Reunion on the horizon
Roberta Vaneltsi facing choice of one child visiting or none

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 17/00) - There's a chance -- a slim one -- that this summer may bring a long-awaited reunion for a determined Yellowknife mother.

Roberta Vaneltsi is hopeful her two eldest children, Roman and Petra, will have a chance to visit Canada this summer.

It would be the first time the two have set foot on Canadian soil since being taken to the Czech Republic by Vaneltsi's estranged husband, Petr Cerny, in 1994. Currently, Vaneltsi is struggling to decide whether or not a visit from one child would be better than a visit from none. Cerny has said only Roman, now 14, can visit.

"Right now he's saying she's too young to travel," said Vaneltsi. "She's 11 years old."

"I want my kids to come, but I want them both. Is that being selfish?" said Vaneltsi. "He's had them for six years. Me asking for a month out of the summer, I don't think that's asking a lot."

Petr Cerny said the reason he won't send both children is he feels Vaneltsi can't afford to have both visit at the same time. Cerny said as much because Vaneltsi testified to that during a child support hearing in a Czech court in 1999.

Vaneltsi said she agreed to pay $100 a month child support, but Cerny appealed for a higher award. Vaneltsi said her lawyer advised her not to make any payments until an amount was set. Cerny said he is not appealing the award.

The Gwich'in band in Fort McPherson, where Vaneltsi was raised, has offered to help with the visit, said Vaneltsi.

Cerny said Roman has asked to visit and he has agreed to let him come for three weeks, from late June to mid-July.

"Romi will go this year and Petra will go next year," said Cerny. Vaneltsi said the visit from Roman is not assured. Ultimately, it will be up to Cerny.

"You could make all the arrangements, but in the end it will ultimately be (Cerny's) decision, whether he puts the kids on the plane or not."

If a visit does take place, Vaneltsi would accompany Roman and, if she comes, Petra, from Montreal where the direct flight from Prague would land.

The children's move to the Czech Republic was to last only a year under a shared custody agreement each parent signed after they split up.

But Cerny maintains the custody agreement included a clause that allowed it to be amended by a court if it was seen to be not in the best interests of the children. That was done in 1997, when a Czech judge awarded Cerny sole custody.

Over the last five years, Vaneltsi has spent countless hours trying to get federal and territorial officials and politicians to help her get her children back.

Her efforts have resulted in a few pledges of support but very little action.

"Some people are like, 'Oh, are you still on about that?' Yes, I'm still on about that -- I'm their mother."