Kelly Ellard is a murderer, and, according to recent reports, she is also about to be a mother. She was granted a conjugal visit while serving a life sentence for the murder of 14 year old Reena Virk, whom she beat to death under a bridge when she was only 15 herself. She was sentenced in 2005 to life in prison, a term of 25 years in Canada, with no possibility of parole for 7 years. She is now 33 years old and 8 months pregnant with the child of a heroin addict who is serving a jail sentence himself for breaking into homes to finance his addiction.
The news has sparked outrage and demands for new policy to prevent situations like this from occurring again. While I am in no way a fan of this woman or the actions that led to her incarceration, I am still left wondering why this is receiving so much attention and backlash? It is not news that children are born into deplorable conditions every second of every day, to parents who are unfit to care for them, or unable, in places that are unstable or unsafe and the resulting life of hardship and limitation that is these children’s birthright is certainly unfair.
Children, however, are also sometimes born into perfect-seeming families that are in reality anything but. When abuse comes packaged in a carefully constructed façade of suburban bliss, it can be easy to overlook. The juxtaposition between appearance and reality only becomes evident in such situations when cracks in this illusion of normalcy appear, often resulting in revelations of children trapped in a nightmare of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. These children suffer at the hands of abusers who outwardly present as upstanding citizens. Society’s acceptance of them can make it all the more difficult for their victims to seek help or emotionally process their pain and trauma.
It is estimated that 32% of Canadians have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to intimate partner violence or a combination of these while they were young. Such exposure is correlated with increased incidence of mental health disorders, and suicidal thoughts, gestures, and completed acts. When something is this prolific, it is usually not limited in terms of race, religion or class. Instead, when the numbers are this high, it is safe to assume that children hailing from every level of every measure are affected. And, as research shows, they are.
I also was under the impression that we as a society stopped decided for people whether or not they were fit to procreate when we began apologizing to all those marginalized groups our governments sterilized, refused to grant marriage rights to, and those whose children were stolen then raised without access to their religion, community, language and culture, not to mention love, respect or human dignity.
The beneficial nature of this country’s parental interference is simply not evidence-based. Rather, these ill-conceived and carried out interventions often resulted in the breakdown of the communities they were meant to “save”, so powerful in their negative impact that the ripples of these poor choices are still with us today, evidenced in the increased rates of mental illness, substance abuse, child welfare involvement, criminal justice system involvement, homicide, and suicide that is an ongoing reality for those affected.