National Post

Tuesday, February 16, 1999

3-year-old aboriginal boy caught in legal tug-of-war
Bitter custody fight has vast implications for adopted Indians

Janice Tibbetts
Southam News

The case of a three-year-old aboriginal boy at the centre of a tug-of-war between his white adoptive family and his natural family will come before the Supreme Court of Canada tomorrow in a legal test of whether blood ties should take preference over adoptive ones.

Ishmael Haimerl's mother, Melissa Haimerl, has given up custody of the boy, but wants him to be raised by his natural grandfather, Hubert Morrisseau, who has been on welfare for almost a decade and lives with his common-law wife and their young daughter. Mr. Morrisseau recently moved from Vancouver to his original Ojibway reserve north of Winnipeg with Ishmael, whom he has taken care of for the past two years.

The boy's adoptive parents, Nancy and Duncan Haimerl, contend the child, whom they raised for his first eight months, would be better off growing up on their sprawling farm in rural Connecticut. The Haimerls are also the adoptive parents of the boy's mother.

The case has raised an issue that has troubled politicians and aboriginal communities since a government policy that once placed an estimated 15,000 aboriginal children in non-native homes in hopes of giving them a more privileged upbringing. The practice, which continued between the 1960s and the 1980s, was known as the Sixties Scoop.

"What we're seeing here is the fallout from what happened," said Derrick Daniels, lawyer for Ishmael's mother.

Ms. Haimerl, an Ojibway from Swan Lake, Man., was a child of the "Scoop," and she contends she had a troubled early life.

"You have a deeply troubled family on the one side and a very normal one on the other," said Julius Grey, lawyer for the Haimerls.

If the Supreme Court sides with the natural family, it would be a vote for "excessive multiculturalism rooted in a regrettable form of political correctness," said Mr. Grey's court submission.

The Haimerls are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a 1998 decision by the B.C. Court of Appeal that awarded custody to Mr. Morrisseau, in keeping with a recent legislative trend to keep native children in native families.

"Whether success will be attained or enhanced by this sort of initiative, only future experience can demonstrate, but it seems to me that the courts ought to show deference to the legislative initiatives in this area," said the decision.

"To me, the ties of blood and the legislative trend tip the scales in favour of [Morrisseau]."

The court also noted that, in spite of the Haimerls' good intentions, they had difficulty raising their two adopted daughters, who spent years in foster care before they were adopted in 1980 in Montreal. The family moved to Connecticut the next year.

Melissa Haimerl, who was born in 1976, spent time in a home for troubled children during her teen years. When Ishmael was born in March, 1995, she took the baby home to the Haimerls, and then often disappeared for weeks at a time, leaving the child with them. Around the same time, she found her biological parents, who were living separately in Vancouver.

The Court of Appeal ruling overturned an earlier decision from the B.C. Supreme Court, that ruled the Haimerls offered a superior parenting and family environment to Mr. Morrisseau.

Melissa Haimerl's relationship with her adoptive parents, however, has fallen apart, a factor that the Court of Appeal took into account.

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