarPhoenix, Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A 35-year-old Saskatoon father at the centre of a nationally publicized custody dispute has been killed in a head-on collision with an allegedly drunk driver headed the wrong way down a divided highway.

The man, who did not know he was a father until shortly before his son's birth, pursued custody of the boy, known as "Baby Ian" and now 16 months of age, after he was given up for adoption.

Shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday, RCMP were called about a vehicle headed southbound in a northbound lane of Highway 11 near Dundurn. Moments later, they were notified of a crash in the northbound lanes at the turnoff to the Dundurn military base.

They found the 35-year-old man dead at the scene. Passengers in the Pontiac Sunfire, which included a 43-year-old woman, an 82-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman, were also injured.

A 40-year-old Regina man, who had been driving the southbound GMC pickup and accompanying trailer, was not seriously hurt. He has been charged with refusing to provide a breath sample, impaired driving causing death, three counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing death and three counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. The man is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 2 in Hanley.

The family of the deceased declined to comment at this time.

The deceased has been identified as the man who had been fighting a court battle over the custody of his son. The boy's mother had not informed him of her pregnancy and made adoption arrangements without his input.

While the names of those involved in the court battle were initially published, a later publication ban of those names was ordered by the court.

The father only found out about her pregnancy a few weeks before she gave birth at a Saskatoon hospital in April 2006. Immediately after birth, the baby -- given the psuedonym "Baby Ian" by the courts -- went into the custody of his adoptive family in Prince Albert. After taking a DNA test three months later, the baby's father began fighting for custody of his son and in October that year, he and his then-fiancee were granted weekly one-hour visits at a Prince Albert child centre.

In June, an Appeal Court judge granted him one-hour visits with his son every second week, which overruled a January court decision that barred him from seeing the boy in order to give the child a period of "familial calm."

At the time of the latest decision, the man told The StarPhoenix he was "very excited" about being granted the visitation rights. It was also reported that he was in the process of appealing the entire decision that granted full custody to the Prince Albert couple.

Source: Saskatoon StarPhoenix