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In January of 2015, the life of Chris Baur was taken. Nearly five years later, in November of 2019, the trial for the accused finally began. During the two weeks of these court proceedings, Chris’s family were our guests at Candace House. A few months later, they graciously agreed to share some of their experiences at our fundraising dinner. Below is the speech that was shared by Chris’s aunt, Kathy.
We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Baur family for letting us share in your journey.
Our society today is big on words and phrases. You see them everywhere - breathe, be happy, this is us. Inspirational words as it were. Candace House's list of words in their values are compassion, respect, empowerment, integrity, collaboration, social justice, diversity and inclusion. Words to describe Candace House from my fellow tablemates definitely echoed those, providing veracity that Candace House is meeting their goals. Their words: compassion, caring, support, comfort, and individuality.
One word for me that encompasses what Candace House lives and breathes and bursts at its seams with- humanity, and the ability to humanize itself. The dictionary defines the verb humanize as the ability to make things more humane and easier for humans to understand. To make something less unpleasant and more suitable for people
The importance of this word is readily apparent to anyone who has had a loved one murdered in their lives. You become dehumanized with murder. You learn to doubt that there will ever be ANYTHING in your life that approaches what your former beliefs entailed. About what defines humanity and what are the characteristics of a human being.
Reality is a rude awakening. Those TV shows, those magazines, those newspaper stories do happen to regular people. And you are now THAT family. The one who people whisper about and say "how sad" behind your back but do not know what to say to your face. The dehumanizing process has begun. And it continues. Your loved one's body no longer belongs to his family but becomes a part of the court process. A piece of evidence per se. Yours not to view that final time until permitted. The funeral is only planned when the body is released from evidence. Chris's body did not attend his funeral- he was still in the morgue. No viewing of his remains was allowed once released. He was sealed in plastic and decomposed so badly that by law it could not be opened. So we never got that part of closure which usually comes with death.
The word non-human becomes synonymous with your person- no rights whatsoever existed for him or his family after his death. The "remains" becomes a detailed report of injuries and cause of death. And he became labelled with other words - victim, deceased, fatality, casualty. No more Chris. No more son. No more grandson, nephew, cousin, friend, lover.
As a family, it became glaringly obvious to us that the murderer became the victim. All his rights were carefully tended to; all the motions he made, the delays in the trial, the five different lawyers he had were catered to. No mistrial in this case. The crown could not emphasize this enough. Our family was dragged through five years of silence so that a mistrial would not happen. We could only talk amongst ourselves in secretive hidden whispers. No public mourning. No rebuttal in newspapers about what was said. Frozen and hidden just as Chris's body had been for six long weeks after his death before being found.
The indignities of the pretrial court proceedings were a mockery of "humane" behaviour. In the newer part of the law courts, the courtroom is exhausting. Dark, with poor lighting, low ceilings, no windows. A large viewing gallery that quickly became filled with groups of high school students and onlookers. Anyone was allowed to witness our pain. The family room provided for us was a facsimile of the court- small dark room, small dark couch, small dark table. There was a kitchenette, unstocked of course, so the Wordsworth building cafeteria, ten minutes away, was our only source of refreshment. By the time all of us placed our coats and belongings in the family room, there was no place to sit. Cold and uninviting, it certainly did not ease any tensions from the court proceedings.
This is the place we came to after we heard the killers taped confession. The explicit coroners’ report was read in court. Information we were not told before as it was a guarded secret we were not privy to in case the evidence, Chris's body, jeopardized the case. We heard from the coroner exactly what was done to Chris by his confessed killer prior to his last breath. So there we sat in stupefied shock while the horrendous brutalized slaying of Chris described in descriptive detail by the forensic specialist was read. I am sure anyone in the courtroom that day did not mistake whose Chris's family was. There were many bystanders witnessing our pain. And our recovery area- that chilling family room.
Chris Baur, joyful and loved.
Candace House was a turning point in the tribulations of the trial process.
There is a saying three times is a charm. Three times the trial was delayed. The trial was now booked for November 2019. And that's when we hit the jackpot. Chris’s mom, Kim, read in the paper about Candace House opening and immediately asked our victims advocate, Shannon, about booking it for our trial. It was granted- the whole two week time period. Kim followed up with the booking and spoke with Cecilly Hildebrand the Executive Director. An invitation was extended immediately. Come and visit!
I must admit I was skeptical about its location. As a home care nurse, I was very familiar with the area near the courts and when Kim said it was the side door in a building, I immediately envisioned one of the big apartments south of Broadway- perhaps some small janitorial room with no windows. Candace House lies secretly tucked away in a small laneway off Kennedy Street. I am not sure my skepticism decreased much when I first saw the outside, but hey there were big windows, so bonus.
The entryway with its innocuous desk and wall of pamphlets completely masked the living space behind it. I was speechless and struck dumb, as the saying goes when the door to the sanctuary opened and the living space hidden begged us to enter and explore. It was like coming into someone's home. Two huge eating areas, a kitchen with regular-sized appliances, a welcoming sitting area with a library, a huge living area with a sectional that could surely seat twelve. And even a private room tucked away- complete with a bed if needed.
