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Wednesday, October 27, 1999B.C. father wins help of British court in hunt for daughters
Girls kidnapped by former wife
The last time Gary Christopherson saw his two daughters was 18 months ago when he dropped them off at school near his home in Comox, B.C.
Gary Christopherson's daughters: He has spent life savings on search.
It was a Friday morning and his former wife, Marcelle Durville, was supposed to pick the children up after school and return them to him on Sunday evening. "The last thing my eldest daughter said to me was 'See you on Sunday, Daddy,'" Mr. Christopherson, 49, recalled yesterday.
The daughters did not show up. Instead, Ms. Durville took them to Europe even though their father has custody and there is a British Columbia Supreme Court order forbidding either parent from taking the girls outside the province without the other's consent.
Arrest warrants were issued in Canada, Europe and by Interpol. Last year British police, using phone records, tracked Ms. Durville to a village in Holland. Two Dutch courts ordered her to turn over the children. But she fled again.
Mr. Christopherson, who has spent his life savings on the search, believes they are now in Britain. Yesterday, Britain's High Court issued a rare publicity order and appealed for help in finding the children. British police have also been put on a special alert.
"This was given basically as a last resort in order to find the children," Mr. Christopherson said yesterday from London.
His custody battle with Ms. Durville, 49, has been long and bitter. It has included false allegations of sexual abuse against him, a contempt charge against her and a ruling by one judge that said Ms. Durville's behaviour has psychologically damaged one of the girls.
Ms. Durville has "lost sight of the children's interests due to her hostility toward Mr. Christopherson," one judge said.
The saga began in 1984, when Mr. Christopherson met Ms. Durville on a trip to Wales. At the time, Ms. Durville, who is from Holland, had been recently divorced from a wealthy man and worked as a riding instructor. The two married in 1986 and moved to Grimshaw, Alta., where Mr. Christopherson was running a cable company. The business struggled and Ms. Durville soon grew frustrated at Mr. Christopherson's inability to afford the lifestyle she had enjoyed in Wales, court documents show.
Ms. Durville wanted to move to B.C. and in October, 1986, she bought a house on Denman Island. The next year, the two adopted a baby girl, Ellen, from a neighbour in B.C. who suffered multiple sclerosis and later died. Mr. Christopherson commuted to B.C. from Alberta every few weeks.
Ms. Durville remained unhappy and the two separated in 1989. She won custody of Ellen and monthly support payments.
The two squabbled over the separation and then discovered that Ms. Durville was pregnant. In July, 1989, she left for Holland without telling Mr. Christopherson. He was later told by a mutual friend that his second daughter, Kirsten, had been born in Holland.
Ms. Durville returned to B.C. in 1990 and tried to reconcile with Mr. Christopherson, who had moved to Comox, where he worked as a property manager. The attempt failed and at one point, Ms. Durville told her daughters repeatedly "Daddy doesn't love you," according to court documents. Mr. Christopherson was rarely allowed to see his children.
Mr. Christopherson's visitation rights were increased in 1991 and, within weeks, Ms. Durville launched a string of allegations of sexual abuse involving the children. In 1993, a judge threw out the allegations but allowed Ms. Durville to keep custody with generous visitation for Mr. Christopherson. Ms. Durville also acknowledged the claims were false.
In 1995, the couple went to court again after Ms. Durville reported new sexual abuse allegations.
They were dismissed. "The case against [Mr. Christopherson] can only be described as flimsy at best and while it may not be a deliberate fabrication, it is the product of Ms. Durville's hostility and suspicion," the court ruled.
The judge awarded custody to Mr. Christopherson, saying Ms. Durville's conduct was harming the girls. She was given visitation rights and moved to a small town near Comox. For months, Mr. Christopherson thought the relationship was improving.
By Feb. 27, 1998, the day of the kidnapping, Ms. Durville and her new husband, John Showler, had already arranged to sell their possessions. Then she took the girls aside and, according to court documents, told them: "John and I are moving to the Netherlands and you have one hour to decide if you are coming. If not you'll never see me again."
Mr. Christopherson says he will not give up looking for his daughters even though he is so broke he now commutes by bicycle because he cannot afford a car. "It's extremely stressful," he said. "But my way of coping with the anxiety and the loss is to do something. If I did nothing I would succumb to the despair of it all."
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