Change for Children

It has been over a year since Teagan was murdered and in some ways it feels like it was just yesterday. There are days where you just sit there wondering how it possible that she could be gone – in reality, that is a part of every single day. But Teagan deserves more than sympathy and sorrow! So we must drive change to protect children across the planet. Once we recovered from the shock and horror of Teagan’s biological mother ending her life we started to think about what could we have done to save her.

The reality is we spent countless hours and dollars over many years but we could not get her to a safer place. So then you think if we could not get Teagan out of this risky environment then what family possibly could? So we began to examine how our systems fail to actually protect children and the harsh reality that they have NO ‘voice’ in the process.

It is a very complex system and frankly, it’s failing our children every day. You simply need to read the newspaper to see children murdered and abused in Canada every month (if not every week). Simply google Turcotte or Goforth is you want to shed a few tears and it makes you wonder if we learned nothing from the murder of Zachary Bagby in 2003.

This can’t be acceptable and we refused to simply walk away from a situation where other children are at risk.

So then you have to decide where to begin in the morass of incompetence, complexity and tears. We talked to bureaucrats, politicians, administrators, mental health professionals, Ministers and more. They provided feedback, guidance and an internal view of how we can address the situation.

We also had many people reach out with wonderful causes and ideas. Shared parenting and father’s rights groups are working hard to provide equity but we found that the real gap among activists was a focus on children having a voice, accountability of the players and oversight of the process. As a result, we decided that our three key goals going forward are to address the following…

  1. Professional Duty of Reporting Child Welfare Situations: we need accountability to eliminate professional indifference and act on the warning signs that are almost always present.
  2. Legal Representation for Children in Family Court: We live in a system of rule of law and until Children have their own seat at that table their human rights can never be respected.
  3. Appointment of a Federal Children’s Advocate: It’s an extremely complex environment with multiple jurisdictions that requires National coordination and passion from within the system.

Each instance will require a different set of tactics but legislation, procedure, enforcement and awareness will all be required. It will be a long battle full but we are committed to change.

365 Painful Days

It has now been 365 days since we lost Teagan and so much has changed. What will never change is the humanity, beauty and spirit of Teagan. She was a treasure not just to our family but to the entire world – empathy, love, kindness and so much more.

The death of a child is not something you heal from – you are simply a different person. Some acts of violence are unforgivable which does not mean you have hatred or desire vengeance. It simply means that out of respect for the dead and the children of the future you refuse to legitimize their slaughter under any circumstances. To soften the harsh reality of murder only emboldens those who commit the ultimate act of inhumanity.

There is so much to say, yet it is so hard to say. So on the 1 year anniversary of Teagan’s murder, it seemed appropriate to publish her eulogy again. RIP Teagan…

“To see Teagan was to know her…to know her was to love her…to love her was to be loved by her. Teagan Batstone was my only daughter and with her you only needed one. Innocent, selfless, pure, genuine, loving – that was my Teagie-Bear. She was literally perfect and what I lost…what we lost on December 10th, 2014 can never be replaced. She loved so deeply whether it was her family, her best friends, her pets or her School (Rosemary Heights Rockets). We mourn from Ontario to Saskatchewan to British Columbia and across North America.

For those of you who only know Teagan through pictures there is sadness, if you knew Teagan you have a sense of the tragic loss and if Teagan was your family you are forever changed. When I thought about my words today I wondered can I do this? How do I hold it together? And then I thought of what Teags would say when I told her I could not summon the strength for this moment. She would have tilted her head to the side, squinted her big beautiful blue eyes a little and then said “Really” in that sarcastic tone she had mastered. Followed by kicking me in the shins!

In recent days many people have asked me about her favourite toys, games or activities and so on. The simple answer to all those questions is that Teagan’s two most prized possessions were her brothers Stewart and Jack. In her casket she is wearing two bracelets she picked out for her cousin Travis’ wedding. You wear them both on the same wrist that when placed together make a heart – on one it says little sister and on the other big sister. That was her identity.

Teagan’s role models were my wife Stephanie and her Auntie Ali. I see her in them every day. If Teagan could talk today she would want me to tell you not to be sad, that you all look so great and maybe if you had some time would you like to play ‘shop’? Warning – a shocking amount of items are out of stock and the prices are ridiculous. The chef is often sick and his replacement is terrible I would be told.

