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.

HALF A YEAR, SIX MONTHS, 182 DAYS…

t has been six months since we got that knock on the door telling us the unbelievable news that we would never see Teagan again. She is gone. It has been 182 days since we read the media reports that our bright, beautiful, full-of-life, 8-year-old Teagan’s lifeless body was found in the trunk of a car.

How do you process that? I still don’t know the answer. I think it’s fair to say none of us know how to process this. Our hearts and minds are simply not capable of understanding some things.

It has been half a year since we went into shock and were swirled into a disorienting mess of talking to police investigators, grief councillors, and funeral directors. Time had no meaning in the days and weeks following December 10, 2014. In some ways, it still doesn’t.

We talk about striving towards our “new normal”. That is really our only goal for our family. We have to because our boys need that, we need that, and Teagan would want that. Within this journey, we have started Teagan’s Voice. We have shared our stories, we have opened up our family photo albums, and we have even shared the attacks we have endured. This has not been easy, at times it has not been comfortable. But, we have decided to do this because we know there are so many other kids just like Teagan who desperately need a voice. Teagan needed a voice.

We want everyone to know Teagan and to fully understand what the world has lost. We want everyone to understand how this happened. We want everyone to think differently about taking action in another child’s life when they have that gut feeling that something isn’t right, that the child might be in danger or maybe they are being abused or are in an unhealthy environment. We want a child’s right to a safe home to be a priority for our lawmakers, our courts, our child protection organizations, and our citizens. That really doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

I’m not going to pretend that this is easy, that taking this action during a period of complicated and overwhelming grief is something that comes naturally. It doesn’t and frankly, it’s not always pretty. But, we do it because we know that it is the right thing to do. We do it because we know that we have mobilized a community of people who can and will make important changes to protect children. We are doing this because our family needs to do something bigger in Teagan’s name to ensure her legacy is so much more than being the 8-year-old who was murdered by the woman people call her mother. We want Teagan to be able to help other kids. That would make her so very proud.

This has been a difficult six months, which goes without saying. I’m not sure that the next six months will be any easier, nor am I sure about the six months after that. But, we have a community that supports us and a community that supports the mission of Teagan’s Voice. We are very grateful for this support, we are humbled by it, and we are motivated to keep going even through the difficult days and weeks we have had and inevitably will have as we continue to move forward.

Thank you for learning about our daughter, our family, and our struggle. Thank you for taking an interest. Thank you for taking action. Thank you for donating, for volunteering, for planning and hosting events in Teagan’s name. Thank you for caring about protecting children. Thank you

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” -Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

What’s in a name? With Mother’s Day around the corner, this has been top of mind as I try to use conventional labels to describe who I was to Teagan and who she was to me. I have always talked about my three kids. In most conversations, I wouldn’t point out that Teagan was my stepdaughter, she was simply my daughter. We didn’t use the term stepbrother, stepmother, stepfather in our house. We were just brothers, sister, kids, mom, and dad. But, since Teagan’s death I have struggled as I feel that I have to describe her as my stepdaughter, given that she was murdered by her biological mother. It leaves me confused and angry.

What is a “Mother”? There is a simple definition: a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth. But, society has given this word a more complex meaning. A mother is a woman who is caring, selfless, loves unconditionally, and provides safety and security. A mother regularly sacrifices her own needs for those of her children. She teaches her children everything from the ABC’s and table manners to positive self-image and excellence. In doing this, she instills confidence, independence, motivation, and good in her children. So, perhaps giving birth to a child has less to do with being a mother than the simple definition would allow.

The word “Mother” has become a loaded and uncomfortable word for me. It seems that our society has idealized, romanticized, glorified and even prioritized the importance of the relationship between a mother and her children over that of a father. When I hear this word now, it seems self-righteous. It leaves us with the idea that a mother could never do harm, could never be evil, could never be selfish, could never abuse, neglect or even murder her child. In the weeks following Teagan’s murder, there was an article published in a small paper that described Teagan’s murderer, Lisa Batstone, as the “greatest mother in the world”. The same paper refused to print an alternative point of view. Why? Perhaps because it doesn’t fit the definition and when you see a made-for-Facebook smile on a woman with her arm around her child, there is simply no way that you could think that “mother” could do harm to anyone.

I also don’t identify with the term “Mother”. I have been mom, mommy, a single-mom, a step-mom, a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, and Stephnami. No, that’s not a spelling mistake – that is what Teagan called me. She had plenty of nicknames for me, “little-miss-fruits-and-vegetables” and “Steph-mommy” were a couple of my favourites. But, Teagan regularly called me Stephnami. It’s a long story as to how she came up with it (it’s a blend of Stephanie and tsunami). Teagan’s biological mother (Lisa) had tried to control my relationship with Teagan in a variety of ways including dictating what she would call me. Teagan wasn’t allowed to call me mom. She wasn’t allowed to call me her step-mom because Lisa had a negative association with that term. So, Lisa decided that Teagan would call me her “bonus-mom”. As was so often the case with Teagan, she chose to define her own relationships, in her own way, without upsetting or offending anyone. And so, I became Teagan’s Stephnami.

My role as Stephnami was the biggest responsibility of my life. It is the role that has taught me the most about who I am and who I want to be. Along the way, this made me a better person and a better mom. Being Stephnami meant that I had to be what, in my opinion, was the primary positive female role model in Teagan’s life. I didn’t believe her biological mother was capable of providing this for Teagan and that meant I had a huge responsibility to instill the values that Teagan’s dad and I believe are most important for girls. I wanted Teagan to understand that a woman can gain much success and personal satisfaction from both her career and her family without sacrificing either. I wanted her to understand that taking care of her health and wellness should be one of the biggest priorities in her life. I wanted Teagan to understand that beauty is nothing without intelligence and depth of character. I wanted Teagan to love learning and to be curious about the world around her. Most of all, I wanted Teagan to know how much I loved her, her brothers and her Daddy.

As I look back, Teagan gave me many signals that she was watching closely. She would specifically call me to tell me that she had scored 100% on this week’s spelling test or that she had tried a new vegetable and actually liked it! She visited my office and told us that it was the highlight of her trip (I can’t imagine visiting a government office in Ottawa could be that exciting). She met some of my colleagues, many of whom are strong, beautiful women with careers and children of their own. She took it all in. My mom often visited when Teagan was with us. On one of her visits, she had the kids create a scrapbook of their family. They went through magazines and cut out pictures that they thought represented all the people in their family. Teagan found two women running while pushing baby strollers – this was her Stephnami and Auntie Ali. She found a picture of a mom and daughter playing on a beach – this was her and Stephnami. She found her Stephnami in a picture of a businesswoman and another in a rather glamorous shot of a woman in a very beautiful flowing dress posing on a chaise lounge (this was the depiction that got the most chuckles from everyone who knows me). She thought of me how I wanted her to think of herself.

In the process of becoming Teagan’s Stephnami, I learned so much. I learned that every child requires very different parenting priorities. I learned to parent with more understanding and compassion. I learned to listen with my ears, but also with my heart. I learned that my own perspective within each and every situation had to be broadened. I learned, more than ever, that every time your child enters a room, they need to see that love and excitement in your eyes. Teagan taught me to be a better mom.

On this Mother’s Day, the first since the passing of our Teagan, I will find comfort in the loving arms of my own Mom. I will hug my boys tighter and make sure they know how much they are loved and how appreciated and loved I feel. That’s what Teagan would have wanted for her Stephnami. And, then, I will visit my daughter’s grave. I will cry and connect and she will be with me guiding me through, as she always tends to be.

So, am I Teagan Batstone’s “Mother”? Not by definition. I didn’t give birth to her, but I am the one who had to lay her to rest. I am Teagan’s Stephnami. By any other name would smell as sweet

My Last Day with Teagan

You just never actually know when the last time you will be with someone might be. In this case, I never could have guessed that my last time I would ever see my beautiful daughter Teagan would be the morning of December 8th, 2014. As it turns out it was one of the most ordinary days that Teagan and I ever had in Vancouver. When I look back on it now I would not change a single moment, as it was really just perfect.

As background, our family happily went to great lengths to ensure Teagan understood and more importantly felt like she was part of our family. Both she and her brothers knew that there were no favourites and that everybody was equal in our household. Our youngest Jack would likely disagree but we all love him for that. As for Teagie-Bear, we did a variety of things to close the distance from Ottawa to Vancouver…

Every week we would have a family webcam. Technology allowed us to stay close all year and in some cases the webcam would last 2-3 hours.
Every month I would spend a weekend in Vancouver with Teagan. We loved staying at the Hyatt downtown and our standard itinerary included swimming, Granville Island, Science Centre and of course White Spot.
Every quarter Teagan would spend 2-3 weeks in our Ottawa home where she had a fully stocked bedroom – the largest bedroom of the kids as her older brother reminded us often.
Every year we would all travel to Vancouver to spend a week on Teagan’s home turf. That way she could show her brothers her favourite spots, her school and meet her friends etc.

Then we opportunistically took advantage of chances to be together like visiting Saskatchewan last fall for harvest, having a quick phone call or, relevant to this story, a quick one night visit when I happened to be in Vancouver on business. I had just spent a weekend with Teagan in late November in Vancouver but had to be back in town on business shortly afterward. The week prior I had been in Orlando for a trade show so by the time I landed on December 7th I was feeling pretty bagged but anytime I got to see Teagan adrenal kicked in. Because this was going to be a short visit and Teagan had her first appointment to get braces the next day we stayed out in Surrey close to her dentist, as opposed to the Hyatt where we spent 90% of our visits. I was supposed to get her at 11am but, as was fairly common, Teagan’s biological Mother booked something during my time so they did not arrive until about 2pm.

Nevertheless, I was just excited to see Teagan and with her Christmas visit only a few weeks away I really did not care. I was checked in and waiting in the lobby when they arrived in the car Teagan would be found dead in only 72 hours later. I met them in the parking lot and Teagan showed me some pictures on Lisa’s phone. I loved the big hug and kiss I got each time Teagan greeted me. As we walked into the Sheraton Teagan noticed my shoes (which I had just bought in Florida) and said, “Daddy I really like those new shoes – they work for our visit but I bet you could wear them to work too!”. Such a typical Teagan thing – always making you feel better about yourself.

Once we got to our room I asked Teagan what she wanted to do and, of no shock to anyone who knows her, she said go swimming. We decided to do a quick webcam to say Hi to everyone in Ottawa so we did that for 15 minutes. What I really wanted to do was take her to the mall nearby and get a read on what she really wanted for Christmas, so I told her we should go the Mall first for a snack. She agreed and off we went hand in hand for the short 2-block walk. I loved the simple conversations we would have about her friends, school and what was going on with her brothers – she asked me to tell her Jack stories over and over again. Once in the mall, we hit the food court to stick with my script and she had Orange Julius and a hot dog. Of course, ketchup ended up everywhere and she spent time explaining to me why the original Orange Julius was much better than the strawberry and how maybe next time we should go to A&W for the root beer.

With that out of the way, I guided her to a few kids stores but once inside she spent all her time explaining and showing me the things we should get for her brothers. I did manage to pry a few ideas out in the Lego store but for the most part, I learned less than I had hoped. So then I figured I would just take her to ‘Justice’, which was one of her favourite clothing stores. What could go wrong? Here she spent all her time explaining the clothes we should like to buy for Stephanie. Teagan was just so empathetic it literally seeped out of her pores. Chuckling to myself I said let’s go to Purdy’s to get you a little treat for later. Even then while in Purdy’s we ended up buying her eventual killer a Christmas present (chocolate snowman & card).

With our shopping complete we headed back to the Sheraton for the moment Teagan had been waiting for for…the POOL! We got ourselves dressed, which as usual ended up with Teagan half dressed in a mangled attempt to put on her suit asking me to “Just fix it Daddy”. We headed down in the elevator and then to the outdoor heated pool. When we arrived the pool cover was on and I could literally see disappointment flood my baby girl’s body. Relief was quick as I showed her how to remove the cover and my Daddy-fixes-stuff status was having a very good day. It was strange in that she usually was very active in the pool and we would do play-acting of many dramatic moments. In recent months it was shark training with her as the teacher and me as the bad shark student. However, this time she mostly just floated around the pool with her arms around my neck talking about all the things she wanted to do with Stewart and Jack when she got to Ottawa.

We headed back to the room and were actually stopped by a hotel staff member who said she reminded her of her own daughter and told me how happy Teagan looked. And she did as she was skipping down the hallway when she stopped us. The next big decision was dinner and we decided on room service – we both ordered kids meals with Teagan getting the usual ‘mac & cheese’ and a grilled cheese for me. It was so fun as we both just ate parts of each meal while we watched some kids TV. We finished the night by crawling into bed and reading her National Geographic Kids magazine on my IPAD.

As usual, I woke up with Teagan wrapped around me in the morning, which was just the best way for a Dad to wake up – in the loving arms of his daughter with the sound of her breathing gently filling the air in the room. After getting ready for work there was the usual gong show of me trying to do her hair after her bath. It was more important on this morning as Teagan had her Christmas concert rehearsal that day. I managed an OK job and Teagan reminded me (as she always did) that Stephanie did a much better job. She looked gorgeous and I so badly wish I had taken a photo that morning. In fact, I have no pictures of Teagan that weekend…. because I had just seen her and would again in two weeks I guess it just was not on my mind. About my only regret of that night.

We then had a quick breakfast at the McDonald’s beside the hotel, which was always the Hotcakes plus her eating a good portion of my bagel. At the dentist, Teags was getting her spacers put in which is a very short process but any trip to a dentist is scary for a kid. I distinctly remember feeling so proud of her and simply loving holding her hand as they went in. Every time she squeezed my hand I felt so fulfilled as a father.

With that complete, it was off to the grocery store to pick up lunch and snacks for school. We picked up the usual and as was always the case I started to miss her the as we left the store…. which Teags referred to as me getting “huggy”. Then it was the short drive to school where I had to sign her in at the office before walking her to the classroom door. I remember giving her a quick kiss on the head and watching her walk into the classroom. She looked back, gave me one last little smirk and gave me the little motions with her arm of getting going…I never saw her again.