Canada's largest daily newspaper
Father's heart aches for abducted sons
The Toronto Star, by Katie Daubs, Staff Reporter, March 8, 2010
The Polish lessons didn't bother Stephen Watkins. Sure, they made him a little uneasy, but he couldn't object to his children learning their mother's native language.
When they didn't show up for school one day last March, it was painfully clear the lessons weren't cultural enrichment.
Watkins' nightmare, the culmination of a toxic separation and years-long custody battle, became real. His estranged wife Edyta had taken Christopher, then 4, and Alex, then 7, out of the country on her court-ordered weekend access.
Police confirmed the boys had crossed into New York state with their grandfather and mother on March 8 and later boarded a flight to Germany.
One year later, Stephen Watkins' life is on hold. Birthdays, holidays and anniversaries pass without news.
Those close to the investigation say the mother of his children was a force to be reckoned with, a woman no system could stop.
Her name is Edyta Watkins. Her whereabouts are unknown, although York Regional Police believe she is in Poland, the place of her birth.
Edyta Watkins moved to Canada as a child. She holds dual citizenship, speaks Polish, German, English and French, and goes by many names - Alexandra, Edith and Edyta. There is currently a Canada-wide warrant for her arrest, and an Interpol red notice, advising other countries the warrant exists.
Her father Tadeusz (Ted) Ustaszewski, 75, faces charges for aiding and abetting the abduction. He declined to speak with the Star.
Ustaszewski has told police he was unaware of his daughter's plans.
"He's got his objectives," Det. Const. Jesse Mann said. "As far as he's concerned, he's doing right by his daughter."
Poland does not have an extradition treaty with Canada, but it is a party to the Hague Convention, which is an international agreement to expedite the process of returning abducted children. For the convention to work, Alexander and Christopher have to be located.
The search has been slow. Tips are passed on, but they have amounted to nothing. In January, Polish courts ordered a countrywide search, but Mann said he has no counterpart investigator in Poland.
"I don't know how engaged they are to dig any further," he said.
To understand the abduction, you have to go back to the beginning of an acrimonious union.
Stephen Watkins, 38, met Edyta Ustaszewski in 1996, when she was dating a friend of his. When they split, Watkins and Ustaszewski began dating in 1998. Edyta was a background actor in commercials, TV and film, and he worked on the production side.
They married in 2001 and had two children, but it was far from suburban bliss. When the pair separated three and a half years later, they were awarded joint custody, although the children stayed primarily with their mother.
Watkins says that arrangement didn't work. He was routinely in court fighting for his weekend access. Court records show both parents made allegations of abuse against each other.
In a final court order in January 2009, Stephen Watkins was granted custody. Edyta was granted access every second weekend.
"The father ought not to take this choice as a victory for him," Justice Geraldine Waldman wrote in her 19-page decision. "The real issue is the parental conflict which I attribute equally to both mother and father."
Although a social worker testified Edyta was an "excellent mother," Waldman was concerned that Edyta "allows her anger to become Read More .. important than acting in a child-focused manner."
"Ms. Watkins is clearly the Read More ..latile of the parents," Waldman wrote. "She has strong opinions and is committed to them. She is unwilling to be cooperative as a strategy. She will not be pushed around."
In her closing notes, Waldman asked the parents to stop fighting.
"I would suggest that rather than funding further litigation, the families assist the parents in paying for a parenting coordinator to help these people problem-solve," she wrote. "These children desperately need this conflict to end. I urge the parents to act appropriately."
While police believe the abduction was planned, those close to Edyta say they knew nothing.
Ania Danilkow says she was Edyta's best friend before she got married. Danilkow last saw her a month before she vanished, when she was "trying to get her boys back."
"(She) did everything she was asked to do," Danilkow wrote in an email. "She is a good mother. Someone to look up to."
Danilkow had no idea she was gone.
"No wonder she did not keep in touch."
According to the RCMP, 300 children were abducted by a parent in 2008.
It's not unusual for parents to contact the RCMP's National Missing Children Services before an abduction happens. The RCMP advises parents to contact the passport office, go to the courts, and talk to their children.
Watkins tried all three.
While Passport Canada put his children on a watch list for the issuing of new passports, it wasn't helpful.
The agency doesn't meddle in domestic disputes. Rather, it encourages parents to use the courts to retrieve passports.
Watkins' lawyer Michael Chilco said Edyta didn't obey multiple court orders to hand over the passports in the ongoing custody dispute. Chilco said a contempt motion brought against her fizzled out when she continued to adamantly claim she didn't have them.
"She had fortitude," Chilco said. "She was bold and unbelievable."
As the man left behind pores over his court records and files, he is frustrated with the justice system. He knows his boys wouldn't have made it to Europe without their passports.
Watkins has a lot of time to think. He hasn't worked as an irrigation consultant for a while.
Watkins was adopted at birth into a loving family. He has since met his birth mother, but never his father.
"I vowed that I would never follow the footsteps of my biological father and I would always be a part of my sons' lives," he said.
Although she criticized both parents for the ongoing conflict, Waldman commended Watkins' efforts at parenting. "Mr. Watkins has taken active steps to improve his parenting and has worked hard at being a good father," she wrote in the final judgment.
But less than two months after those words were written, his boys were gone. Since that day, Watkins swings from lows to highs. On his good days, he writes emails to politicians, scans the web for news, and updates the blog dedicated to finding his children.
"You don't sleep and you don't eat," he said. "I'm up all night."
For Read More ..formation or to share a lead, visit: www.watkins-missing-children.com or contact York Regional Police at 905-895-1221.