Hid son 17 years, mom freed, Nova Scotia court grants discharge
Friday, January 30, 1998, By Kevin Cox and Sean Fine
BRIDGEWATER, N.S. -- A Nova Scotia woman who abducted her son 17 years ago and fled to Texas to escape a husband she said abused her was given a conditional discharge yesterday at an emotional sentencing hearing.
Gloria Butler hugged her son Jeremy in court in Bridgewater after Mr. Justice Hiram Carver of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court handed down what is believed to be the first discharge for child abduction in Canada.
The judge ruled that Ms. Butler be placed on one year's probation, do 240 hours community service and donate a total of $5,000 to two charities that support or protect children.
The ruling brought an end to a saga that began Aug. 24, 1980. Ms. Butler, then 20, picked up two-year-old Jeremy from his father in Mill Cove, N.S., and flew to Santa Fe, Tex.
Her former husband, Christopher Chisholm, had been awarded custody of Jeremy by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and Ms. Butler was allowed visits.
Mr. Chisholm did not see his ex-wife and son for 17 years. Ms. Butler was arrested by FBI agents in Santa Fe last March after an organization that searches for missing children found Jeremy.
In November, a jury found Ms. Butler guilty of child abduction, despite arguments by her lawyer, Anne Derrick, that she was a battered woman who saw fleeing to the United States as the only way to protect herself and her child.
Crown prosecutor Tony Brown had asked for the maximum sentence of 10 years for Ms. Butler, claiming that her actions had flouted a court order and deprived Mr. Chisholm and Jeremy of a father-son relationship.
"Christopher Chisholm was deprived of his son permanently and irrevocably," he said. "He was not able to take Jeremy to Scouts, he was not able to take Jeremy fishing . . . that is a terrible thing to do to a father."
He said Mr. Chisholm, employed in the Canadian Navy, had spent several thousand dollars and many years searching for his son. In his victim impact statement, Mr. Chisholm said he was traumatized and plagued by nightmares after his son disappeared.
"It [the abduction] altered his life irrevocably and fundamentally," Mr. Brown said. "Whatever we do in this courtroom can never give him his son back."
Father and son met briefly outside the courthouse in November and are planning to get together later this week. Mr. Chisholm, who wrote to Jeremy last March that he had urged the authorities to drop the abduction charge, hurried from the court house last night, saying only that he was happy with the ruling.
Jeremy Chisholm, 19, a welder who came to court sporting a cowboy hat, was the defence's star witness.
He told the judge that his home life in Texas with Ms. Butler and her second husband George Rockers was "great. I had no problems. I think she was the best mother."
He said he regarded Mr. Rockers as his father and said he was an honours student and athlete in high school. He also attained the highest rank in the Scouting movement as an Eagle Scout.
Jeremy Chisholm, who is now a legal resident of the United States and intends to live there, said his mother has always said he was free to meet his natural father and relatives in Nova Scotia.
He also said he and his half-siblings Elijah Rockers, 11, and Caitlin Rockers, 10, were shocked last year when they saw their mother in jail in Galveston, Tex.
"It's pretty difficult to go see your mother in a federal facility. . . . You don't say, 'Today I think I'll go visit mom in jail,' " he said with a Texas drawl, adding that he would console Elijah and Caitlin on the drive home after the prison visits.
In an impassioned address to Judge Carver, Ms. Derrick said that if Ms. Butler were imprisoned she would have a criminal record that would prevent her from travelling to the United States to see her children.
The two children are staying with their mother and grandmother in Boutiliers Point near Halifax. But Ms. Butler said they will go to Texas to be with their father, to whom she is no longer married, after school ends.
Ms. Derrick insisted that the evidence heard in the trial showed Ms. Butler was abused by Christopher Chisholm and believed that fleeing to the United States was her only escape.
"The evidence discloses abuse. She took Jeremy because she believed Jeremy was at risk," Ms. Derrick said.
She said Ms. Butler has no criminal record, had a good work record in the United States, where she lived under a false identity, and had always been a good mother.
"To separate Ms. Butler from her children now would be a cruel and ironic conclusion to this case," she said.
Judge Carver agreed, saying that it would serve little purpose to send Ms. Butler to jail, since she is unlikely to commit the offence again, nor would it help Jeremy establish a relationship with his natural father.
He noted that while Ms. Butler was physically assaulted by Christopher Chisholm, the father had never harmed his son. The judge added that there was no evidence that Ms. Butler took her son away as revenge over the custody arrangement, as is often the case.
According to the RCMP's Missing Children's Registry, nearly 10 times as many children are abducted by their parents as by strangers. Only 45 children were abducted by strangers in Canada in 1996, the last year for which figures are available, compared to 409 children abducted by parents. (That number has changed little over the past several years.)
Abductors tend to be impulsive and anger easily, said Michelle Hébert, the program co-ordinator for Child Find Canada's Nova Scotia branch in Halifax.
"It's usually someone who is hostile and vengeful. Parental abduction is usually an act of revenge. It's seldom an act of love."
The abductors were not usually the child's primary caregiver before the abduction, she said.
Unlike Jeremy Chisholm, who appears to be well-adjusted, many children are harmed psychologically by parent abductions. "These are kids living like fugitives." Ms. Hebert said. "They move frequently, they're discouraged from making friends. Very often they're told the other parent doesn't want them or doesn't love them or is dead."
A U.S. Justice Department study in 1990 found serious emotional harm in 16 per cent of cases, serious physical harm or physical abuse in another 8 per cent, and sexual abuse in another 1 per cent of cases. Another study, from the University of Maryland, put sexual abuse at 7 per cent of cases and physical abuse at 24 per cent. That research,
based on interviews with the children and family members, found that the abductions were done simply out of anger or to cause pain in 80 per cent of the cases.
The Missing Children Society of Canada, one of several Canadian agencies dedicated to tracking children, says it has found 300 abducted children in the past decade, some taken from as far away as Uganda and Morocco.
The organization's first step in dealing with an abduction is to make sure that a missing-person's report is filed with police; it also asks for the latest custody documents (it checks these with court officials); it asks police in both Canada and the United States to enter the cases on police computers in both countries; and it checks that border alerts are issued, and warrants issued for the arrest of the abducting parent. Then it makes contact with the family of the abductor.
If the child is of school age, it contacts those in charge of the child's school records -- if the child is registered at a new school that school may request the records.
The Internet is another valuable tool that carries pictures of missing children.
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