It began as an attempt to reach the man she believes is her father. As a Peruvian teenager, Karen Duffy Benites, looked up his name in Canadian phonebooks, then pursued him with letters, calls, e-mails and a poem. Years of messages went unanswered, she says.
Eventually, she had all but given up on finding the Canadian broadcaster, now senator, Mike Duffy. Ms. Duffy Benites, 32, sent her last letter in 2011, but met a Canadian couple while travelling last year. "They said I was identical to him. They gave me strength to pursue this, urged me not to lose my hope of this being resolved," Ms. Duffy Benites, speaking through a translator, told The Globe on Tuesday.
So began the legal push to have Mr. Duffy declared, in Peru, as her father, a fight first revealed last week by Maclean's magazine. She isn't seeking money – she wants to meet, write or speak to him. "This is now the only way that he may feel somewhat pressured to acknowledge and recognize my existence and his paternity," the mother of three said.
It may have worked. Hours after Tuesday's interview, her lawyer said he'd heard from Mr. Duffy via Facebook the night before, and said he and Ms. Duffy Benites would decline further comment. Mr. Duffy has also declined comment, thereby offering no response to the lengthy story laid out in interviews, and court documents, by the woman claiming to be his child.
It's unclear specifically what contact Mr. Duffy has yet had with the woman. The lawyer said he received the Facebook message Monday, and confirmed it was indeed Mr. Duffy who sent it on Tuesday. Ms. Duffy Benites told The Globe on Tuesday she hadn't spoken to Mr. Duffy, but then told the CBC she was approached "by my dad" Monday, and that the two are now in touch.
Ms. Duffy Benites – who goes simply by "Karen Duffy" in certain legal documents – spoke to The Globe from Lima, where she lives with her husband and three children, who also bear the Duffy name.
She always understood Mr. Duffy to be her dad. Her birth certificate lists a "Mike Duffy Clayton," a TV reporter in Ottawa, as her father, though the senator's full name is Michael Dennis Duffy. Ms. Duffy Benites knows only a few details about the man she says is her father: He came from a working-class family, hails from Prince Edward Island, covered the Vietnam war, is very Catholic, very intelligent and a hard worker.
According to documents filed in her legal case, Ms. Duffy Benites's mother, Yvette Benites Ruiz, met Mr. Duffy's sister, Moira, while both were in prison in Kingston, Ont. That led her to meet Mr. Duffy, and a relationship began in 1981, according to one document. The document alleges Ms. Duffy Benites was born out of that relationship on March 15, 1982.
Ms. Benites Ruiz tried contacting him several times, to no avail, her daughter says. Ms. Duffy Benites began trying herself when she was 14, but says she never heard back.
"If he had made any contact, then this wouldn't have happened," she says, later adding: "I would like to tell him, now that he knows I exist, not to be afraid. He won't get hostilities, crying or demands from me. He is going to find a 32-year-old woman that has a lot of questions and wants to share some time with him, start from zero. And start, genuinely, from the bottom of the heart."
Her push comes at a time when Mr. Duffy is facing another legal fight – RCMP laid 31 charges last week against Mr. Duffy, largely in relation to Senate expenses. He has maintained his innocence.
Ms. Duffy Benites wrote Mr. Duffy in December, 2013, care of "The Senate of Canada," laying out her case, according to legal documents. At that time, however, Mr. Duffy had been suspended. The case essentially leaves Mr. Duffy with a choice between agreeing he is her father; ignoring it and letting Peru's legal system declare him to be; or fighting it, likely by giving a DNA sample. Ms. Duffy Benites urges him to do that if he believes he's not her father.
The court documents are working through diplomatic channels, her lawyer Jorge Alejandro Rázuri Susoni said Tuesday. Once they reach Mr. Duffy, he'll have 10 days to respond, or risk being declared as her father in Peru – a purely symbolic finding. Her claims are unproven and Maclean's reported Mr. Duffy said the woman's story is based on "untrue allegations."
Ms. Duffy Benites said her motivations are straightforward – she wants to know her father.
"Not having him as a father or not having him recognize me as his daughter has left an emptiness in me, something only people who don't have a parent know what it feels like and what it means. It is a circle that never closes," she says, later adding: "His response, acknowledgment, or a call will suffice. But primarily, I want him to recognize me, legally, as his daughter. I was not born from earth, air or water. I have a father. And that father is Mike Duffy. That is my right."
With reports from Kim Mackrael