Make no mistake about it. Parents who kidnap their children are self-centred, controlling, and high-handed. The very act of surreptitiously spiriting a child away from his or her home and primary parent requires a callous indifference to principles of common decency, a lack of respect for authority, and an ignorance of or a blatant disregard for the harm a child suffers.
An international treaty called the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction exists to assist parents to locate children who have been kidnapped by their other parent. However, for the Convention to work, the country from where the child has been abducted and the country where the child has been taken, must both be signatories to the Convention.
Eighty-six countries have signed the Convention, although some governments give only lip service to the enforcement powers of this law. Where the Convention does not apply, the journey to affect a child’s return is much more onerous.
As a lawyer who frequently represents the “left-behind” parent, the tricks and tactics employed by parent abductors are best described as “sleazy”. Consider these four scenarios drawn from recent court cases in Vancouver, British Columbia:
1. You Can Trust Me, Honest
In this case the child’s mother feared that her estranged husband would abduct their young son, but had no concrete proof, just her well-honed mother’s intuition. The child’s father picked up his son to take him to the zoo for an outing. When he arrived to pick up his son, he assuaged his wife’s concerns by making a show of cutting up his son’s passport in front of her to convince her he would never remove his son from their country of residence and now, he had no passport for the child to travel internationally.
Of course, it was all a ruse. Instead of going to the zoo, the father took his son to the airport and flew to Canada. The passport he had destroyed was the child’s expired passport. He used the child’s new passport to board the plane.
2. I Have a Travel Authorization
In these post-9/11 days, it is impossible to travel internationally without a passport and for a person travelling alone with a child it is de rigueur to also have a travel authorization signed by the child’s other parent.
The authorization typically indicates who the child is, who the parents are, where the child will be travelling, and when the child is expected to be returned to his home country or state.
In the underground world of child abduction forged travel authorizations are the rule, not the exception.
In a recent case, a mother who fled with her daughter from Japan to Canada used a legitimate travel authorization she had retained from an earlier trip, played around with white-out, added a paragraph that said she had permission from her estranged spouse to enroll the child in school in Canada and did just that.
The young girl’s father hired a lawyer in Vancouver to go to Court to obtain an order that the child be returned to Japan. The child’s mother waved her travel authorization in front of the judge and argued she had her husband’s consent.
The only problem was that the authorization had obviously been tampered with and the mother signed her husband’s name on the authorization in Japanese characters, rather than in English, which was how he usually signed his name.
3. Catch Me if You Can
In a case from Tennessee, a 12-year-old girl who was in her father’s custody was kidnapped by her mother. The child’s father was a state police officer and had country-wide connections as a member of the “thin-blue-line”.
Luckier than most left-behind parents, the father obtained intelligence that his daughter and ex-wife were travelling across North America, staying in “safe houses” known only to women who go underground with their children.
After many months of searching for his daughter, this father received information that mother and daughter were in Vancouver and would be attending at Immigration Canada offices in Vancouver to advance their claims for refugee status. The information even included the date and time of the refugee hearing.
The father had a custody order from Tennessee that was used to obtain a custody order in favour of the father in Vancouver and an order the child’s mother be arrested and the child taken to the Ministry of Family and Children, until she was returned to her home.
At the appointed time, I showed up at the refugee office with three strapping Vancouver Police officers in tow. Mom was arrested but bailed out and her daughter was picked up by her paternal grandfather.
The flight to Tennessee was delayed, however, when someone called in a bomb threat related to the girl’s flight. That was mother’s last trick.
Did this case have a happy ending? Unfortunately not, because the young girl, now 14-years-old, stayed in Tennessee for about two months and then disappeared.
4. Talk to Me
In another case, a young boy was abducted from Mexico and ended up in Vancouver. The left-behind parent once again hired a Vancouver lawyer to seek the return of her son. Pending a court hearing to deal with the matter, the child’s mother obtained a court order allowing her to telephone her son each evening to speak with him.
The boy’s father was incensed and made the nightly telephone calls very difficult for his wife. When he saw that he was losing ground and his case looked dismal, he pulled a fast one. He fled Vancouver to parts unknown but to fool his son’s mother, he recorded his son’s voice on an answering machine so that when his mother called she would be lulled into thinking he was still in Vancouver.
These scenarios are but a smattering of the lengths some parents will go to avoid justice. It’s not that these parents don’t understand the collateral damage to their children, they simply don’t care. Life is all about their needs.
Parental child abduction is the worst kind of child abuse and parents who run with their children should be subject to criminal charges and imprisonment.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang