“You can't imagine the pain of not being able to hold your child on Mother's Day, knowing that you may never be able to hold him again.”
12-year old Noah Kirkman has not been allowed to return to his Canadian homeland for 20 months. Photos courtesy: Kirkman family
(SALEM / CALGARY) - Some stories are so far-fetched, so incredible, that they are hard to believe at first look, even though they ring of truth. This is especially the case where someone has lost their child to “the state”. Always, there’s more to the story than is first presented, and they usually have a complicated, negative twist. People often assume the worst, assigning guilt where it doesn't belong. Fair? That term does not apply.
The arduous journey of 12-year old Noah Kirkman is one such story. An unfinishedstory.
Almost two years ago, Noah came to Oregon to spend the summer with his stepfather, John Kirkman. Less than three months later, DHS took the boy into custody, and, four foster homes later, he still hasn’t been allowed to go home to Canada.
Recently, the child’s mother, 35-year old Lisa Kirkman went public with her fight, releasing her son’s story and a plea for help to the media. “My family & I have been dealing with this for almost two years, but only recently have been able to feel comfortable talking about it. We didn't want the media to negatively influence the judge. Little did we know that the judge was negatively influenced--without the media's participation.”
What Noah did to deserve this disciplinary action is nothing less than shocking, leaving family and friends to wonder what motivates Oregon’s judicial system.
An Oregon Summer Gone Bad
John Kirkman married Noah’s mother Lisa in 2001, and raised Noah since he was a toddler. An American citizen, he is the biological father of Noah’s younger sister, Mia. John is the only father Noah has ever known.
When he and his wife lived in different places for a time and John moved to Oregon, it’s natural that his children would come to visit. June 2008 rolled around, and Lisa Kirkman drove from Calgary to Oregon, the beginning of a strange and unpredictable chain of events.
The small town of Oakridge, Oregon is nestled in the Willamette National Forest, southeast of Eugene, in the Cascade Range. Once a logging town, Oakridge has a total area of 2.0 square miles, and its population just tops 3,000. The area is beautiful, a destination for outdoorsmen from near and far. Oakridge is a stereotypical example of down-home Oregon lifestyle, the rural area is ideal for fishing, hunting, riding bikes, raising kids. Or, so one would have thought.
Noah was 11 years old when he, his mother and little sister ventured to Oregon to visit their “Papa”. Though Noah has special needs, suffering from severe ADHD, he was an A-student and very participatory in school and sports, and was looking forward to a special visit with his Papa. His mother and sister stayed in Oregon for a short time, then headed back to Canada, leaving Noah in his stepfather’s care for the summer.
Clearly, something took place during Noah's visit that would change everything. The really shocking part is, it wasn't at all shocking. Kid's play, in fact.
"During the summer, there were four separate incidents where the Oakridge police stopped my son with other local children for things like riding a bike without a helmet," Lisa Kirkman explains, "playing in an area they shouldn't be playing, etcetera. They just spoke to them, no one was arrested. My son was singled out because the cops recognized all of the other kids except Noah and so they decided to look into it further.”
“Noah was not on his ADHD medication. They were probably suspicious because he couldn't look them directly in the eye or sit still for two seconds,” she added.
Family Reunion Rudely Interrupted by DHS
When Lisa came to Oregon to retrieve her son after a fun-filled summer with his dad, some one else showed up at her husband’s house as well: Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).
“Apparently, the decision to take Noah was made before I arrived in Oregon to pick him up. They just showed up and took him while my daughter & I were there.
“Their explanation at first is that they took Noah because they discovered that he has a large Canadian social services file. They didn't bother to check that this file is for health services & resources, not for protection issues. They've been justifying their original mistake ever since.
“Before DHS read through the boxes of files, they took Noah, saying they'd clear it up shortly. It's been 20 months and they still haven't ‘cleared it up’ and sent him home.”