And the very best part- the two staff, Cecilly and Taylor, who greeted us that day with great empathy and kindness. I knew it was going to be good... It was initially hard to digest that we would be able to relax and stay here. It would be our "place" during the trial. We could actually request meals or order in or bring food to be reheated. And it would be ready for us when we got "home" from court. And yes it was a ten-minute walk to the court; and yes they would come with us to the courtroom each day. Such a sense of relief that this would now become our space and the girls, our people. So Candace House became a positive part of the dreaded trial process.
But Candace House was to become much more; it became the place where I learned that there is some humanity in the court system. The care, compassion and concern that Cecilly and Taylor lived by and exhibited was found behind those doors. We came daily to our haven and sat as a large group at the table. To eat, talk and review the court proceedings of that morning. Where we could remind ourselves we could be human. It was ok to laugh and cry about things, to review the love we all shared for Chris. There was no criticism. No one to gnaw at our image of who Chris was to us. No expectations of the right way to behave as there was not a RIGHT WAY to behave. No jury members eating next to us or reporters watching our every move or busy lawyers coming and going. This was now our fortress; our place of safety; our hideaway.
Cecilly and Taylor facilitated our talk and made things easy for us in a very unobtrusive way. They were our resources when we had questions about what to expect in the court. But it was not all seriousness. We laughed about the cockroaches we imagined running rampant in the old buildings around us - Kim cemented that laughter into gales of hilarity when she tossed a gummy bear in the air and failed to catch it in her mouth. We all looked down at the carpet where it lay and it became a cockroach running across the floor. Hysteria - ultimately stress release - ensued. And Cecilly and Taylor joined in the laughter. Then there were the quiet contemplative times when the girls reached out to one of us in need and made it easier for us to breathe at that particular moment. Because you hold your breath through the whole trial.
All our individual needs were considered and met. Discovering Chris's brother had a love of dogs, Asher the wonder dog in training appeared the next morning. Cecilly had intuitively sensed that the dog would help Chaz filter the court process. And that whole lunch he spent talking to the dog and getting him to do his tricks. There was the quiet time Cecilly spent tucked away in the corner of the sectional with Kim soothing her rattled nerves and bonding with her. And the compassion that was shown when the verdict came through and my niece burst into tears, which she never does, as she does not like to make herself vulnerable.
We left Candace House each day with a smile and with a boost to our spirits that made it easier to come back the next day to face the living hell of that courtroom. And Candace House became a matter of course to us. A privilege. A place to identify ourselves. A place to connect with each other and to have our hosts respect and care for us. We were honoured that staff Cecilly and Taylor became part of Chris's family. And I do not think that that feeling of honour will ever leave me or any of us who endured Chris's trial.
I know that Candace House is nothing but a place. But that physical place became transformed by the people that work there. It was a place of serenity and comfort with the ability to calm restless spirits and minds assaulted by trauma. Those that find it difficult to trust and to open themselves up will find solace and hope at Candace House as we did. It is a place that is humanized and offers the victims of murdered loved ones the opportunity to once again glimpse that the human spirit is infallible.
To all those that donate and are involved in Candace House, this refuge provides much-needed help to those in distress and mental anguish. My biggest hope is that it becomes recognized and valued and takes its rightful place across Canada- even the world.
I wanted to say something about my niece Kim, Chris's Mom, and Chris’s two brothers and sister and why they could not come today. They all suffer from PTSD. It was the sanctuary offered by Candace House that encouraged Chris's brother and sister to attend the trial. Kim told them it was there for them. That they could leave court anytime and come back to Candace House if they needed to. They did not come to any of the previous motions or the pre-trial. As they basically could not make themselves go. Kim went because this was her son and she wanted answers; she doggedly pursued the courtroom drama. She would literally wake up shaking and not want to come but persisted with self-talk and the desire to bear witness for her son. Candace House soothed them. They felt sane there. When they were asked to attend tonight, none of them could overcome their anxiety and nerves to once again relive the trauma of Chris's death.
I am honoured to be here tonight with the people who came daily to the trial -Jacquie, Matt, Noëlle, Joy, Wendy and Catherine. We are closing this chapter in Chris's life and pay tribute to what Candace House has meant to us. How we looked forward to our safe haven. How it brought into focus that there still is humanity in life.
And to honour Candace Derksen and thank her mom Wilma and dad Cliff who struggled to get this venture in place. We and future families have benefited greatly from this. I cannot say enough about what Candace House has meant to me and to all of us.
And last but not least a special thank you to our friends, hosts and fellow Chris team-mates, Cecilly and Taylor. I want to say that you are living breathing examples that compassion and caring can transform a program, ideas and a place into a reality of beauty and human kindness. And that you both managed to lift our souls into awareness that others do care and if you open yourself up to possibilities in life there are miracles out there. And you, my friends, are two of them.