Courts deport First Nation child to Caribbean.
HENVEY INLET FIRST NATION, Ont.
Nathan McQuabbie's home used to be filled with a child's chatter and giggles during weekend visits with his daughter. Now, there's silence. His daughter, Makyla, who is almost three years old, has been deported with her mother to St. Lucia.
The story is both complicated and messy.
The deportation order came down April 16. The mother, a 29-year-old failed refugee claimant, had custody of Makyla. McQuabbie, 26, had visitation rights under a temporary order. But, despite that, the young girl had been staying with him since mid-December, with little or no contact from her mom.
His daughter had been staying with him because mom had lost a spot at a Parry Sound daycare and needed his help so she could continue to work. At the time, in December last year, McQuabbie was unemployed. He soon found work so he could care for his little girl.
McQuabbie says during Makyla's four-month stay with him at the home he shared with his grandmother on Henvey Inlet First Nation, "Nothing was changed with the temporary order."
Even though McQuabbie improved his life for his daughter, the details revealed in court during custody hearings, that fact didn't carry a lot of weight.
"[The judge] recognized the fact that my relation with Makyla was improving, as was my situation with a stable home and income."
Not only did the child have a stable environment in which to live, Makyla had a whole community surrounding her, rich in family and culture. As a Status Indian under the Indian Act, the child was eligible for health, dental and education benefits.
Even though Makyla's First Nation citizenry was brought up in court, the Chief of Henvey Inlet First Nation, Wayne McQuabbie, feels "It almost seemed to be ignored," he said.
McQuabbie is afraid Makyla's good start will now be lost. According to him, the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia is rife with poverty.
"It's worse than any kind of Third World conditions on any First Nation in this country."
An Internet search reveals St. Lucia as a tourist destination with a warm tropical climate and advertised as a romantic getaway. With more digging, underneath the romantic veneer, a Unicef report from four years ago states that more than half the children in St. Lucia are 'at risk' and points to poverty as being the main factor. And according to the Central Intelligence Agency's world fact book, 14 years old is the average age when children leave school.
Chief McQuabbie agrees the country is not a good place for the young girl to be raised.
"The poverty level in St. Lucia is very high. And if the child would have remained with the First Nation, she would have had access to health, education and cultural values. Our way of life would have been instilled in that child."
"Now I'm afraid those opportunities for that child aren't there," adds the chief.
The father adds, "The way I see it, Makyla is illegally in St. Lucia. She doesn't have her citizenship there. She was born a Canadian citizen and has a status card."
McQuabbie, without the benefit of a lawyer, and Makyla's mom had been back and forth in the courts for about two years on the matter of their daughter. Mom was also attending court on the separate matter of her immigration status, which was pulled that fateful day in April.
That was when mom's lawyer submitted a motion to rescind the temporary custody order. Although she had custody, under the order, she was not allowed to leave the province of Ontario.
Once the emergency motion was put in place, the child was taken from McQuabbie's care with Ontario Provincial Police assistance.
The toddler, with her bouncing curls, happily left with police. McQuabbie said "Makyla thought she was just going for a car ride. She didn't know she wasn't going to see Daddy again."
He was shocked when he found out that the child was to be deported with her mother.
"I knew [mom] was going to be deported, regardless of what the situation was. I just didn't know whether or not my daughter was going with her. I had confidence in the courts that they would consider Makyla's best interest, which would have been to stay in the country with access to education, health and a community."
Given what's happened, McQuabbie had meetings with the chief of his community, along with child care services.
"There's been some ideas that have been tossed around," said McQuabbie. But since a situation like his has never been dealt with," he said, "there isn't a permanent plan, but we're probably going to notify the St. Lucian government and social services explaining that Makyla has a father in Canada."
He says they will also tell the St. Lucian authorities that if anything goes wrong with the mother's situation, McQuabbie should be notified and have the child sent back to Canada.
McQuabbie is worried because he said the mother had left her two older children in St. Lucia and immigrated to Canada to make a better life for herself.
Chief McQuabbie said he's unsure of how the band is going to proceed in the case, and believes the onus is on the father to file an appeal.
"The band will support whatever the father decides to do."
The father says, "The ultimate goal is to get my daughter back."
By Jennifer Ashawasegai