Hamilton woman searched for 24 years for the daughter she was forced to give up. Then fate brought them together


HAMILTON—It was the saddest of happy endings.

Darcy Dee was slipping away, her body finally giving in to the breast cancer she’d been fighting for four years.

But Darcy had already won another battle — one that she’d waged for a quarter-century — the struggle to find the little girl she’d been forced to give up in 1991, the baby the system had taken away from her all those years ago after deeming her an unfit mother because of her disability.

At her bedside during those last few days was the 29-year-old woman who had been taken away from her mother as a toddler, fostered and soon adopted, the woman who had grown up and lived most of her life with a loving adoptive family just minutes from the birth mother she never knew. But miraculously, fate had brought them back together in 2015, allowing for three years that would have to make up for nearly three decades lost.

Darcy Dee, 59, died Jan. 20 in Hamilton’s St. Peter’s Hospital. Her funeral takes place Saturday.

She is survived by 10 siblings, and by her daughter — Veronica Ann — the daughter for whom she searched for 24 years.

“Knowing that my mother got her greatest wish, to heal the wound of losing me, has been a huge inspiration,” Veronica said after her mother’s passing. She marvels at how through all those years that they were apart, Darcy essentially built her life around the quest for her lost daughter.

“She formed habits throughout her city to be visible and available so that I might by chance find her,” Veronica said. “She never gave up and I’m so grateful I could be there to show her it was all worth it.”

I told the first chapter of Darcy’s story nearly 30 years ago in November 1990, in the Star, as Darcy was waging a losing battle with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society in Hamilton for the custody of Veronica.

I’d met Darcy by chance in the food court of a Hamilton mall that autumn while I was on assignment. Darcy had been left disabled by a brain injury after being hit by a truck while walking to school on a winter day, when she was 8. She was declared dead at the scene, but somehow survived.

That day in Hamilton, she rolled up beside my table in her scooter, which had a carrier basket full of loose-leaf papers. Once she discovered I was a reporter, Darcy wanted me to read the documents in her basket, notes she’d been typing over the months, the journal of her struggle to regain custody of her daughter. (Over the years, she would type thousands of pages.)

Darcy’s speech was slurred. She had difficulty controlling her movements and articulating her feelings. But her journal read like poetry. Page after page of fluid and heartbreaking detail about how she’d had Veronica with a guy she’d met, and then lost her. Estranged from her family, the fiercely independent Darcy had been living in an apartment in downtown Hamilton.

She contacted the children’s aid society during her pregnancy, and shortly after the baby’s birth, Darcy was deemed unfit as a parent.

“All my life people told me I couldn’t do anything,” Dee said during one of several interviews in her tiny subsidized apartment in 1990. “Well, now I did the thing that is supposed to be the most important of all — I created a life. Now they want to take that away from me.”

After a year of increasingly infrequent and restricted supervised visits, the courts ruled on Feb. 11, 1991, that Veronica would be placed for adoption and that Darcy would not be allowed to see her again.

The system was true to its word, for 24 years.

The story that Darcy shared with me in 1990, the story that continued to unfold in the intervening decades, reads like a screenplay.

She was born in Buffalo in 1959 to John and Rayme Dee, professional actors who immigrated to Canada for work and settled in Ancaster, Ont. Anyone who watched Canadian television in the 1970s and early ’80s would recognize Darcy’s dad, John, who played Al Waxman’s crusty neighbour Max on King of Kensington.

Darcy left home at 21 after getting a Grade 12 diploma from a vocational school. She eventually moved to Toronto, where she took some courses in English and history at Ryerson, without much success. Back in Hamilton in 1982, she sat in on courses at McMaster University and Mohawk College.

When I met her in the small, dingy apartment in 1990, I noticed how she made the best of the lack of space and narrow hallway: because of her limited mobility, she got around by practically bouncing off the walls, propelling herself from the table, to the chair, to the bed.

The journal entries I read in 1990 were heartbreaking and gave voice to the thoughtful, eloquent and angry young woman that the system had written off.

She wrote about when her daughter turned 1.

“Yesterday was Veronica’s birthday. Her very first. I did not get to see her. Although I carried on with my own life, I had a pretty heavy heart, thinking of her. Remember last year at this time, I was in the hospital, in pain, having just had Veronica the night before?

