The Mother climbed into her red Dakota pickup truck and placed the key in the ignition. She was about to pull out of a parking lot at Bayer’s Lake Industrial Park in Halifax—she’d just spent the afternoon shopping with her mom—when her cell phone rang. She looked at the clock. 2:50 pm. She thought it was her husband, The Stepdad, calling to say he’d be ready to be picked up at 4:00.
“Hi — (The Mother) —. It’s the Halifax Regional Police.”
“We arrested — (The Boy) —.”
“What happened now?”
It wasn’t the first time she’d gotten a call like this, on her cell phone, or while sitting behind the wheel of her truck.
The winter before—during The Boy’s early run-ins with police for stealing cars—she’d been driving the red Dakota on the Circumferential Highway, through the heart of Dartmouth. The phone rang. It was the police. They told her they’d caught her son stealing a car. And they were about to bring him home. Again.
“But this is the third time this week… he can’t come home. You’ve got to take him somewhere.”
“No… we’re bringing him home.”
“Don’t bring him to me. No one’s home. Don’t bring him there. I won’t be there.”
The police kept her son in custody that night—for one night—and brought him home in the morning.
Now, with her mom seated beside her, it was another call.
“What happened now?” she asked.
“He was in an accident… causing death.”
She repeated the words, out loud, slowly. She asked for details, but the officer wouldn’t tell her more. She turned the key in the ignition, put the gear shift into drive, and headed to police headquarters in Halifax.
The Mother rushed into the dreary-looking brick building. She pleaded with the police officers to tell her what happened, to tell her more. But the officers said they couldn’t tell her anything. The investigation was ongoing.
Her son was there, in the same building, but she couldn’t see him either. She didn’t know if she even wanted to.
The Mother left police headquarters, knowing three things.
The Boy was in an accident.Someone was killed.Other kids were in the car with her son.
That was it. Details came the next day through the media. The Boy allegedly stole a car—a 1992 Chrysler LeBaron—with four of his friends. Three other boys and a girl. The Boy was driving. He sped up to drive through a yellow light at an intersection. The police were following him, flashed their lights, he didn’t stop.
The Boy drove faster, trying to get away. He came to the next intersection. The lights were red. He drove through.
The LeBaron struck a car, a 1991 Toyota Camry, rolled up over a curb and stopped. The Camry bolted across the grassy median, knocked into oncoming traffic. The Boy got out and ran.
The paramedics came, pulled the driver of the Camry out of the car. It was a woman: Theresa McEvoy, a 52-year-old mother of three boys and an educational assistant at a nearby elementary school. She had been returning to work after a lunch break.
And now she was dead.
The Mother digested the news over the weekend. On Sunday evening, she picked up the phone and called ATV news.
“I’m the mother of the 16-year-old boy who was driving the car that killed Theresa McEvoy… I want to tell you my story.”
She had to let the McEvoy’s know she did everything she could to stop this from happening. She had to.
The court was in recess. It was January 20, more than three months since the accident. It was a bigger courtroom this time. Five rows instead of two. More breathing room for the people who turned up to watch her son—the family, the press, herself—enter a plea.
The Mother sat in the front row and watched as the family gathered around, talking to the crown prosecutor. The McEvoys. The name was ingrained in her mind.
They were so close, just five or six feet away, yet she couldn’t say anything to them.
She had made a statement to the media—“We didn’t want this to happen. We tried everything we possibly could to prevent it. We’re so, so sorry”—but she wanted to tell them them.
But she couldn’t.
A long, deep sigh escaped her lips. She knew her son would be there soon, but still she couldn’t relax. Would they take him through a back door into the courtroom? Or would they lead him up the stairs, as the camera operators moved in to get their shots for the evening’s news hour?
Her hands clutched a pen and a piece of paper—she always takes notes at these proceedings so she can go home and digest the news later—and she waited.
The Mother knew the province’s justice minister Michael Baker was in Ottawa to talk to federal justice minister Irwin Cotler on the same day she was sitting in the courtroom, waiting.
The Boy’s story had attracted a lot of attention in this province. A lot of outrage, at her and at the justice system. Everyone had an opinion, summed up by a local newspaper columnist:
“The mind grows numb just contemplating all this. How can one so young be such a bad seed already, and where are his parents in all this?”