In times like these, you wonder what can I do? where does this all go? I will rely on Teagan to guide me and as I have walked through these painful hours and days I have often asked what would Teagan do? What a testament to her character that in every situation it has always been the right thing to do. I talk to her every day and tell her how proud I am, how many people loved her and how much I miss my baby girl. Her advice to me has been simple and in priority order “Daddy – take care of my boys, love our family, remember me and don’t forget the bath toys on our next trip!”.

Thee are so many things that are special about Teagan but what defined her was her ability to make everyone feel better about themselves. Not just better in that moment but better about themselves as human beings. There are so few people with that talent and the world shines a little less bright without her in it. Teagan will live on in all of us…in how we are better human beings to have known her. Her legacy will be meaningful and the impact of her 8 years will be felt for decades to come. I have always said that Teagan will be better than me and now I must say Teagan was better than me.

Teags would want me to thank you all for your support and to provide comfort to you in this time of need. She would want us to replace anger with action, to laugh not cry, hugs not handshakes, to kiss our children and to remember that she knew she was loved by you.

Finally to my family – Stephanie (Stephnami as Teags lovingly call her) – she will remember you as her loving mother forever. Jack (Jack Attack she would say) – Teagan lived with us for your first few months of life and you are the baby she never got to have. Stewart (Hollywood she would giggle) – despite the fact she denied your proposal of marriage in the car when you were 5 I am her father and I can tell you that you were always the love of her life. I will finish with the five proudest words a man could ever say – I am Teagan Batstone’s Dad.”

Epilogue

A story I was sent by a couple of Teagan’s closest friends and that I have shared with many of you best summarizes my beautiful daughter and I thank their mother for sharing it with me.

“Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts. My husband and I have been reminding them the past few days how much Teagan loved them. We’ve been telling stories of the fun times the 3 of them had together. The 3 of them had a very unique bond. We truly loved spending time with Teagan. But what we loved most about Teagan is how she made others feel. She was such a wonderful influence on Asha & Jaya. She made them feel so good about themselves. During a recent playdate at our home, I overheard Teagan telling Jaya how beautiful she was and how she loved the colour of her hair. It warmed my heart so dearly – and I thought to myself how precious this friendship is. You have been such a great father to her and it showed in so many ways. She was always so happy to be around. I will never forget her giggle and that sparkle she had in her eyes when she smiled”.

Tragedy in Paris

It was a horrible tragedy in Paris last week as the events of November 13th unfolded before our eyes. Thankfully most of us don’t know what it’s like to lose a family member to terrorism but our family certainly understands what it means to suddenly, tragically and violently lose someone you love dearly.

Losing a loved one is never easy but when that loss is unexpected that makes the challenge even greater. Add to that a loss which is violent and the emotion becomes more complex. Finish that with the reality the loss was for no good reason and you have many months and years of pain ahead.

Sadly in much the same way that Teagan’s murder was not unique nor was the victims in Paris. Just within the last seven days prior you have mass murder in Lebanon, Egypt and across Africa. I have come to describe this reality as the ‘surprise but not surprising’ quandary.

Teagan’s murder was a horrific surprise when it happened but it was not surprising that something like that could happen if you were closely involved with the situation. Likewise, with Paris – the attack was a shock but given Charlie Hebdo, Madrid, London, Benghazi, Egypt it was by no means surprising in the global context.

So now the real work begins with how do you take an unexpected tragedy and turn that attention into something meaningful to prevent future duplication? I certainly don’t have an answer for either scenario. What I do know for sure are two things – 1) there are many tears, sleepless nights and questions ahead for the victims, 2) there is no luck fix and 3) we have to fix it.

Children’s Rights in the Federal Election Campaign

Kids don’t vote. We don’t trust children under the age of 18 to be sophisticated enough or experienced enough to have a say in electing our government. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about how different election campaigns would be if kids could vote, nor have I spent a lot of time thinking about how that could change what our children care about. I will now. Because the outcome of kids not having a say is that children’s issues are almost never election issues. Canadians do not vote on children’s issues. They vote on the economy or the environment, they vote on parental issues (tax breaks, nationalized daycare, etc.), or they may even vote based on who paid back the $90,000. But, I have yet to see a poll even ask voters if they are voting on children’s issues. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of platform announcements align with the mission of Teagan’s Voice.