“Yes, but the greatest pain of all is not being able to see my baby.”

Darcy Dee with her young daughter, who she had to give up to children's aid three decades ago.
Darcy Dee with her young daughter, who she had to give up to children’s aid three decades ago.

After losing Veronica, Darcy reconciled with her large family, and her sisters in particular became the champions of her efforts to locate her daughter. Her parents have long since died.

Darcy’s family and friends recall a spunky, unpredictable woman who could fly into a rage at those she felt were putting her down, and just as quickly flash a wide smile and howl with laughter.

“This is the story of a woman who grew up fighting — for her independence after a severe brain injury, for her life with a cancer diagnosis — and then, in the short time left to her, to find the daughter she was forced to give up,” her sister Betsy wrote in an account of Darcy’s struggle.

Darcy and I were in touch sporadically over the years.

In a journal entry on Veronica’s 10th birthday, June 10, 1999, Darcy wrote: “I will never stop praying for you, and loving you, even though I do not know where you are. You could be in the house in front or behind me for all I know.”

In 2007, when Veronica would have been turning 18, I contemplated trying to find her myself, or even publishing the baby photos of Veronica that I had taken at Darcy’s apartment in 1990. But I concluded that would be a violation of the girl’s privacy.

In late 2014, Betsy let me know that Darcy had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that the family was stepping up efforts to find Veronica.

By then they’d already been through years of paperwork, trying to make contact and obtain official records of the adoption. I went to see Darcy in Hamilton in November of 2014. She was very ill and was now confined to a wheelchair. And she still talked about finding her Veronica.

Little did anyone know that the clue to Veronica’s identity and whereabouts was already in Darcy’s possession. After my visit, Betsy sent a follow-up email to share some adoption-related documents that Darcy had received from Service Ontario in response to one of her requests. The key document was the 1992 record of Veronica’s adoption. While all of the adoptive family’s identifying information had been dutifully blacked out, for some reason the document showed Veronica’s legal name at the time of her adoption.

It took a minute on Google to find Veronica, a young web design and marketing consultant who was at that point living and working in Hamilton, blocks away from her birth mother.

Darcy’s sisters were in a quandary. How should they go about confirming Veronica’s identity and making contact? They didn’t share the finding with Darcy until they could get in touch with Veronica. After weeks of deliberating, they dropped off a letter at Veronica’s apartment, informing her of the identity of her birth mother and extending the invitation for a meeting.

Several weeks later, on Jan. 25, 2015, a Sunday afternoon, the family arranged for Veronica to make a surprise visit to her birth mother’s apartment.

Darcy was seated with her back to the door when Veronica entered and made her way into view.

“Do you know who this is?” the sister asked.

Darcy didn’t.

At that point, the striking young woman with blond hair and blue eyes knelt down in front of Darcy’s chair and took her hand.

“I’m Veronica.”

Veronica looks back now on that remarkable reunion and the months that followed.

“My reunion with Darcy was joyful, compassionate, all about doing things together as newly introduced people,” she said. “We went and did fun activities all through the summer. Darcy always pictured us in the sunshine together and she got her wish.”

Veronica was struck by her resemblance to Darcy, in physical appearance, and in attitude.

“She’s passed that focused, never-say-die spirit on to me.”

In the little time they had together, a lot was left unsaid, in part because it had become so difficult for Darcy to communicate.

“Most of what happened between Darcy and I was over coffees and in each other’s hearts,” Veronica recounted. “We couldn’t easily communicate but the wonder and surreal happiness of beating the odds together was our primary emotional story.”

In the days before Darcy’s death, Veronica spent hours at her birth mother’s bedside in Hamilton, still holding her hand. And while Darcy is gone, she has left her daughter a written legacy, thousands of pages of her writing.

Years before, on Nov. 11, 2007, Darcy typed this poem in her journal. After her death, it seems almost prophetic:

I can only hope and pray

That maybe, just maybe some day

That in heaven, or on earth

It will be like a rebirth

We will meet face to face

I will hug Veronica

And hold her

And she? She will touch my shoulder

Never to let go of each other

Allan Thompson was a reporter with the Toronto Star from 1987 to 2003, when he became a journalism professor at Carleton University.