The public was tired of young kids having their way with the law and, for many, the McEvoy case was the last straw.
On September 29, The Boy was arrested in Windsor after a 50-kilometre high-speed police chase. He already faced 26 charges in the Halifax area and there was a warrant for his arrest. Just one day before, The Mother revoked a bail surety for her son and was no longer responsible for him. She thought the Windsor arrest would mean the courts would keep him in custody until the charges were sorted out. But, on October 12, she got a call from her son. He was in Lower Sackville with a friend.
They had let him go.
Yes, the people were outraged. Not only had The Boy stolen a car that resulted in a fatal accident, he had been let go by a judge in Windsor just two days before the accident because of a mistake, a lapse in memory. Let go because a Halifax prosecutor forgot to send papers that would ensure The Boy’s transfer to Halifax to appear before court on the 26 charges. Without the transfer order, the prosecutor in Windsor didn’t oppose The Boy’s release. The Boy, who was now charged with 29 offences, who was wanted on an arrest warrant in Halifax, whose mother had given him up to the courts because she wasn’t able to control him, was let go. Free to hitchhike back the city, free to steal another car with his friends.
That mistake, that lapse in memory, created a tornado of controversy in this city. The family, the McEvoy’s, requested a public inquiry into the events leading up to Theresa’s death and the justice department gave in. An inquiry would begin following the criminal proceedings.
It was this case that drove Minister Baker to Ottawa. He was there to propose changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. Now, vehicle theft is a property crime under both systems. Baker wants this changed—he wants to reclassify automobile theft as a violent crime. This means stiffer penalties for kids who steal cars.
Kids like The Boy.
The Mother knew this and thought about it as she waited.
The door opened. She could hear the commotion in the hallway—the feet shuffling as the cameramen turned their bodies to keep filming, the cameras clicking as the photographers scrambled to get a shot of the back of his head as he entered the courtroom.
The Boy walked through the doors and took a seat on the hard, wooden bench.
The Mother watched as her son’s eyes stared at a spot above the judge’s head, his shoulders slumping downward. Two stone-faced police officers sat on either side of him, staring at the boy in the blue cargo jeans and white running shoes with red shoelaces.
The Boy’s eyes turned to her. Her shoulders started to shake and she struggled to keep her composure. She reached into the pocket of her white, slim-fitting jacket and she pulled out a tissue to wipe away the tears that started, slowly filling her eyes. She couldn’t let them stream down her cheeks, fall off her chin and into her lap. Not here, where everyone was watching her.
She knew what he would say if he was allowed to talk to her.
Mom, why are you crying? Don’t worry about it, Mom. Stop crying.
He pulled his shaggy brown hair from his eyes, pulled it back, into the beginnings of a ponytail.
The Mother shook her head just slightly, but enough to show her disapproval. His hands dropped and his hair fell around his face.
She didn’t like it when he put his hair in a ponytail. And he knew it.
Ten minutes and it was over. Her son pled guilty, admitted his part in the accident. The officers escorted him out of the courtroom as the photographers moved in to get their shots.
The Boy was born, 16 years ago,
in a typical Newfoundland community. A community built on miles of rugged coastline, brought together more than 200 years ago by European fishermen needing a place to settle down, raise their families and make a living in the seas.
A town where a little boy could skip smooth beach rocks across the endless ocean, could get his feet wet looking for mussels and clams and miniature crab, could walk across the wooden planks of the weather-beaten stage and convince a fisherman to let him hold a grey, speckled codfish.
That is, if he wanted to.
The Mother gave birth to The Boy when she was 19. She had known The Dad for as long as she could remember. They got married and moved into a house just down the street from her parents. Her son would grow up with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins all around him. Just like she had. Just like it should be.
But things didn’t work out for The Boy’s parents. They split up just a month before The Boy’s third birthday. That summer, work at the local fish plant had fallen off, and a moratorium that would shake the foundations of the lives of thousands of Newfoundlanders was just around the corner.
Like so many during that time, The Mother (at age 22), The Boy and The Mother’s new boyfriend moved away, off the island, to start a new life on the mainland.
