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Man fights for custody of son

Child now in care of Prince Albert couple

The StarPhoenix, by Lori Coolican, Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ever since an anonymous caller tipped him off about his impending fatherhood, a Saskatoon man has been fighting for custody of his baby son, who was mysteriously whisked out of a local hospital within days of birth and is now living with a well-to-do Prince Albert couple.

Rick Fredrickson and fiancee Barb Hesketh-Jones

"At what point do you sit back and say, 'Laws have been broken here?' " Rick Fredrickson said in an interview Friday. "I just wish someone could crack this thing open and find out who was involved." It was mid-April and Fredrickson's ex-girlfriend Tricia -- not her real name -- was almost due to deliver their child when he found out she was pregnant.

The anonymous caller, who identified himself as a relative of Tricia's, warned Fredrickson that she was telling people he was the father and vowing he would never get to see the baby, though she didn't want to keep it herself.

The caller said a "parking lot adoption" had been arranged, adding, "Money has changed hands already. You need to move fast," Fredrickson recalled.

Incredulous, he and his fiancee, Barb Hesketh- Jones, started making phone calls. They informed every authority they could think of -- hospital officials, social services officials, crisis workers -- that he wanted to take care of his son.

They were told Fredrickson had no right to the child -- or even to information about the baby -- without proof of paternity, which could not be obtained until after the birth.

By the time he found out his son had been born, the baby was gone. Hospital officials would not tell him who signed the infant out of their care, except to say it wasn't Tricia -- who had been flagged as a safety risk because of illicit drug abuse.

Members of Tricia's family, including her mother, have told him they strongly suspect Tricia's sister Dora was involved, Fredrickson said.

Dora -- not her real name -- is in charge of an Indian child and family services agency delegated by the provincial Department of Community Resources to arrange foster care and adoptions for children at risk. The childless white couple who have custody of his son are personal friends of Dora's, and it's hard to imagine that's a coincidence, Fredrickson said.

"I work in the same field as she does," Hesketh-Jones said of Dora. "And I know you can't sign off on (the care of) your sister's child. It's a conflict of interest." They've taken their story to officials with Community Resources, the provincial Ombudsman, the Children's Advocate, the RCMP and even Premier Lorne Calvert's office, with no results, Fredrickson said. Their frustration is growing as time passes.

"There should be government agencies that will talk to you," Fredrickson said. "You always hear about deadbeat dads . . . but now I look at it a bit differently.

It's not so cut and dried." A Community Resources spokesperson said the department can't discuss specific cases, but added a child can't be surrendered for adoption or foster care in Saskatchewan without the consent of both parents, unless the identity of the father is unknown or he can't be contacted.

Every day since the birth, Fredrickson applies a new sticker in the shape of a broken heart to the outside of the delivery van he drives for a living. There are 141 of them now, and he's running out of room.

He still hasn't seen a picture of his son.

While working multiple jobs to pay legal bills and other fees that now top $20,000, Fredrickson and Hesketh-Jones have moved to a bigger place and decorated a nursery for the baby, who they plan to name Brekker.

Though a DNA test proved his paternity in early July, they had to wait until this week for a family court judge to officially declare him the father.

They still have to fight for custody at a hearing next month. Meanwhile, the battle to get Brekker home has forced them to submit to -- and pay for -- a $2,500 "home study" evaluating their suitability as parents. They doubt the Prince Albert couple had to face this process.

"I should not have to fight a third party for my son," Fredrickson said.

"I really didn't think it would go this far. It's not just for me -- I want to make some changes for the next guy who comes along." Saskatchewan Party critic Ted Merriman said he contacted Community Resources Minister Buckley Belanger's office in an effort to get the situation resolved after speaking to Fredrickson about the case, but Belanger never called back. His attempts to get answers through other government channels were almost as fruitless, Merriman said.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to this guy. This is an open and shut case. Why are we even talking about it? We're having trouble getting foster families in this province and here's a guy who wants to take the kid, and we don't want to give him to him? I don't get it.

The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006