December 29, 2013
Source: Vancouver Sun
There are few more heart-wrenching stories than those of parental child abductions. Forget the emotional dynamics that drive ex-wives and ex-husbands to use their children as weapons in an ongoing war. The greatest damage inflicted is on little kids, which is why for the past 35 years all but Japan among the developed countries in the world and dozens of others have signed on to the Hague Convention of Child Abduction.
The convention requires signatory countries to honour the court orders of other member states. The goal is to protect children’s right to have access to both of their parents. And while the Hague Convention’s application isn’t always perfect, it’s the best we’ve got so far. Of course, it would be better if more countries signed on and then lived up to both the convention’s letter and spirit.
I’ve written a number of stories, most recently an update on five-year-old Max Kawabata-Morness, who was abducted July 26 by his mother Chie Kawabata. In the column, which follows below, I mentioned that as far as I knew Canada has never put pressure on Japan to either ratify or enforce the Hague Convention.
It turns out I was wrong. Strangely, the correction didn’t come from Prime Minister Stephen Harper or anyone in the Canadian government. The mistake was pointed out by — Capt. Paul Toland, executive assistant to the deputy surgeon general of the U.S. Navy. Toland’s daughter, Erika, was less than a year old when she was abducted by her Japanese mother in August 2003. His last contact with her was in July 2004.
(Toland’s story is one of five in a documentary of parental child abductions called From the Shadows.)
Toland provided me a link to a 2006 Kyodo News International report on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first meeting with Japan’s then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Here’s part of what that report says: “Harper, who took office in February, was meeting Koizumi for the first time, took the Japanese delegation by surprise when he brought up the issue of parental child abductions and called on Japan to accede to the Hague Convention.”
Toland also gave me a link to a Japanese government press release from the June 17, 2013 meeting between Harper and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that referenced Harper’s 2006 comments about the Hague Convention and updated him on Japan’s intention to become a signatory.
Of course, as I noted in my Nov. 1 column, Japan’s enabling legislation appears to have a massive loophole that would allow Japanese judges to reject any foreign court orders regarding children that run contrary to Japanese “custom.”
Here’s the column.
Kris Morness and his son, Max Kawabata-Morness, in Vancouver a few weeks before the five-year-old was abducted by his Japanese-American and taken to Japan.
Kris Morness spent thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to ensure that his worst fear wouldn’t come true. It was a waste of the Vancouver father’s time, money and effort.
On July 26, his ex-wife Chie Kawabata abducted their fiveyear-old son, Max. A Washington court had previously denied Kawabata’s request to move with Max to Japan, ordering her to remain in Kirkland, Wash., and comply with the court-approved parental order, which included Max having regular visits with Morness in Vancouver and frequent Skype calls.
After Max missed a scheduled Skype call, Morness contacted Kirkland police, who determined that Kawabata had flown on a one-way ticket and had arranged to ship “500 pounds of household goods and personal effects” to Tokyo.
On Sept. 15, King County Superior Court issued a warrant for Kawabata’s arrest on the charge of custodial interference in the first degree, with bail set at $100,000. The prosecutor’s report noted that “the State has serious concerns about the well-being and whereabouts of the five-year-old child as well as the defendant’s unwillingness to follow court orders.”
But Morness’s court orders and even the arrest warrant aren’t worth the paper they’re written on as long as Kawabata stays in Japan.
The arrest warrant is only valid in the United States and there’s no way that a Japanese
court will honour the court orders. Simply put, from a stolen child’s point of view or that of a left-behind parent, Japan is one of the worst places in the world.
There’s no firm estimate of how many Canadian children have been abducted to Japan and not returned, but I know of at least six including Max.
And while Canadian politicians don’t appear to have ever raised this abuse of both human rights and children’s rights with their Japanese counterparts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama spoke of the more than 120 abducted American kids often enough that Japan’s parliament agreed this Spring that it would ratify the Hague Convention on child abduction. Japan has yet to implement the legislation. And even if it had, while it may meet the Hague Convention requirements, it doesn’t appear to reflect its spirit.
The convention has been in place for nearly 35 years and requires that signatory countries respect and implement each other’s Family Court orders. The goal is to protect children from the trauma of abduction and ensure that children don’t end up stateless without any legal rights.
Before any foreign order would be enforced, a Japanese judge would have to agree to allow it. And that’s no easy thing.
According to information provided to me by the Japanese Embassy in Ottawa, the foreign court where the judgment was made would have to have international trial jurisdiction over the case “based on Japanese standards.”
Additionally, the legislation would only require a Japanese court to enforce a foreign judgment if it and the legal procedures of the foreign court are “not against the manners and customs or public order in Japan.”
So, what is Japanese custom? A year ago, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation asked Japanese legislator Masao Ido about parental abductions.
“While Westerners call it abduction, it’s common among the Japanese that a mother and child return to the mother’s parents after a divorce,” said Ido, a member of the judicial affairs committee. “If anything, (the Japanese) think it is not a bad thing. It’s really a custom.”
Ido snatched her own three children after her marriage ended. “Like other parents, I left a note so the other parent knew where the children were and understood that they were in a safe place.”
Morness holds out hope that Kawabata may change her mind and bring Max back. That would seem to be the best outcome for everyone.
But that rarely seems to happen. Like Morness, Richmond teacher Murray Wood spent thousands of dollars trying to get his son and daughter back. His son, who is now an adult, returned to Canada earlier this year after spending nine years in Japan. His daughter remains in Japan.
(Wood’s story is one of five documented in a film called From The Shadows, which is being screened Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Roundhouse at 1181 Seymour Street in Vancouver.) Morness worries every day about Max. But since September and around the time of the arrest warrant being issued, Kawabata agreed to resume Max’s Skype calls with his father.
Morness says the calls seem to be made at Starbucks and the connection isn’t great. The calls are often brief, ending abruptly when he asks questions like whether Max wants to come home.
Morness also isn’t certain whether his son is in school.
Even though Max has only been gone for three months, Morness has noticed that his little boy’s English is more heavily accented than before and the phrasing is a bit off. That’s another huge concern, he says, because English is the only language Morness speaks.
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