Sherri Zickefoose, Calgary Herald
Published: Friday, June 03, 2011
Stricter travel regulations should be in place to hamper schemes of parents abducting their children and escaping to foreign countries, according to investigators charged with chasing them.
“When our children are going out of the country, there’s no bar. Some of the airlines do their due diligence, but do all of them do their due diligence? It would be better to have a binding legal document that’s notarized prior to travelling with a child,” said Missing Children Society Canada investigator Wendy Christensen.
“The issue is coming to light and more people are being affected.”
Earlier this week, the plight of a Calgary mother made headlines after police made a public plea for help in solving her year-old case.
Mona Gill hasn’t seen her toddler since he was abducted by his father and taken to India in May 2010.
Canada-wide abduction without consent warrants have been issued for Harpreet Singh Arora, 44, for whisking the estranged couple’s 21/2-year-old son Shael abroad without warning.
Their current location is unknown.
Gill is one of hundreds of Canadian parents who suffer every year from having their children abducted by the other parent.
Children taken to another country against one parent’s will unravel into costly emotional, financial and legal nightmares that sometimes never get resolved.
According to 2009 statistics from the RCMP’s National Missing Children Services, there were 237 cases of children being snatched by a parent.
Five cases in the past five years have come to Calgary investigators.
Only two cases have been resolved.
Some parents have been forced to take matters into their own hands.
The case of Calgary mother Melissa Hawach made global headlines when she hired two mercenaries and secretly travelled to Lebanon during Hezbollah’s war with Israel at the end of 2006 to take back her daughters Cedar and Hannah from their father.
But without stronger checks in Canada, more children will be lost, said Christensen.
“Airlines follow Transport Canada guidelines, but there’s no exit control in our country,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s consistency with other countries. If we were more proactive in what we do, we may be an example to other countries to show how to do it right.”
The day Gill was to pick father and son up from the airport, a note was left on her front door informing her that Arora was taking his son away to spend time with him.
Gill reported the abduction to police before she travelled overseas from June to September.
Unless Arora hands the child over himself, police say the investigation may rely on family and friends rethinking their roles in helping him.
After exhausting all other leads for the past year, the RCMP’s National Missing Children Services launched an international alert protocol. Interpol in Hong Kong and Singapore have also been alerted.
The estranged couple, who were married for four years, did not have a custody agreement in place, but there was no acknowledged dispute.
Airlines generally recommend that parents who travel solo with children carry a parental consent letter authorizing travel. The letter must be signed and dated by the other parent.
But without a warning of a custody dispute, airlines say they are helpless to stop travellers.
“Unless we have been notified in advance by the authorities that a specific parent should not be travelling with their child, assuming all the appropriate paperwork was in order, we would have no reason to suspect anything was wrong,” said WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer.
“Parents travel solo with their children all the time.”
Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said, “We are obliged by law to ensure that all passengers have government-issued ID before boarding the aircraft, with no lawful obligation for additional documentation checks before boarding an aircraft.
“All other documentation checks fall under the responsibility of government immigration authorities on entry into those countries.”
The Canada Border Services Agency is responsible for checking people entering Canada, not leaving.
One saving grace is the international treaty designed to help parents whose children have been taken illegally to another country.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction has been in force in Alberta for 20 years. About 75 countries are signatories to the treaty and more than 400 Canadian children have been returned over the years, thanks to the agreement.
Some countries do not recognize parental abduction as a crime.
“A custody order issued by a Canadian court has no automatic binding legal force beyond the borders of Canada,” according to the Foreign Affairs guide.
Investigators say all countries should require parents travelling solo with children to have permission from both parents, even though that means adding another level of bureaucracy.
“‘We have to make it difficult. We have to have something similar for international travel with our children,” said Christensen.
“It would be a start, everybody having to take onus and everybody being part of the solution.”
“People don’t look at it as a crime, but it is. We have to take steps working with Transport Canada, the airlines, border services, everyone, to have something in place so we can have confidence that if that child is leaving the country, they’re coming back.
“We need to treat our children as precious, because they’re a precious commodity.”