What can we do? Where can we give?

Fund-raising efforts for the French and Mahaffy families win big support

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER June 26 1995

What can we do? Where can we give?

Fund-raising efforts for the French and Mahaffy families win big support

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER June 26 1995

What can we do? Where can we give?

Don Hickey’s first reaction was to turn away from the grisly news reports about the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. “The media have bombarded us with information about the killings,” says the 40-year-old father, who has two daughters, aged 13 and 21. “It would have been better not to know. I look at my own daughters, and I want to go away and cry.” Instead, Hickey, who owns a small printing business in the

Fund-raising efforts for the French and Mahaffy families win big support

southwestern Ontario town of Chatham, is beginning to raise funds for scholarships in memory of the two young victims. “I’ve been losing sleep over this,” says the former Toronto subway driver. “I want to do something.”

So does Bob Wercholoz, another Ontario father galvanized by a sense of outrage. Three weeks ago, the chairman of the Ontario Bridge Joint Manufacturers Association in Burlington—Mahaffy’s home townestablished a legal-assistance fund for the Mahaffy and French families. Wercholoz, the father of three daughters and a longtime business associate of Doug French—Kristen’s

father—is acutely aware of his friend’s continuing anguish. “I have known Doug for 22 years,” says Wercholoz. “But when I spoke to him a few weeks ago, all he could say was, ‘Bob, it is very, very difficult.’ ” But Wercholoz is also concerned about the financial hardship that lies ahead for the French and Mahaffy families. French has taken a leave of absence from his sales job with a rubber manufacturing company to attend the trial. And Wercholoz estimates that the families’ unsuccessful battle to prevent the playing of audio tracks from Paul Bernardo’s videotapes in open court will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “When the hype and the media disappear,” he says, “they have to go home and get on with their lives, and they will be facing enormous legal bills. Where will they find the money?”

Canadians’ response to Wercholoz’s French/Mahaffy Legal Assistance Fund has been immediate and generous. At first, Wercholoz hoped to collect donations through branches of the CIBC in Ontario alone, but the bank received so many inquiries from people in other provinces that the campaign quickly went national. “The compassion of Canadians is humbling,” Wercholoz says. “People from Vancouver to Halifax are asking, ‘What can we do, where can we give?’ ” After the families’ legal expenses are covered, he notes, any surplus money will be contributed to CAVEAT, a victims’ rights group established by Priscilla de Villiers, whose daughter was brutally murdered in 1991.

Hickey, too, is encouraged by the strong response to his proposal to establish scholarships in honor of the murdered girls. “We have companies standing by ready to donate,” he says. An experienced fund-raiser for an anti-drug group, Hickey is launching a nonprofit organization called In Their Memory to handle the scholarships and, possibly, other commemorative projects, such as a van that would travel in the St. Catharines area, offering support to troubled teens. The fund-raising, says Hickey, is his way of dealing with his sorrow and sense of helplessness in the face of a horrific crime. “It’s part of my healing process,” he says. “And I think it may help other people to heal as well.”

SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER