Oh, Canada!

I admit... it's been awhile. It's been a long while. Time to catch you up on my latest speaking engagement in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Many of you may not know this, but I was actually born in Canada. Not in Manitoba, but in Quebec. I was born in the city of Montreal, and I'm actually still a Canadian citizen. Long way from Dickinson, Texas - eh? Let's just say that's a story that I won't bore you with and I've lived in the United States for all but a couple of months of my life, (and I have only been back to Canada once since I was born there) so I happily accepted the invitation to speak at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection's 11th Annual Missing & Exploited Children Conference and share my story. Jonathan, Detective Cromie, and I flew from Houston to Minneapolis, and then arrived into Winnipeg, where we went through customs. The last time I went through customs (when I visited Canada in 1996 or so) - I was scared to death they wouldn't let me back into the U.S. because my "green card" (now referred to as a Permanent Resident Card) had a picture of me on it as an infant. This time, with a renewed permanent resident card & brand new Canadian passport, I had no worries. The process surprisingly seemed much less complicated. They asked what I was doing there, how long I'd be staying, where I was staying, etc. - and then we walked out to meet Erin, who works for CCCP and is a doll. She welcomed us and drove us to our hotel, The Fort Garry, also the conference site, an almost 100-year-old property which sits in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. Isn't it pretty? Looks like a castle and the conference was held on the 8th floor. The large meeting rooms where we were presenting were even more beautiful than the outside of the hotel; with ceilings painted in gold-leafing, chandeliers, and large mirrors, as you can see below. The first day of the conference, Detective Cromie and I attended workshops and heard a very compelling story of a girl named Lindsey Ryan, of Michigan, who was reported missing from her home in 2003. She was 14 at the time, and had been what we call "groomed" by a family friend by the name of Terry Drake, 56; she met through church. Drake formed a relationship with Lindsey by obtaining her e-mail address from the church directory, (scary, I know..makes you stop and think, doesn't it?) and began communicating with her over the internet without her parents knowledge. He was also a convicted murderer. Lindsey's story is much more detailed, not to mention, horrific..but ends happily with her being recovered in California, and her abductor now in prison; she alongside her mother, shares her story of survival. In the early evening, Jonathan, Detective Cromie and I wanted to do a little sight-seeing, so we walked over to The Forks Market, a few blocks from the hotel, where we bought souvenirs and I banned the word "eh" - Imagine two grown men ending every word with "eh" - it's not funny after 10 or 20 times, and I'm pretty sure they (Jonathan and Cromie) were purposely trying to drive me crazy! When Jonathan went to buy sunglasses, the lady at the kiosk in the mall told him, "You've got a big noggin, eh?" and he thought it was THE funniest thing ever..believe me, I heard that story more than once. And, to top it all off, Cromie of course had to buy himself a "Canada, eh?" t-shirt! Moving right along...here are a few photos from The Forks Market in Winnipeg:

After a couple days of attending the conference during the day, meeting the most wonderful people, sight-seeing in the evening and eating amazing food, we ended the conference with our presentation. Wednesday afternoon Agent Rennison flew in from D.C., and Thursday the 3 of us presented together and it was awesome! We first did our presentation infront of child welfare professionals, and then law enforcement in the afternoon. It was so interesting hearing the reactions and questions of the different professionals there, and it moves me to tears everytime, just knowing that I'm making a difference by sharing my story. When I share my story, it's still hard to talk about not getting my time in court with Bradford, and a lady walked up to me after my presentation, whose attacker had also died. She told me that I changed her life by sharing my experiences, and telling how I sat at his grave to read my victim impact statement. I can't think of any other word to use than empowering. We took a picture with two of our new friends, Erin & Christy, of The Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and got ready to say our goodbyes to Winnipeg, and hello to Houston, once again.
Thank you, Canadian Centre for Child Protection, for the invitation to present, your friendship, your hospitality, and an experience I'll most certainly never forget. It was nice, eh? ;)


Laura said...
June 30, 2011 at 10:46 PM

Absolutely awesome, Jennifer, how far your story is going and how many lives it is touching. Good stuff! God is so good!

Unknown said...
July 7, 2011 at 9:22 PM

Jennifer, I am inspired by your dedication and by how much you have accomplished in spite of your ordeal. Thank you for your courage, your stories, and your passion!

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