At the heart of the Teagan’s Voice mission is that priority must be given to the rights of children to live in a safe home. It seems so simple, yet we have systems that neglect this basic right of children. Even when systems make decisions that are based on “the best interests of the child”, there are no advocates to argue for what those interests are. The Liberal Party announced an encouraging initiative as part of their platform – the creation of a federal children’s advocate or commissioner. Unfortunately, following the August 5th announcement of this part of their election “Plan”, it is nowhere to be found on the Liberal website. That is disappointing, but again, kids don’t vote. So, for the sake of this post, let’s ignore that and get really excited that a political party is talking about federal leadership on ensuring children’s basic rights as citizens are a priority. You can read more about this at the following link: https://marcgarneau.liberal.ca/en/blog/after-21-years-a-canadian-childrens-commissioner-is-long-overdue/

The provinces each have a Children’s Advocate. They all have been created with differing legislation, so their mandates are quite varied. In order to ensure that children’s rights are not marginalized, federal leadership could bring some cohesion to these efforts and together they have the capability to provide meaningful recommendations to improve the systems that are designed to protect children. We applaud this commitment and would like to see the other political parties make similar commitments. Rest assured, we will add this to our advocacy agenda no matter which party is elected.

The other bright spot in the barrage of platform announcements is the promise of “Life Means Life” legislation. This refers to a promise by the Conservatives to re-introduce legislation that allows for life sentences without parole (as opposed to having the ability to seek parole after 25 years) for criminals convicted of particularly heinous murders. I’m not sure how one defines a particularly heinous murder. Isn’t all murder heinous? But, if we had to be specific, we would argue that the act of child murder would fall into this category. When systems fail to protect children and their lives are cut short, those responsible have taken away so many years of promise. Life in prison seems the appropriate punishment for killing our most vulnerable; those in our society who have not yet had a chance to even start to strive for their potential, those with the most yet to give our world. The surviving victims of these murders would no longer have to fear the release of the monster that took their loved one away, nor would they be re-victimized year after year at parole hearings. Innocent people deserve to be protected by our government – child murderers do not. Sharon Rosenfeldt lost her son to a brutal murder at the hands of serial killer Clifford Olsen in 1981. She supports this proposed legislation for many of the same reasons we do. Best to hear it straight from Ms. Rosenfeldt:

It has to be said at this point that Teagan’s Voice is completely non-partisan. When we see a good idea, we will promote it no matter which political party communicates it first. We want every elected official to care about children’s rights and we will seek political champions from elected members of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures across the country, regardless of political stripe. We hope to see more from this election campaign prioritizing children’s rights. Speak to your candidates about these issues. Let them know these issues are important to you and the reasons why. Make your candidates aware that Canadians care about children’s rights.

Father’s Day

I have dreaded this day for weeks and now that we are here I know why. I never expected it to be different and I don’t expect it will change in the future. They say that time heals all wounds but the loss of a child is not a wound, more like an amputation. We visited Teagan’s grave as I could not imagine Father’s Day without her. Teag’s 3-year-old brother updated her on current events as he is only now beginning to understand the permanency of her death and he is not happy about it. Few things are sadder to watch than the suffering of children who have needlessly lost a sibling.

As a father, your primary job is to keep your kids safe; when your child is murdered you clearly did not achieve that seemingly simple goal. When the murderer is her mother you feel complicit in the horrific, barbaric and senseless act. No doubt any parent who has lost a child deals with the inevitable guilt of living on without your precious offspring. I am no different and have spent most of this month in some form of emotional turbulence. I just so desperately want to hear Teagan call for her “Daddy” or “Dad” (with a Southern ‘aaaa’ drawl). I only hope she was not calling that out as she was murdered or perhaps I do or I don’t really know ….when your child is murdered there are so many questions, unknowns and unanswerable questions. I do know that however she died, she knew her Daddy, Stephnamie, Stewie and Jacker loved her.

I am without question a flawed person whose life is full of accomplishment, mistakes, memories, regrets and everything in between. However, I take great pride in my relationship with Teagan and the bond we created under unnecessarily difficult circumstances – frankly, it was my greatest accomplishment. Teagan got everything I was capable of offering and amazingly made me so much better than I ever could have been without her. I am a better father, CEO, coach, brother, friend and citizen because of Teagan Batstone. I see a similar influence in Stewart and Jack. We talk about the impact she had on our lives every single day and in addition to missing her there is this deep sense of awe and respect for the power she had. In many ways that is what makes her death so hard to comprehend.

I am blessed to have a wonderful wife, loving step-son and adorable toddler. My pain does not diminish their beauty or love in any way for it is the fuel that keeps me going. In most ways I am extremely fortunate but I would give all of it up to have Teagan back living with our family.