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December 8, 2001

Unsupervised access for triplets' mother

Cleared in abduction: Stratford woman also found in contempt of court

Michael Higgins
National Post, with files from The Canadian Press

A mother cleared of abducting her eight-year-old triplets yesterday won limited unsupervised access to her children but was also found in contempt of court.

Carline Vandenelsen, 39, will be sentenced for the contempt next Friday after putting her finger in her mouth and "popping" it while a judge was giving various rulings yesterday.

However, Ontario Superior Court Justice John DeSotti then went on to grant Ms. Vandenelsen unsupervised access to her children every other weekend and five days at Christmas.

The judge, who will revisit the access issue in February, also ruled Ms. Vandenelsen can stop paying child support.

Judge DeSotti ordered Ms. Vandenelsen and her ex-husband, Craig Merkley, to stop denigrating each other in public.

Last night Mr. Merkley's wife, Jan, said her husband was "disappointed" with the rulings, but did not want to comment further.

In October, Ms. Vandenelsen, of Stratford, Ont., was acquitted of parental abduction charges by reason of necessity.

The former high school teacher admitted smuggling her children, Peter, Gray and Olivia, into Mexico but said she acted because she feared losing access to them.

"I acted in the best interests of my children. The circumstances were such that I had to act in this way and no other way," she said later.

Mr. Merkley, 45, said after the decision that it had killed his faith in the justice system.

"I think they have just declared open season for anyone who wants to abduct their children. It sets an absolutely incredible precedent," he said.

The province has launched an appeal, arguing that the jury was not properly instructed.

Ms. Vandenelsen already faces a contempt of court charge over taking the children to Mexico but that will be dealt with after the criminal process has ended.

In June, the same judge granted Ms. Vandenelsen two supervised visits to her triplets while she was on bail awaiting trial on the abduction charges.

Although he said he had "grave concerns", Judge DeSotti said it would not be in the best interests of the children to keep them from their mother.

Ms. Vandenelsen stormed out of the courtroom before the judge finished reading his decision.

Last night, Ms. Vandenelsen declined to comment on the case.

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