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Joni Mitchell's granddaughter is at the centre of a vicious custody battle

The Report Newsmagazine, 2001 04 02, p. 35

Rain and snow on everyone

Joni Mitchell's granddaughter is at the centre of a vicious custody battle

by Eli Schuster

Joni_Mitchell.jpg (6164 bytes)Singer Mitchell (left) and daughter Gibb: Mom appears to be steering clear of her daughter's custody battle.

FOLK singer Joni Mitchell is probably thinking of altering her famous song to "You don't know what you've got till it's back." Four years ago, photos of her hugging her long-lost daughter, who has the same high cheekbones and long blonde hair she does, were front-page features in newspapers around the world. "I've had pain and joy in my life but nothing like this," Ms. Mitchell proclaimed. Since then she has looked at the other side of the mother-daughter relationship. Accounts hit the news last month that police had been called to the singer's villa in Los Angeles when the daughter reported her mother had slapped her during an argument. Now documents about the daughter's vicious custody battle reveal a sordid story including allegations of addictions and sexual abuse.

Back in 1965 when Ms. Mitchell was an unmarried art student in Toronto, she had given up for adoption her daughter, Kelly Dale. Renamed Kilauren, the girl had been raised by a wealthy family in Don Mills, and had attended private schools and private clubs. After taking courses at Harvard University and the University of Toronto, and enjoying a modelling career in Paris and New York that included a stint as cover girl for Chatelaine, Kilauren Gibb had children by two different men. The first child, a boy, was the son of Paul Kohler, a man Ms. Gibb married in 1992 and separated from in 1995. The second, a girl, was the offspring of Edward Barrington, a fellow student Ms. Gibb had known since 1979, and who lives in Toronto at a different address.

While most of the media coverage surrounding Ms. Gibb has focused on her stormy relationship with her mother, much less attention has been placed on the vicious custody battle she and Mr. Barrington are waging for their 20-month-old daughter.

In a four-page handwritten statement filled with spelling and grammatical errors, Ms. Gibb accuses her former boyfriend of being "mentally unstable... an alcoholic who self-medicates through his depression...a drug user and addict...obsessed with pornography via videos, magazines, the internet, peep shows and strip clubs." She says, "his best friends are criminals--x- cons, female escorts etc." Ms. Gibb claims she "caught him performing and allowing what [she] would call sexual abuse to a minor...I have cought him in the bath with my daughter on 3 separate occasions, each time she was held between his legs." Ms. Gibb then levels a grotesque allegation unsuitable to print, and continues, "When I tried to remove her he said 'don't spoil it--your just being paranoid and jellous. On another occasion he had herpes lesions and she was too close. That time I removed her." 

She reported none of the alleged incidents to authorities at the time she says they happened; she did so only after she began a bid for sole custody of the child last fall. The Children's Aid Society of Toronto investigated and concluded, "There is no evidence to suggest any immediate child protection concerns." Despite numerous attempts by this magazine to question Ms. Gibb about the allegations, she remained unavailable for comment. 

In his own statement, Mr. Barrington discusses "Kilauren's uncontrolled outbursts of rage and frustration, excessive marijuana and alcohol usage," and his own sense of helplessness against her. "I now find myself in the family court system--needlessly spending thousands of dollars that otherwise could be spent on our child. I cannot afford this expensive burden but [Ms. Gibb] has painted me, to my complete disgust, as an intravenous drug user, a potential pedophile and even endeavoured to question paternity in her original application to the Ontario Court of Justice. With the simple stroke of a pen, I have been blocked from seeing our daughter...and all of my inquiries as to her current status have been continuously rebuffed. It has been 120 days since I last saw our daughter." 

Mr. Barrington has been advised not to speak to the media, but Louise Malenfant, a family advocate in Edmonton with Parents Helping Parents, has plenty to say on his behalf. She says that of all Ms. Gibbs' many allegations, Mr. Barrington admits only that he used to have a criminal friend who left a syringe in an empty beer bottle at Mr. Barrington's home, but says the friend is "no longer welcome" because of it. Ms. Malenfant also says Mr. Barrington bathed with his daughter, but insists "it was a bonding experience, and there was nothing wrong with it. The incident was turned into something quite dirty. These allegations hit in August 2000 when the custody battle began. What's interesting is that she was 15 months old when this supposedly took place--that's pretty young for sexual abuse." Ms. Malenfant wonders why, if Ms. Gibb had these concerns, she did not report the alleged incidents of sexual abuse right away, and why she apparently allowed sexual abuse to take place on three separate occasions. 

While the baby appears to be the "spitting image" of Joni Mitchell, Ms. Malenfant says that "based on file materials, it looks like Joni wants to stay away from this like the plague." Ms. Gibb is unemployed, lives in a downtown Toronto condominium and "doesn't seem to have a lot of money behind her case." Even so, Ms. Malenfant says Ms. Gibb has arbitrarily cancelled supervised visits between Mr. Barrington and his daughter, and seems to be getting things her way.

Ms. Malenfant complains that in spite of the Children's Aid Society report, Justice Penny Jones has severely limited Mr. Barrington's access to his daughter, so Ms. Malenfant is seeking to have Madam Justice Jones removed from the case. In Ms. Malenfant's words: "Justice Jones, in her actions and in her comments, seems to be unaware of the skills required to manage such cases. Instead, her actions have only encouraged the continuation of the campaign to exclude the father, bringing unwarranted empowerment to the accusing mother." 

The Edmonton-based Parents Helping Parents was founded in Winnipeg in 1994 to establish "quality of service and fairness for the community from its child welfare system," and to reduce "the conflict which arises from divorce." Ms. Malenfant sees a bias against men in the family court system, and believes that since perjury is rarely punished in family law, women are encouraged to make outrageous allegations, and "the biggest liar wins." She adds: "There's usually one accuser and one person trying to clear their name. I would love to see the term 'malicious mom' become just as well-known as 'deadbeat dad.'" 

Mary-Ann Summers of Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General disputes Ms. Malenfant's opinion of the family law system. In her words, "The family law rules are designed to help families resolve their problems more quickly, at less cost, with less conflict and with more emphasis on the welfare of the children. The government believes processes are in place for a fair resolution for all parties."


The Report Newsmagazine

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Posted 2001 04 12


Parents Helping Parents

Louise Malenfant

malenfant.jpg (2818 bytes)

Family Advocate, Parents Helping Parents

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Louise Malenfant passed away in 2006.  She is being missed.

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