Opportunity: That was what the mainland gave them. Maybe it would have been the same in Newfoundland, had they stayed, because it came when the fishery shut down and the federal government started The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy (TAGS) to provide income support to those involved in the groundfish industry. The Mother and The Stepdad lost their jobs, but were given the chance to write a high school equivalency test and go to college to get a trade.
This meant the family moved a lot when The Boy was young—three provinces and six communities by age 11. Even kindergarten was disrupted as they moved from one province to another and then back again.
At about age seven, The Boy was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and was taking Ritalin for a while. They took him off the drug, however; it made him too violent and he was never a violent kid. He would throw temper tantrums and she’d have to get social workers to come into her home to help her. But they learned how to manage that and moved on.
Problems surfaced with The Boy’s father. The Dad kept telling The Boy that when he got older, he could move to Newfoundland and live with him. But The Boy was never old enough. Each year, The Dad would put off his promise until The Boy’s next birthday, and The Mother would have to deal with her son’s disappointment. The Dad also caused problems at home, telling The Boy he didn’t have to listen to his stepdad because he wasn’t his “real father.”
Even so, he was a normal kid.
No, he didn’t like T-ball; he quit after just a few practices. Didn’t really like soccer or basketball either, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do normal kid stuff—like coasting down the hill on a Super G-T, wrapping his arms tightly around his big golden-haired shepherd and eating KFC at the dinner table with his best friend, grins on both their faces and drumsticks in their hands.
“If I had to do it over, I would never have moved into the city.” The Mother thinks that was the turning point somehow. If they had just stayed in the country, maybe everything would have been all right.
The Boy began getting into serious trouble in grade 5, his first year in Dartmouth. Misbehaving in the classroom, disrupting the other students. She talked to his teachers, talked to him, tried to get him to be a “good” kid, tried to be the Good Mother.
It didn’t help.
By grade 7, he was being bullied by kids who went to the same junior high school. She contacted the police. They suggested Bully Busters, a group that helps kids deal with bullies. People from the group talked to The Boy, the school and the bullies, but things didn’t get better.
The school did try to help him—it completed a number of assessments in April 2002. He was diagnosed with an eye disorder, scotopic sensitivity syndrome. He had a hard time reading black words on a white page. The words would become blurry, they’d swim on the page, form a circle and become a swirling pile of disorder and chaos. Word soup. The assessment didn’t make his world clearer. The next month, the school got fed up and kicked him out for the rest of the school year.
The Boy spent the summer in Newfoundland with his Dad. He said he wanted to start junior high all over again, but this time on the island. But this arrangement didn’t last long. By the end of September, The Dad kicked him out and sent him back to his mom in Dartmouth.
When he returned, The Mother enrolled him in a different junior high, out of their neighbourhood. There, he started grade 7 for the third time.
She thought things might get better—she rearranged her work schedule, brought him to school in the morning, made sure he got there. Things didn’t change, though; they didn’t even stay the same. They got worse.
She started getting calls at work, constantly, to go to the school, to pick him up. He’d disrupted class, talked back to a teacher, punched a student, didn’t bring a pencil and paper. The school wanted to expel him, so she took him out and tried home-schooling instead. She set it up with his teachers. He would complete the assigned work at home and bring it in at the end of every month to be assessed.
It didn’t work. It didn’t even last the first month.
The Boy told her he was tired of her rules, The Stepdad’s rules. He wanted out. He came home one day and told his mom he wanted to live in a group home. He said a friend of his had been in one and she raved about it—she had money, she was living with friends, she had freedom to come and go as she pleased.
In November, The Mother agreed, not because she believed her son’s account of life in the group home, but because she thought a new environment with rules and staff to enforce them might help him finally get the discipline he was lacking.
The Mother regrets her decision now—she believes her son met other kids at the group home who introduced him to a whole new realm of trouble. The Boy had been right: Instead of the structured environment she had hoped for, he did get the money, he did get the freedom and he could come and go as he pleased.
On January 22, 2004, The Boy was caught stealing a vehicle. And then another and another. She was so afraid something bad would happen to him, or to another kid or some innocent person who just got in the way, she and The Stepdad ended up driving over to the group home late at night, hiding out and watching for their son to emerge from the building with his friends and take off in another car parked on the street. The Mother would then call the police and report him. Incredibly, he faced some of his charges at the time of Theresa McEvoy’s death because his mother and stepfather had turned him in.
The problem is it didn’t change anything.
Today, The Mother is angry. Angry at her son, angry that he started stealing cars, angry that someone had to die, angry that his life is over. He should have known better.
But she’s angrier at the system. “The schools screwed us, community services screwed us, justice screwed us… everyone screwed us.”
And, perhaps worst of all, she thinks all of it—everything she did, everything her husband did—was for nothing. Nothing at all. A woman was killed and everything they did couldn’t prevent it.
“But, Mom, she could starve,
or freeze to death tonight. We have to keep her.”
It was a cold evening, nippy for early September. It wouldn’t be long before the leaves would be turning colour and the landscape transformed into a kaleidoscope of deep reds, fiery oranges and canary yellows. Early September—just a month before the accident.
The Boy stood next to their camper, pleading his case. A small black kitten with patches of white fur on its paws, neck and belly rested in his cupped hand.
He got the kitten just a few minutes before. He was walking through the campground when a young girl, standing in front of the mixed forest wedged between the lake and the highway, waved for him to come closer. She found a kitten, but wouldn’t touch it because she was allergic to fur. The Boy couldn’t leave the kitten in the bushes—he loves cats, has a 10-year-old at home.
So The Boy took the little kitten in his hands and walked back to the camper.
“Mom, we can’t just leave her. Come on.”
The kitten’s blue eyes stared up at The Mother—she could feel her resolve weakening, her initial “No way!” fading in the evening twilight.
Perhaps her son was right—maybe the kitten would freeze tonight.
The Stepdad spoke up. “Yeah, let’s keep her. It’d be a sin to leave her ’ere.”
The next day, the little girl found another kitten—this time with a smokey, brownish-gray coat—and The Boy saw the little girl and the other campground kids playing with it. He was afraid it might die. So he brought another tiny kitten back to their camper.
They looked for the mother cat, but couldn’t find it. They asked the other campers if they knew the owner. No one did. They brought the kitten to the nearby store to see if they knew anyone who would want a kitten. They didn’t.
No takers. The Mother gave in. Smut and Smokey would have to come home with them.
“Why are you doing this? Don’t you know you’re hurting your mother?”
The Neighbour. She’s known The Boy since he moved next door, almost six years ago. He came to her house the day he was let go by the judge in Windsor. Knocked on her door, two days before the accident.
The Boy wanted to be good at something, she says. He failed at school, he failed with friends, he failed with The Dad. He wanted to be good at something.
And he was good at stealing cars.
He would sit at her table, tell her how to hotwire cars and how to get past security systems. He wasn’t a mean person, though, she says. Whenever he came to her house, he was mild-mannered and polite. The night before the accident The Boy was at The Neighbour’s house.
“Why are you doing this? You’ve got to stop.”
“I don’t care,” he said and shrugged his shoulders casually. He couldn’t see the consequences of his actions, she says. He had no concept of responsibility, for himself or for others.
So why did he start getting into trouble?
The Neighbour thinks The Boy craved attention. She says he didn’t have enough people around him when he was younger: he wasn’t involved in extracurricular activities, he didn’t have many friends in the neighbourhood, he didn’t have a baby-sitter take care of him after school while his parents were working
Others join The Neighbour in pointing fingers at the boy’s relationship with his dad and stepdad.
They say The Dad was never there for him, and The Boy knew how to manipulate his mother with that. He would pull her strings and The Mother would give in. The Stepdad tried to stop this—he saw The Boy’s games and persuaded his wife not to fall for them. In The Boy’s mind, they believe, maybe The Stepdad became the Bad Guy.
But they admire The Mother for going public. She opened the doors to a lot of criticism—which many were quick to give—but she did it for the right reasons. The public inquiry might never have been called if she hadn’t spoken out, if she had allowed her son’s story to catch the headlines for a day or two and then fade away.
She walks through one door… stop. The door closes. Another one opens… through that one. That’s what she remembers most from her first visit here—those doors. She was scared, she didn’t know what she would see on the other side. All she could think about was how cold and lonely prisons seemed on television. In a minute, she was inside and saw the large, open room, the windows and the units surrounding the courtyard. She relaxed. It was better than she expected.
The Mother looks around now for her son. He’s not here, so she sits in the now-familiar teal-green chair. Kind of like airport-lounge seats, only this is not an airport. This is the Nova Scotia Youth Facility at Waterville.