MOTHER’S DAY RALLY Join “BRING NOAH HOME”, a Peaceful family rally in Calgary starting at the Harry Hays federal building downtown, then proceeding to the US Consulate/Olympic Plaza. Tie on a yellow ribbon, the color of hope and light, signifying those who await the homecoming of their loved ones.
Sunday, May 9/10 @ 2pm 20 - 4th Avenue S.E. Calgary, Alberta T2G 4X3
Next, DHS alleged that Noah had been abandoned by his mother in Oregon. Though he was with his legal stepfather, according to these kind hearted Oregon representatives, a stepfather isn’t a guardian and therefore Noah’s mother had broken Oregon law by leaving him in his stepfather’s care. The mother had written a medical release to her husband so her son could be treated while away from home.
Still, it was not good enough for Oregon.
Noah's biological father has never been in the picture, and his stepfather has full parental authority in Canada. “I was not aware that my husband doesn't have parental authority in the US. Either way, I dohave parental authority, so why didn't they just send Noah home with me?”
There must be more to it, logic says. Perhaps the parents are undesirable characters, or have a reputation for violence, or unfit parental performance. Why else would a judge actually go so far as to remove a child from his parents while on vacation and hold him in a foreign country?
“I have been investigated by Canadian social services and found to be a good parent who provides a good home to her children and they have no concerns, so they closed my file. I've never lost custody of my daughter, who is 7,” Lisa Kirkman said.
“None of my family has been criminally charged with anything and their big complaint against me is that I "abandoned my son in Oregon" and left him with someone who technically, has no 'parental authority,' namely my husband, the only father has ever known."
By these standards, parents "abandon" their children when they send them to summer camp, as no person there would have legal "parental authority."
“My son is living proof that indeed, the US can and will steal your child just because they don't really like you, no matter which country you're from.”
Noah and his Papa, John Kirkman
“The fact is, there is absolutely nothing that I, or John, or Noah could say or do- or not say or do, that would justify a foreign country keeping him there. He's a Canadian citizen who was visiting. Even if he were in actual danger in Canada, which he is not and never was, that's up to the Canadian authorities to deal with.”
“If Canadian social services thought I was a bad parent, I would've had my children taken away from me a long time ago.”
Lisa was mandated by the Lane County Judge to participate in Home Studies, parenting classes, and months of therapy, and when those things were completed, the Judge’s response was, "This is not a checklist. I'll decide when he gets to go home."
Activism Under The Microscope
Lisa Kirkman is a doer, not a talker. An outspoken proponent of cannabis legalization in Canada, she is assistant editor and writer for Cannabis Culture and Cannabis Health Journal, and opened a medical marijuana dispensary on BC's west coast. In 2005, she was sentenced to community service for growing medicinal pot for her husband, who has chronic fatigue syndrome but has an otherwise clean record.
Her cannabis activism is thought to be potentially responsible for the difficulties in Oregon, though there were absolutely no drug laws involved in Noah’s situation.
“I've been a working anti-prohibition activist and a member of counterculture media for over a decade, plus I'm married to an American. I know exactly the views of people in the States when it comes to drug use. It's my job to know, aside from my wanting to be aware of the situation my American friends and family have to endure,” Kirkman said.
“This judge is just tickled he caught an anti-prohibition activist in his web and is determined to make my family & I needlessly suffer.”
Judge Kip Leonard was appointed to the Lane County Circuit Court in 1989. He served as Presiding Judge of the Circuit Court from 1996 to 2000, and currently sits as the Juvenile Court judge hearing all juvenile delinquency and dependency cases. In Juvenile Court he created the state's first juvenile drug court.
“I'm not saying DHS took my son because of my activism. I'm saying the judge--who is elected and who started the Youth Drug Courts in Eugene--has been holding my son because of a political agenda. The judge doesn't even care what DHS has to say, let alone me. DHS already told the judge they want to send my son home, but the judge has said, 'No,'” Kirkman said.
