The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Welcome Home To Canada

by Jennifer McDougall

Moms at the school my children attend cheered at news Melissa Hawach has returned to Canada safely with her two daughters. Since one of the girls had been a classmate of my own daughter last year, this seven month long saga has meant more to our family than just another story in the newspaper. Relieved to be home at last, Melissa held a press conference last Friday, her only avenue for communication with those outside her family and close friends, with observers and acquaintances like me who will probably never see her again as she endeavors to protect Hannah and Cedar from her estranged husband.

A week ago, the only news updates available were from Australia, where the whole mess began. It’s unlike me to read news feeds, or current event blogs, or chase details about personal stories, but this time I was keen to find out where this young mom was and whether she would ever make it back to Canada.

I found several articles by journalist Sandra Lee of the Herald Sun who had interviewed Melissa from “an undisclosed location.” More than seventy reader comments followed one of the articles. People that knew nothing of Melissa and her family beyond the cold sketches drawn by reporters and bloggers were predicting how the abduction came about, criticizing both parents. I was disgusted and wanted to rush to her defense to tell these ill informed readers that Melissa is a caring mother who carried her Tim Horton’s coffee in for kindergarten pickup just like the rest of us, that she didn’t ask to be plunged into the media spotlight, and that she is a hero and a strong role model for her children. This woman's brave action is one I could only hope to take if I were ever in a similar position.

Many readers took the self righteous stance that this woman is mistakenly being made out to be the victim when the only victims here are the two girls caught in a tug of war between two selfish parents. Further surfing uncovered many opinionated remarks reminding others to be fair, to give the benefit of the doubt, to consider there are two sides to every story.

Here’s a little of that other side:

“Tony Tebchrany, the lawyer acting on behalf of Joseph Hawach, told CBC News in February that he and his client were contemplating filing an international warrant for her arrest.

The lawyer said he was mystified about Melissa Hawach's decision to leave when she did. He said the two sides had been nearing a deal on shared custody that would have ended the dispute and seen all charges against the two dropped.” (CBC online report March 2, 2007)
Is this for real? How is it that a guy who avoided Canadian custody courts to drag his children into the middle of a war in Lebanon can criticize a woman for rescuing them? After all, it was he who abandoned custody negotiations in the first place.

His lawyer eagerly fuels the mother's critics:

Joseph Hawach and his lawyer were also shocked that Melissa Hawach would tell her story so publicly, Tebchrany said.

"We were surprised that a subject like this … would be sold to the newspapers," the lawyer said.

Joseph Hawach has received several offers to tell his story, his lawyer said, but he has refused. (from CBC article February 27, 2007)
Not surprising he won't talk, what could he possibly say? I didn't like the looks of the custody arrangement developing in Canada so I thought I'd try my hand in Lebanon.

For me there is a lot of unnecessary debate about a straightforward situation. The facts are simple:

A father took his daughters on vacation to Australia and decided not to bring them back. The mother tracked them down and brought her girls home.

This man broke the law and then hid from authorities. As sole custodian, the mother rescued her children from a country that does not have diplomatic ties with Canada making it impossible for the Canadian government to help her.

Even as the online reader comments annoyed me, I saw myself in their refusal to accept these plain facts. Often I belong to this same kind of news audience, certain that there is more to the story, believing that very few adults are innocently victimized, that we all have a responsibility for the place we find ourselves. It’s so easy to be fair, to try to balance the good and evil when the story isn’t personal.

Now I know I’m wrong. It doesn't always add up to there being two sides.

My compassion for this woman grows every time I think of her. Besides having to face an uncertain future in constant worry for the safety of her and her girls, she has also lost her privacy and is forever vulnerable to the judgment of complete strangers speculating on her motives, on her mistakes.

I winced during television coverage of Melissa’s news conference Friday, afraid that new details would only lead to more criticism. A reporter asked her to comment on Angelina Jolie’s interest in the movie rights to her story. Wisely, Melissa responded with something along these lines: “…my family knows better than to ask me anything about books and movies…I finally agreed to hire an agent to handle those requests…I really just want to be a mom to my girls…”

Another station didn’t bother to quote Melissa directly, likely leading the audience to question her priorities. They simply said that Melissa had hired a movie agent and that she found the Hollywood interest “flattering”.

Melissa will need to brace herself for another round of attacks. God help her.

photo taken from the Sun Herald online article last week


Blogger tamara said...

Great post, Jen. Media spin in Canada seems to have gotten more vicious over the last few years, it seems. Or are we just more aware of it now?

I haven't been following this story, really, so didn't have an opinion one way or the other, but this article has been great for providing me some real insight and perspective. Thanks for posting this.

Tue Mar 06, 01:08:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

A lot of passion comes through this piece, Jen. I can see how strongly you've identified with this mother and, considering your own wee ones, I understand why. I wasn't aware of this story, so thanks for bringing me up to speed. There IS always another side to a story even though it may not be highly defensible. I can see why this woman would sell her story -- it cost her a lot to get her girls back -- but I can also see that people would fault her for that. She's in a tough spot.

(That was me deleting above due to typos -- sorry!)

Tue Mar 06, 02:07:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done Jen. We have been following this with interest as well - Joe lived next door to us before he left with the girls.

Tue Mar 13, 08:55:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Canadian Gypsy said...

Interesting stuff and a great spin on an otherwise biased blog entry.

I think for arguments sake I would suggest that those who have posted comments in here, and the author of this blog have jumped to conclusions and are not fully aware of the domesticate dispute that turned into an international incident.

To hear a different spin on this unfortunate incident might I suggest that you keep an eye on my blog Crooked in Canada. I think you might be a little more than surprised by what I dig up, some of, if not all of which will be published on my blog with documentation and information that not even the news media in Canada can get their hands on.

I know it sounds far fetched, but if you keep on an eye my blog you realize that what I have to say isn't so far fetched.

Fri Mar 30, 04:11:00 am GMT-4  

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