She looks around the large room. The front wall is made up of a long line of windows—from floor to ceiling—and faces a courtyard. It’s a beautiful sunny day, one of those winter days that seem warm from the comfort of your home but catches you unprepared as the bitter wind hits when you walk out the door. The snow in the courtyard reflects the sunlight into the warm room.
She looks through the windows, into the courtyard. One of those buildings, that’s where her son lives. Sometimes she wishes she could see his room, but she can’t. This is the only place she’s allowed to meet her son. Maybe it’s better she doesn’t see how he lives anyway.
There are a lot more people here today than usual. She looks down and sees her white, slim-fitting jacket and black, grey and white knitted scarf—it’s a beautiful scarf, with a soft, silky texture and tinges of purple and blue in the fabric. Her mother knitted it and gave it to her as a Christmas present. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel as beautiful. She was wearing this jacket and scarf the other day at the courthouse and her profile made the news that evening.
Did anyone here see that newscast? She looks around. Will anyone recognize her?
Maybe next time she’ll leave the scarf at home.
Her head keeps turning toward the large windows, looking for her son. There he is, in the courtyard, walking toward the main building. He’s had a hair cut. She’s glad.
He sits in the chair across from her. A small table with a cheap tabletop surface—same as in an airport lounge—lies between them. They talk about the normal, everyday things that most moms and sons talk about: what Nan did yesterday, how big the kittens are getting. They discuss his sentencing for a few minutes. He doesn’t want an adult sentence but says he’ll have to live with it if he gets one. He doesn’t like to talk about the sentencing, or about the McEvoy family. They move on.
She tells him she’s been looking through their family photos lately—she describes one where he was sitting on the corner of an armchair at his grandparents’ house on Christmas morning, still in rumpled pajamas, with his head down, a battery-operated car game, complete with steering wheel and ignition, on his lap; his grandfather was standing next to the chair, with a big smile on his face, showing off his new rifle and scope.
He remembers. Smiles.
“Remember when Poppy used to let me ride the Ski-doo?”She listens as he talks. Her son rarely mentions his grandfather, who died more than a year ago. She brought him Poppy’s moccasin slippers when she visited a few weeks ago. He says he wears them every day, even though they’re a size seven and he’s a size 11.
Maybe he’s ready to talk now.
She keeps chatting, casually, about Poppy and Newfoundland. The Boy gets out of his chair and sits in the one beside her. She’s happy to feel him sitting next to her again.
Time to go. The Mother gets up from her seat and hugs her son.
“I love you,” he says.
“I love you too. Be good.”
A different guard unlocks the door. She walks through… stop. The door closes. The next door opens. Once again, she walks through it, back to the land of the free.
She doesn’t want to think about what it’ll be like if she has to visit him at a federal penitentiary. It was hard enough thinking about Waterville.
Maybe federal prison will actually look like the images from TV.
The Mother doesn’t know why her son started stealing cars. A pre-sentence report prepared for his sentencing hearing in December (for 24 unrelated charges involving stolen cars and police chases) addressed the instability in his life, his parents splitting up, the moves he went through during childhood. It said he was immature and had anger management problems. It also said he may have been abused during his childhood. She denies everything related to the abuse allegations.
“We were involved with social services for so long,” she says now. “If he had been abused, wouldn’t they have taken him from me?”
She’s afraid of what might happen to her son if he gets an adult sentence. She can’t bear the thought of him spending five, six, seven years or more at a federal penitentiary.
She’ll be happy when she knows, though that may take a while. At The Boy’s court appearance earlier this month—a hearing scheduled to hear the Crown’s application to sentence The Boy as an adult—his defence attorney resigned from the case, citing a conflict of interest after The Boy asked to change his plea from guilty to not guilty. That means another lawyer, more hearings, possibly a trial and months before the case is put to rest. And The Mother (and everyone else involved) knows what the future holds for her only child.
“They say everything happens for a reason. I don’t know why this happened, but if no one else has to go through this, maybe that’s why. Maybe they’ll change the law and stop these things from happening again. But I have to be here for him now. His dad, he can’t be here… he can’t forgive him for what he’s done. But me, I have to. I can’t turn my back on him now. He’s my son.”