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Campbell River couple camps on legislature lawn after baby apprehended

Philip and Sonja Hathaway said they were first contacted by the ministry after appearing in news stories about their decision to live in a small boat they had built from recycling containers, water bottles and wood
Sonja Hathaway and Philip Hathaway are protesting on the lawn in front of the B.C. legislature after their baby was apprehended. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A couple of new parents are camping on the grounds of the B.C. legislature in protest after their one-month-old baby was apprehended by authorities.

Sonja Hathaway gave birth in Victoria General Hospital on March 11 to baby Amella, who was two months’ premature. Amella weighed only three pounds and needed to remain in the neonatal intensive care unit for care, her parents say.

The couple, who live on a makeshift boat moored in Campbell River, were staying in Jeneece Place after the birth so they could be close to the infant.

On Monday, however, the two say they stepped out briefly and returned to the hospital, only to be told their baby had been apprehended by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. They said they weren’t given a reason or any documentation regarding the apprehension.

“They’ve stolen our child, basically,” said Philip Hathaway.

Philip and Sonja said they were first contacted by the ministry last October after appearing in news stories about their decision to live in a small boat they had built from recycling containers, water bottles and wood, after trying unsuccessfully for years to secure stable housing.

Sonja was nearly two months’ pregnant at the time. The two lived in a makeshift shelter built with Styrofoam, planks, cardboard and tarps at Holland Point in James Bay for a year before building the boat and travelling by sea to Campbell River.

Someone from the Ministry of Children and Family Development got in touch and offered support, Philip said. Sonja began seeing someone from the ministry on a weekly basis and confided that she had struggled with alcohol use after losing a pregnancy at five months in 2020.

She shared with the worker that she did drink a couple of times while pregnant with Amella, but it wasn’t an ongoing problem, Philip said.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks after Amella was born that safety concerns were raised about Amella going home with Sonja and Philip, the couple say. They believe it’s because of an assault charge Philip is facing related to a Dec. 15, 2022, incident in Campbell River that led to a no-contact order between the couple that they say ended in mid-February.

“We did have some rocky times up there. Sonja would get emotional and that, being a mother and freaking out kind of in situations. The police would get called,” Philip said.

Philip said on Dec. 15, he grabbed his wife’s jacket from behind and she threw herself to the ground.

Holding Philip’s hand tightly, Sonja said she “had a tantrum” and she thinks the incident was overblown.

Campbell River RCMP spokesman Const. Maury Tyre said the detachment can’t comment on the incident that led to assault charges because it’s before the courts.

At the request of the ministry, Sonja said she agreed to move into a transitional home in Vancouver without Philip, but she wanted to explore all local options first. Instead, Amella was apprehended Monday.

The two said they have other places to stay, but will camp out on the legislature lawn to raise awareness of their situation.

“We know we can take care of [Amella] even if we don’t have a home. We’ll build our own. We’ll do whatever it takes,” Philip said.

The two were allowed to visit Amella separately Tuesday afternoon for half an hour each, they said. Sonja was pumping breast milk Tuesday in anticipation of the visit.

Sonja, who is from the Dene Tha First Nation in northern Alberta, has been speaking to Amella in Dene and worries she won’t be able to pass on her language and culture if she can’t care for her child.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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