Calgary Herald

Wednesday 10 January 2001

Boy, 14, protests custody battle

Hunger strike reaches Day 9

Daryl Slade
Calgary Herald

Marianne Helm, Calgary Herald / Fasting for a Quick Resolution: Clayton Giles, protests outside of the Court of Queen's Bench with his father, Eric Giles, Tuesday.

Clayton Giles just wants the court to listen to him. The 14-year-old Calgary boy, protesting what he believes is slow action in resolving his custody situation, spent several hours on the ninth day of a hunger strike Tuesday demonstrating in front of Court of Queen's Bench to get his message across.

"I feel this is the only way they'll pay attention to me," said Giles, as he carried a sign that read QB Judges Victimize Children on one side and Hunger Strike Day 9 on the other.

"They (courts) should quit treating kids like a piece of property," he added. "Kids may not be able to explain what they want, but they know what they want."

He also was handing out a two-page letter to passers-by and has set up a web site on the Internet that has already drawn international attention to his situation.

Although his mother, Marnie Harrison, has full legal custody, today marks the first anniversary of the day he moved in with his father, Eric Giles, and she has rarely seen or had contact with him during that time.

The father and son made an application last March 6 to have custody rights transferred, but are frustrated the issue has not been settled. It was back in court for a case management hearing Tuesday before Justice Sal Lovecchio, but was adjourned when the teen and his father remained outside.

Both said they want the assigned judge to be replaced because the case is not progressing as quickly as they'd like.

Clayton's parents divorced 10 years ago and there has been an ongoing feud over custody ever since.

He said he prefers to live with his father because he enjoys himself there more and "he lets me be me." He also does not like his mother's household rules.

Harrison, who attended the scheduled hearing, said she loves her son from the bottom of her heart and would love to have him back, but respects his wishes. She also denied her son's and ex-husband's allegations that she was stalling the proceedings.

"I believe the saying 'If you love someone, let them go; if they love you, they'll come back.' I can't force him and I wouldn't want to. I have respect for him as a person," she said.

"I feel the court order should reflect reality: Clayton is under the day-to-day care of his father. The potential was there today for custody to be granted to Eric, but he missed that opportunity."

Harrison, who noted the father was once denied access for three years -- a rare court order -- also questions why a parent would permit and encourage a child under his or her care to go on a hunger strike.

But Eric Giles, who spent the lunch hour accompanying his son, said he was "really proud" of him for his action. "It's a difficult situation for him," said the father. "He's upset because his whole life is in limbo.

"He's not here with me because he has been brainwashed. He's very articulate, very intelligent, and has been in this a long time. It's a well-thought-out opinion."

Later, he said he took Clayton to a doctor and the boy was given a clean bill of health.

Clayton has been subsisting on water and low-calorie pop.

Also caught in the middle of the battle is Clayton's 12-year-old sister, who lives with her mother. "I've never known my parents to not be fighting when they're around each other and I know this will probably never happen, but I wish they'd just treat each other nice," she said. "My brother and I fight a lot, so being separated makes me feel good . . . at times I miss him.

"I know my brother won't be on a hunger strike for long, but I'm going over there this weekend and I'll feel wrong eating in front of him. "

The case will not be back in court until early February.

Copyright © 2001 Calgary Herald Group Inc.