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‘Dark chapter in our history’: federal gov’t apologizes to Ahiarmiut for forced relocations


Seventy years after the federal government forcibly relocated Ahiarmuit away from their homeland, it’s apologizing to 21 survivors and their families in Arviat, Nunavut, Tuesday.

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett delivered the apology in the community, saying the forced relocations were because of a « colonial mindset » and caused « indignity, starvation and death. »

« I would also like to acknowledge those Ahiarmiut who lost their lives as a result of the relocations and who have passed away in the years since, » she said.

« This apology is a tribute to their spirits and their memories. It is also an opportunity for all Canadians to learn about and reflect upon a dark chapter in our history.

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett delivered the apology Tuesday in Arviat, saying the forced relocations were because of a ‘colonial mindset’ and caused ‘indignity, starvation and death.’ (Jordan Konek/CBC)

« I humbly and sincerely offer these words to all Ahiarmiut past and present, » said Bennett. « We are sorry. »

The day’s commemorative activities include a speech by David Serkoak who’s spent 20 years working to get the apology and settlement, a plaque unveiling and a community feast. It also included speeches from several prominent Inuit, including Nunavut premier Joe Savikataaq, Nunavut Tunngavik president Aluki Kotierk, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed.

The Ahiarmiut lived inland from Hudson’s Bay in 1950, when the government decided to move them the first time. Several other relocations occurred in the 10 year period that followed. 

Bennett also apologized for the amount of time it took to get an apology — when the legal claim was first filed, 27 relocated Ahiarmiut were still alive, today there are only 21.

The Ahiarmiut reached a $5 million settlement with the government this past summer, $100,000 for each of the survivors and $3,000 each for the 164 children of the relocated.

A large crowd, including the 21 survivors of forced relocations, gathered in Arviat Tuesday to hear the federal government’s official apology to Ahiarmiut. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Relocated from Ennadai Lake

Approximately 80 families were packed on airplanes and taken from their home near Ennadai Lake, according to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

« Elders speak about having their tents destroyed in front of their eyes before getting on the airplane, » Bennett said.

The first move took Ahiarmiut to an island in Nueltin Lake in May 1950. They did not get to bring basic tools, like axes, caribou hides to make new shelters or other necessities for survival.

Serkoak says the Ahiarmiut were moved from Ennadai Lake to Nueltin Lake. His family eventually ended up in Whale Cove. (CBC)

They were not consulted beforehand, they did not get an explanation and they never gave their permission to be moved.

« The Ahiarmiut were moved in a matter of hours, but the effects of the Government of Canada’s actions continue to be felt to this day, » Bennett said.

The only help the Ahiarmuit got was from Dene hunters, but still food was scarce and several people fell ill and died. As fall approached, knowing they could not survive the winter, the group began a three-month, 100 kilometre walk back to Ennadai Lake through the snow.

They knew the migration routes of caribou and where to find smaller game around Ennadai, but still, years later, the government moved them again.

In 1957, despite being told by Ahiarmiut that the place they were moving to did not have plentiful hunting, the Canadian government thought it knew better and left Ahiarmiut near with only six dogs and short term provisions at North Henik and Oftedal Lakes.

Seven Ahiarmiut died after this move, including one who was murdered and another killed in self-defence, so the government moved them again — this time to Arviat.

Arviat was not a comfortable place for the Ahiarmuit. They were held in police custody, their caribou skin clothing was destroyed and they were discouraged from engaging in traditional activities like drum dancing.

Some were moved again to Rankin Inlet and then to Whale Cove, where elders speak of being treated like outsiders, losing their dialect and having to adapt to new foods and cultural practices.

Bennett closed out the apology by saying that no apology can make up for the terrible memories and lost loved ones, but said she is hopeful the milestone can be a foundation for healing and reconciliation.


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Feds won’t change Criminal Code to outlaw forced sterilization, despite First Nations outcry


The Liberal government does not plan to change the Criminal Code to explicitly outlaw coerced sterilization — rejecting a resolution passed by First Nations chiefs on Thursday.

Heather Bear, the vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations that includes 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said Thursday that Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — a former Assembly of First Nations regional chief herself, in British Columbia — must “do the right thing.”

