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Saturday, October 02, 1999

Image of caring father fades on inspection
Christie Blatchford
National Post

It's just a lousy solitary line in the mound of paper that documents the bitter end of a marriage, but it speaks to the unimaginable sadness of one little girl's life and perhaps throws some light on the incident that very nearly led to her death.

The line is contained in a 17-page judgment of Master Ronald Barber -- masters are court officials who work on the civil side of the legal system -- dated June 26, 1998, in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Master Barber wrote: "The respondent is also entitled to access to Kaya, but as there was no specific request in this regard, I leave the parties to work out the details of that themselves, with liberty to apply."

The respondent is Kjeld Werbes, a 54-year-old Vancouver lawyer; the other "party" alluded to is Nadia Hama, Mr. Werbes' 39-year-old wife; Kaya is their 18-month-old daughter who on Sept. 22 ended up falling over the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but who miraculously survived the 45-metre plunge, landing on a rocky ledge below, bruised and wailing, but vigorously alive.

Ms. Hama essentially has been vilified ever since.

Little Kaya and the couple's other child, son Jovan, who is almost five, were in her care the day of the fall; Kaya, by witness accounts and photographs given to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was being carried high on her mom's right shoulder, like "a sack of potatoes," moments before she disappeared from sight. Police said, in a search warrant application to raid Ms. Hama's home a couple of days later, that there are reasonable grounds to believe the mother was trying to kill Kaya. Ms. Hama's behaviour -- both immediately after the fall and in the days since -- has been arguably bizarre. The police material claims that she "appeared to be more concerned about her divorce proceedings than the prognosis of her child" and notes she had been "treated for depression"; news stories revealed the marriage to Mr. Werbes was her fifth.

The collective inference is pretty clear: Ms. Hama is either a wacko or an uncaring parent who did a horrible thing.

Mr. Werbes, on the other hand, has emerged as a reasonable, long-suffering figure.

According to the RCMP, it was he Ms. Hama phoned from the bridge right after Kaya fell; it was he who promptly phoned the police to report "his wife had thrown Kaya off the Capilano Bridge"; it is his brother and sister-in-law who are now looking after Kaya and Jovan; it's his first wife who was quoted as describing him as "a wonderful, wonderful father" to their son, and the aforementioned sister-in-law who early on told reporters he had been at Kaya's side in hospital non-stop since the incident while Ms. Hama was nowhere to be seen.

As Mr. Werbes himself said last week, while making a few remarks to reporters, the media has been "very kind in the past" to him.

The collective inference is also clear: Mr. Werbes is a decent, responsible guy who must have briefly got caught up with the wrong woman, but who has been struggling to do the right thing.

As usual, the couple's story is more complex than that, and not painted in such broad strokes.

The B.C. court documents -- kindly sent my way by Beth Marlin, a part-time copy editor at the National Post, editor with the Law Times in Ontario and publisher of the new magazine The Wealthy Boomer, which will come in your Post on Oct. 6 -- reveal a grittier, more shaded tale, and a much less attractive Mr. Werbes.

The couple split up in January of 1998, when Ms. Hama was pregnant with Kaya, who was born in April, and has Down's syndrome, and by the spring of that year, when both parents were first in court on various issues, it was apparent Mr. Werbes had no interest in seeing his baby girl.

He was seeking access -- alternate weekends and a visit one night during the week -- specifically to Jovan, whom he hadn't seen since the breakup, but made no mention of Kaya; thus Master Barber's remark that though the father was "entitled" to access to her, too, he wasn't asking for it.

By January of this year, by which time Mr. Werbes had lost an appeal of Master Barber's rulings on what he should be paying in child and spousal support and Ms. Hama through no fault of her own had lost her government-supplied homemaker services to help her with Kaya, the pair were back in court before Madame Justice Donna Martinson.

Ms. Hama was clearly becoming desperate; she asked the court to order that when Mr. Werbes saw Jovan, he also be required to see Kaya. And so he was. Her Honour wrote: "... it is appropriate for me to make an order. Ms. Hama is entitled to some respite from the care of the children. In my view it is appropriate for Mr. Werbes to have access to the children at the same time. I therefore order that access for Kaya will be on the same terms, and at the same times, as Jovan."

The judge also noted that he had "not complied with the spousal support order," that he had ignored earlier court orders on other matters (on the sale of a Ferrari; on giving Ms. Hama access to their condo in Whistler; on how he could dispose of certain monies from investments), and concluded, "What he [Mr. Werbes] is not entitled to do is ignore orders of the court and yet continue to apply to the court to change those orders until he obtains a result in his favour."

In June of this year, Judge Martinson found Mr. Werbes guilty of contempt of court, agreeing, in essence, with Ms. Hama, who "thinks that Mr. Werbes, in spite of the fact that he is a lawyer, only follows those court orders with which he agrees and ignores others. She has responsibility for their two children and yet has had to 'fight' every step of the way even though she has received favorable results in court. The consequences of not receiving what she was entitled to and the constant appearances in court have been financially and emotionally draining."

The more complete portrait of Mr. Werbes revealed by these documents is of a resentful parent who, though he had been involved with Ms. Hama since 1989, persistently belittled their 14-month marriage as "short," and an arrogant lawyer who did end runs around rulings and was contemptuous of a court that felt it had had to order him to see his little girl.

Ms. Hama allegedly may not have wanted Kaya that day on the bridge, but it appears that long before then, her daddy didn't want any part of her, either.

Copyright Southam Inc.