“This is parental alienation, this is kidnapping, this is a system not used to parents fighting back,” said Avery Maxwell, family member. “I hope to God for your sake- this goes for everyone, that whatever political and/or activist activities you're involved in never influences the public's perception of your parenting.”
Where Does That Leave Noah?
Noah turned 12 on March 21st, 2010, his second birthday away from home. Another milestone without his mother.
Lisa hasn’t seen her son since July, 2009, and the family is only permitted one 15-minute supervised call with Noah every two weeks during which they are not allowed to say anything to Noah about coming home or how much they miss him. When they have, their calls have been cut off.
“It is literally easier to visit someone in prison, than to schedule a phone call so that he can speak to his sister on the phone,” his aunt said.
Everything his mother and family send to him is screened by DHS, and they do not know how much of it he receives. Though Noah is computer literate, his foster parents do not make one available to him, so he also doesn’t have access to email.
Noah’s grandmother was allowed to meet with his therapist who confirmed that Noah did want to return home, and the only fears he had were that his own behavior would somehow keep him from going home to his family.
These are not the normal fears of a 12-year old; it is not normal for a 12-year old to be dealing with such unnecessary separation trauma, a situation with no logical rationalization.
In April, Lane County Circuit Court Judge Kip Leonard ruled that he might be open to sending Noah back to Canada when the school year ends, but there was no guarantee.
There is more than one government official paying attention, however.
Canada Gets Tough With Oregon
“The Canadian federal government, including Alberta Members of Parliament (MP) Rob Anders and Dan McTeague, DFAIT (Dept. of Foreign Affairs & Intl. Trade) and the Prime Minister’s Office have had several meetings about Noah and are still discussing the situation,” Kirkman said.
“MP Dan McTeague actually brought it up in Question Period in the House of Commons, and Rob Anders sent registered letters to the judge and Oregon Governor Kulongoski, plus several phone calls telling them that he planned on going down to Oregon to pick Noah up.”
"This is not a checklist. I'll decide when he gets to go home." -Judge Kip Leonard
There has been no word from Oregon’s leaders, but Judge Leonard is quoted as having stated that he "doesn't care if the Governor or President Obama, himself, tell me to send Noah home, this little Canadian boy will not be leaving this jurisdiction until I say so."
“This sets a dangerous precedent for any Canadian traveling to the US,” says Jordan Champagne, friend of the Kirkman family.
“It also is very significant politically. The state of Oregon has basically said that the Alberta government doesn't know what is best for its citizens and they need to intercede. What are they really doing? They are punishing this innocent boy by keeping him from his country, his family and his faith.
"This needs to stop. He is a Canadian and he belongs in Canada.”
“Oregon's Department of Human Services has a long track record of incidents like this involving American children. Noah is the first known Canadian child in these circumstances,” added Avery Maxwell.
“They've been trying to justify their original mistakes since they took him and don't know how to back out of this gracefully, so they'd rather not back out at all,” said Lisa Kirkman.
According to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, Oregon has been removing children from their families at one of the highest rates in the nation since 1985, 70 percent above the national average and double and triple the rate in states widely considered to be models for keeping children safe. Those numbers should give all Oregonians pause.
Protecting children is foremost, but this cannot be accomplished without seeing the bigger picture, as Noah's story affirms. Without consideration for the sanctity of the family, the best welfare of children is truly at risk, and should be re-visited, if the cliché “family values” is to mean anything at all. And sometimes, a judge just has to be big enough to eat a little crow, for the good of the child.
Okay, Oregon: your move.
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Noah's mother, Lisa Kirkman has a Facebook page with 2,500 followers. Noah’s story has been covered first in Canada on the Calgary affiliates of CBC and CTV, the Calgary Herald and other media, including the nation's most prestigious newspaper, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and now in the United States. In addition to CNN, Lisa Kirkman has been on Portland, Oregon television stations KGW and KATU, and now featured on Salem-News.com.