Vancouver Province

Friday, September 28, 2001

Mom's custody wait nearly over

Supreme Court rules today on her battle with son's dad, former Grizzlies basketball star Blue Edwards

Andy Ivens
The Province

The Province
Kimberly Van De Perre playing with Elijah yesterday.

Kimberly Van De Perre is remarkably calm in the few remaining hours before her life will change forever.

The phone in her lawyer's Vancouver office will ring today at about 6:45 and an Ottawa agent will tell her whether she is or isn't her son Elijah's principal parent.

She has faith that the nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada will reverse a decision that gave custody of four-year-oldElijah to his father, former Grizzlies basketball star Blue Edwards, and his wife, Valerie.

"I've handed it over to God," said Van De Perre in an exclusive interview with The Province. "I have faith that I'm a good person and I've done things as right as I could or as right as I knew how.

"I don't think He is going to let me down."

Three years of court battles over Elijah's custody and welfare end this morning.

For the last year, terms of an interim court order have compelled the little boy to climb on an airplane every three weeks and jet between Vancouver and Charlotte.

"He knows it's going to be over soon," says the 27-year-old former Miss PNE. "He's tired of it and he's looking forward to it being over."

RACE ISSUES

Van De Perre won the first round at trial. But the B.C. Court of Appeal flipped that ruling in favour of the Edwardses, with one judge citing race as an issue.

Edwards is black; Van De Perre is white.

Justice Mary Newbury concluded Elijah will be seen by the world as a black person and that he would be better off growing up in North Carolina because of the large number of blacks living there.

Edwards, a multi-millionaire, has retired from professional basketball and now lives with his wife and their twin daughters in a swanky quarter of Charlotte, N.C. where black families are rare.

"I've been really frustrated about what [Justice Newbury] said for a long time," said Van De Perre. "To think that a mixed child would be better off in North Carolina than in Vancouver is absurd."

Van De Perre's best friend, who is part black and part white, recently returned from Georgia -- North Carolina's neighbour to the south -- and reported feeling shunned by both blacks and whites.

"In Georgia, they just re-segregated [public] schools," said Van De Perre. "I would never deny there is racism in Vancouver. It's everywhere," she added.

"But how can racism really survive in a place like Vancouver, where there are so many races and such an amalgamation of people of different races and backgrounds and religious beliefs?

"Vancouver is like the ultimate melting pot."

Van De Perre's friend told her a tale of two grocery stores, one in the black side of town and the other in the white side.

At both stores, the mixed-race woman was snubbed and asked what she was doing in the store.

"They called her 'high yellow,' which is a common name for a mixed-race person in that part of town. Elijah came home telling me he was yellow, also."

Referring to racism in North Carolina, Van De Perre asks, "Where exactly do you fit in in a society like that? That would be what they would be exposing Elijah to.

"Not to mention that the neighbourhood the Edwardses live in is a gated community. It's my understanding that they're the only black family that lives there.

"So, it's certainly not bringing him into a black culture, other than in their home."

Understandably, she has had her fill of the race issue.

"I think it's all very irrelevant. What the courts should be looking at is: Where's the best place for this child to be nurtured. Where is the love? Where is the consistency? Where is there less animosity for the other parent?"

And she is angry that her son has had race shoved at him.

"It's not going to be easy for him to understand that he's from a white mother and a black father. He's far too tender to have to deal with any of this yet. It's totally unnecessary."

Van De Perre is pleased that Elijah's best friend, the grandson of his regular babysitter, has the same racial mix.

"He [the friend] is just turning four and they are inseparable. People think they're brothers.

"I'm really glad he has some other kid he can grow up with and they can learn together what it means to be a bi-racial boy in Vancouver."

HER SAVIOUR

Van De Perre, who works in the hotel industry, is hopeful now. But before the trial she was desperate.

With no money to pay her former lawyer, she had only a month to find someone who would take on her case.

She called 51 lawyers' offices and got 51 rejections.

"A lot of the answers were, 'You just don't have the money' or 'It just can't be won.'

"No one had any faith in the case."

A week before the trial began, she turned to a higher power.

"That night I got on my knees and held Elijah over my head. He was one year old.

"I physically held him over my head and said, 'God, I need you to tell me what to do with your child. This is your child. You trusted me with his little life and I don't know what to do, so I'm going to hand everything over to you.'

"The very next morning, Steven Mansfield called me and said, 'I've heard about your case.'

"Within a day he said, 'We can win this.'

"I said 'I have no money. Everyone else says I'm going to lose Why are you doing this?'

"His answer was, 'They didn't give me this degree on the wall to make lots of money. They gave me this degree to help people, and you and your son need my help.'

"I've never been so grateful for a person coming into my life as Steven."

CHANGE OF HEART

Her odyssey has brought about change in the happy-go-lucky party girl. "Having my son has changed me -- and all for the better," she says. "Since his birth I've become more centred. I've stumbled through and finally figured out what's important.

"I avoid the nightclubs I used to go to. Before I had a child, I would sort of befriend whoever came along, because if somebody was going to get hurt, it was just me.

"Now, it's one thing to break my heart, it's another thing to hurt my son.

© Copyright 2001 The Province