When news broke last week that Victoria police had arrested a woman for abducting her baby daughter 18 years ago, there was no one more shocked than Greater Victoria school district superintendent John Gaiptman.
The idea that the woman – a former president of Victoria High School’s parent advisory council – and her daughter – a Vic High graduate – were going by aliases seemed unfathomable.
Patricia O’Byrne, who police say was living in Victoria for a number of years as Pam Whalen, is now in Toronto, facing one charge of abduction in violation of a custody order, dating back to 1993.
O’Byrne and Joe Chisholm had just been granted joint custody, when O’Byrne allegedly left Toronto with their 20-month-old.
On Wednesday, the judge in the case placed a publication ban on the daughter’s name.
O’Byrne’s motive for going to “such extraordinary lengths” is still a mystery, but will likely come to light at trial, said Det.-Sgt. Dean Burks, who oversees the Toronto police youth and family services investigation unit, which is leading the case.
As well as investigating those who may have aided and abetted O’Byrne over the years, detectives will likely levy additional charges against O’Byrne in the next two weeks related to impersonation or identity fraud, forgery and obtaining government documents in assumed names.
“It’s certainly not a groundbreaking revelation that she was able to do it,” Burks said.
“Once you can get one piece of government identification, everything else will fall into place,” he added.
Detectives say they don’t yet know if O’Byrne stole her cover identity, and that of her daughter, or whether she created them.
Regardless, her alternate identity was strong enough that she worked in public affairs for the provincial government, from 2004 until May 2011.
But O’Byrne’s daughter learned of the deception on her own “in the not too distant past” and confronted her mother about her abduction, Burks said. “When (investigators and counsellors) met with her last week and informed her what had taken place, she wasn’t surprised.”
The daughter didn’t go to police, however. Rather, an anonymous tipster told the Missing Children Society of Canada in September that O’Byrne was living on the Island as Pamela Whalen. In early October, Toronto investigators called Saanich police, who connected O’Byrne to a Victoria address.
VicPD was called in to conduct surveillance to verify the woman’s identity, before her arrest last Thursday at her Fernwood home.
The case has left educators in the Greater Victoria school district struggling for answers to difficult questions about the use of false identities.
“When the news first broke, I went and reviewed the information (on file) and as I’m looking at (the young woman’s photocopied) passport I’m thinking there has to be a mistake,” said Gaiptman, who has never known a case like it in his 30 years as an educator, including 11 as School District 61’s superintendent of schools.
All it took for O’Byrne to enrol her daughter at Vic High was proof of residence and a birth certificate, which Gaiptman said was authentic.
After graduating in 2009, O’Byrne’s daughter used her passport a few months later to re-enroll in a continuing education program at S.J. Willis to upgrade marks in two courses.
“Given the amount of custodial issues out there we want to see the birth certificate,” Gaiptman said. “Having said that, this was somebody that provided us with the government documents and as it turned out they were incorrect.”
Gaiptman said he doesn’t know what more the educational system could have done when the teen was initially enrolled in school.
“Is there any way, as the attending school, we could have caught it?” he wondered.
The answer is no, Burks said.
“I don’t think the school boards or anybody could have done any more,” the 25-year police veteran said.
“You have to take people (such as parents) at their word. You can’t create an air of paranoia, that people are automatically going to be showing up and having kids enrolled in school under false names.”