Survivors of forced, coerced sterilization demand accountability

“The prime minister of Canada has made all these statements on the national stage about truth and reconciliation,” Bear said in an interview. “We know the justice system doesn’t work for us but this is one way we can put an end to this. I’m really surprised.”

Dozens of Indigenous women say they’ve been pressured into sterilization procedures they didn’t want, or had them carried out without being asked when they were seeing doctors for other reasons.

Coerced sterilization must be criminalized to ensure legal accountability, Bear said, adding the issue is connected to the issue of violence against Indigenous women – the subject of a national inquiry underway in Canada.

WATCH: Alberta woman who successfully sued province for wrongful sterilization dies

“Now it is about killing the ones unborn,” Bear said. “It is really a devastating issue that I hope there is more and more awareness (about) each and every day.”

Bear’s comments come after Wilson-Raybould’s office said in a statement to The Canadian Press that it is taking a public-health approach to the issue.

“Our government believes that everyone must receive culturally safe health services no matter where they live,” said the minister’s spokesman David Taylor. “The coerced sterilization of some Indigenous women is a serious violation of human rights and is completely unacceptable.”

But he pointed to existing provisions within the Criminal Code meant to forbid “a range of criminal behaviour” including forced sterilizations.

Alisa Lombard, a lawyer leading a proposed class action of Indigenous women who allege they endured coerced sterilizations in Saskatchewan, said Thursday that changing the Criminal Code is the most concrete thing the government can do about them.

READ MORE: ‘Monstrous’ allegations of forced sterilization of Indigenous women must be examined, NDP say

Lombard’s firm, Maurice Law, has listed the Saskatoon Health Authority, the provincial government, the federal government and a handful of medical professionals as defendants in its statement of claim.

About 100 women have now come forward to report they have been forcibly sterilized, Lombard said – a jump of 40 women since The Canadian Press published a story on the issue in November detailing a push from Ontario Sen. Yvonne Boyer to study the issue nationally.

An existing Criminal Code provision speaks to the involuntary termination of pregnancies. Another provision on aggravated assault applies to anyone “who wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant.”

A legal void remains, Lombard said.

“We can point to the fact this has been an ongoing occurrence since the 1930s and so the absence of a preventive measure has clearly paved the way for it to continue to happen up until as recently as 2017,” she said.

National review urged over coerced sterilization of Indigenous women

Saskatchewan appears to be the “epicentre” of the practice, Lombard said, adding her firm has also heard from women from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

“My hope is that the voices of these women will have made a difference and that the voices of these women will ensure future generations of Indigenous girls do not have to bear the same burden of having the same discussion,” Lombard said.

In late November, a rapporteur with the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva said forced sterilization must be seen as equivalent to torture and asked for Canada to consider specific criminal provisions covering it, regardless of whether it’s done by a public agent or private individual.

Human-rights groups – the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Amnesty International Canada, and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights – are expected to respond to recommendations to be released by the committee on Friday.


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Okotoks family fears they will be forced to leave Canada following permanent residence rejection


A family of four chasing the Canadian dream in Okotoks fear they may soon have no choice but to pack up their belongings and leave the country.

Mexican nationals Guillermo Rojas Vertiz Cervantes, his wife Irma Canut and their two children were certain they would obtain permanent residence over the summer, but were rejected by Immigration Canada due to the way an immigration agent defined “employee” versus “self-employed.”

Rojas Vertiz Cervantes – whose temporary work permit expires Dec. 1 and has not yet been extended – believes that without permanent residence, his family will be forced to return to Mexico.

“We are stressed and anxious. We don’t know what to do,” he said.

Investing in Canada

The family was introduced to Okotoks by chance during a trip to western Canada in 2013. Touring B.C. and Alberta, they stopped in the town on Halloween and picked up costumes to celebrate the holiday.

Rojas Vertiz Cervantes said he was struck by the kindness of the locals, and he and his wife decided it would be a good place to fulfill their dream of opening a café and restaurant in Canada.

Guillermo Rojas Vertiz Cervantes was refused permanent residence due to a discrepancy over his work experience.

Blake Lough / Global News

That’s how they met their realtor, Inge French, who quickly became one of their closest friends.

“They are the highest quality people I have ever met,” French said. “They’re delightful, they’re intelligent, they’re articulate, they’re educated, and their children are spectacular.”

Moving to Canada through an investor program, Rojas Vertiz Cervantes and Canut leased a property where they would open their business, Café Cancun.

Both Rojas Vertiz Cervantes and Canut own shares in the company.

“We have sold everything in Mexico in order to set our business here in Canada,” Rojas Vertiz Cervantes said.

In order to qualify for permanent residence in Canada’s Express Entry system, Rojas Vertiz Cervantes needed at least one year of skilled work experience as an employee, so he took on the job of director and manager.

An employee contract as well as pay stubs and tax returns provided to Global News showed Rojas Vertiz Cervantes worked and paid taxes as an employee. Even the work permit issued to Cervantes by Immigration Canada lists him as an employee.

In a ruling the family requested from the Canada Revenue Agency, it concluded Rojas Vertiz Cervantes worked as an employee.

‘Truly a nightmare’

All that information was submitted to Immigration Canada in the application for permanent residence.

But in July, the family received a letter from an immigration agent outlining “serious concerns” with Rojas Vertiz Cervantes’ application.

Citing the fact that he owned shares in the company he worked for, the agent deemed Rojas Vertiz Cervantes’ work experience as “self-employment.”

Under the Canadian Experience Class stream of Immigration Canada’s Express Entry system, self-employment does not count as skilled work experience.

The letter shocked the family.

“I am not self-employed,” Rojas Vertiz Cervantes said. “I pay taxes and the corporation pays taxes as a corporation.”

“We are good people, we are good, hard-working people.”

Rojas Vertiz Cervantes responded with a reconsideration letter, but a few weeks later the refusal letter arrived.

“I am not satisfied based on a balance of probabilities that your employment with Café Cancun Co. Inc. is not self-employment,” read part of the refusal letter.

Irma Canut says the worst case scenario for her family is that they will need to move back to Mexico after investing all they had into their Canadian business.

Blake Lough / Global News

“We never expected it to be this way,” Canut said, “because we thought that we were doing everything as perfect as it could be. We didn’t want to take any chances.”

“It became a catastrophe when we received [the letter],” she added. “We were not thinking of renewing our working permits because we were almost sure that we were going to be permanent residents by the end of the summer.”

‘Arbitrary’ definition

So why does Immigration Canada consider a person “self-employed” when seemingly all other documentation and branches of government consider he or she an “employee?”

Long time immigration lawyer Michael Greene – who is not connected to the case – said that when the Express Entry system was developed, Immigration Canada adopted a much narrower interpretation of employment.

Michael Greene, with Sherritt Greene Barristers & Solicitors, says there is no consistent definition of “employee” versus “self-employed” across federal government branches.

Blake Lough / Global News

“One branch of the federal government says ‘you’re an employee’ and taxes you on that basis and the other branch says, ‘well, we’re not going to count that as employment for immigration purposes so too bad, so sad,’ ” he said.

Greene said he has seen this issue come up in immigration cases before and believes changes should be made to create consistency throughout all government branches.

“When we see something like this happen I say, is this really necessary? Should we be applying such an arbitrary definition and why are we applying a definition that’s different than what the CRA is applying?”

Global News reached out to Immigration Canada for comment on this story, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Worst-case scenario

“We are at a point where we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what door to knock, and we don’t know who to talk to on the phone,” Rojas Vertiz Cervantes said.

Even if the extension is granted when December hits, he would only be allowed to work at the café, which has been closed due to a separate legal issue with the building’s landlord.

Canut’s job at a local daycare alone would not be enough to support the family.

“The worst-case scenario is we need to leave,” Canut said.

“The decision of one agent is really affecting the future of the whole family,” she added. “I’m an adult, I can live with that. I can clean my tears and move on. But I have two kids that have made a whole life here that they can truly not imagine living away from here.”

“It’s really starting to come home that they might have to leave,” added French.

“For a family that is contributing to the community, that is not sucking any resources from Canada – they are contributing – the idea of sending them home? I can’t wrap my head around it,” she said.

The family has sent letters to their local MP, the office of Immigration and to the Prime Minister himself, hoping for some sort of intervention.

“I believe in Canada,” Canut said. “And I truly believe that someone will hear us and realize that we are not a number.”

Friends of the family have launched a GoFundMe campaign to support Rojas Vertiz Cervantes and Canut as they try to find a solution.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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