January 21, 2013
Source: Government of Canada
International child abductions are difficult and complex situations. Unfortunately, they are not uncommon. Every year, hundreds of Canadian children are wrongfully taken from Canada or held in another country by abducting parents.
An international child abduction occurs when a parent, guardian or other person with lawful care of charge of a child removes that child from Canada, or retains that child outside Canada, without either the legal authority or permission of a parent who has full or joint custody rights.
If you think the other parent may be planning to abduct your child, there are things you can do to prevent it. Start by reading the section entitled Preventing the Abduction of Your Child.
But if the abduction has already happened, you should know: each international child abduction is unique—but at the same time shares much with others.
Taking certain steps will improve the chances you will find and recover your child. Consular officials, provincial/territorial and federal governments, law enforcement officials, lawyers and non-governmental organizations may all help you decide on and take those steps.
This guidebook is meant to help you understand the processes and issues involved in searching for and trying to bring back your child. It gives you information about:
- stopping an abduction in progress
- finding your child in a foreign country
- bringing your child back to Canada.
The guidebook is also meant to direct you to the right sources of help. It has a directory of resources and organizations that you can turn to for help. It also has checklists of information you will need during each stage of the process.
You may face legal and emotional difficulties as you fight an international child abduction. Despite the challenges, it is important not to become discouraged. Remember that you can take many actions to resolve an abduction.
It is also important to remember that, despite all your work to get your child back, it may be a long and complicated process—and that things do not always work out as planned.
You can be sure that the Children’s Issues Section of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada will be there to help. Our dedicated Consular Case Management Officers will be available to you throughout the process. They are very knowledgeable about international child abduction issues and have detailed information about specific countries. They will be key in helping with your case.
If you have questions that are not addressed in this guidebook, please contact:
Children’s Issues Section, Consular Services
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2
Toll-free telephone (Canada): 1-800-387-3124
International telephone (collect): + 1-613-996-8885
Every effort has been made to provide accurate and current information in this guidebook. None of this information should be construed as legal advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or other authorities.
This guidebook and other information for parents of children abducted to foreign countries are available at travel.gc.ca/child.
If Your Child Is Missing
What you can do
Your child is missing. You think the other parent may have taken them out of Canada.
Or your child is outside Canada and you want to bring them home—but you think the other parent will try to keep them where they are.
Either way—and even if you are not sure your child has been abducted—there are steps you can take. This section tells you about them and about the people and organizations that can help you.
Take these steps as soon as you think your child is missing.
Tell the local police
The local police will be your main point of contact.
Tell them what your child looks like—things such as age, height, weight and the colour of eyes, hair and skin.
Tell them what the abducting parent looks like.
Give them photos, if you have them.
Tell them whether the parent or child has citizenship in a country besides Canada.
Show them the most recent custody order or agreement, if you have one.
A custody order is a legal document, handed down by a court, that sets out which parent has custody of a child and on what terms.
A custody agreement (or parenting agreement), is also a legal document setting out the terms of custody. It is signed by both parents to show that they agree to its terms. Usually, an agreement’s terms have been reached by the parents working together, often with help from their lawyers or mediators.
If you are in Canada, ask them to enter your information into the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) and the U.S. National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer systems. This will give every police force in Canada and the United States access to the information.
Give them any other information you think may help them find and return your child. The more information you can give the police, the better.
Give them a phone number or an address where they can reach you at all times. Being reachable at all times is very important.
Tell your family and friends
Ask them to call you right away if they hear anything about your child or the abducting parent. Give them the same phone number or address you gave the police.
Remember: You want to be reachable anytime, anywhere, in case someone has news.
Tell your child’s school, doctor and daycare (and hospital, if need be)
Tell them you have called the police.
As you did with your family and friends, ask them to contact you if they hear anything that might help you find your child or the abducting parent.
Give them the same phone number or address you gave the police and your family and friends.
If your child gets regular treatment at a hospital, give the hospital the same information.
Contact a lawyer
A lawyer can:
- give you legal advice and represent you in court
- tell you what options you may have
- help you protect your interests when you deal with governments and organizations in Canada and other countries
- help you consider whether to get a custody order or agreement—even after an abduction has happened. A custody order or agreement helps when you are dealing with authorities in Canada or another country.
If you need the services of a lawyer, the law society in your province or territory will provide a referral service. For contact information, visit this list of law societies in Canada.
Contact Passport Canada (Government of Canada)
Passport Canada is a special agency of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, a partner in the Government of Canada’s efforts against international child abductions.
Ask whether the agency has issued a travel document, such as a passport, in your child’s name.
Tell them the details of your situation. Give them copies of legal documents concerning your child—for example, custody orders or separation agreements.
Be aware that Passport Canada will have to decide how much they can legally tell you. The information you give them will help them decide.
Ask them to add your child’s name to the Passport Canada System Lookout List. This will alert Passport Canada officials if they receive a passport application for your child.
Call Passport Canada at 1-800-567-6868 (Canada and the United States toll-free) or visit passportcanada.gc.ca for more contact information.
What Passport Canada may do
- Invalidate your child’s Canadian passport or other travel document.
- Refuse to issue a new passport if that would contradict a court order or separation agreement.
Contact Consular Services (Government of Canada)
Consular Services is also part of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, a government department that is a partner in the Government of Canada’s efforts against international child abductions.
In Canada, call Consular Services toll-free at 1-800-387-3124. Inside or outside Canada, call 613-996-8885, collect where available and direct where not. Emergency assistance is available at those numbers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are outside Canada, you can also contact the nearest Canadian government office abroad. For a list of locations and phone numbers, see the Directory of Canadian Government Offices Abroad.
What to expect when you contact Consular Services
When you contact Consular Services, you will be dealing with people in the Children’s Issues Section.
A Consular Case Management Officer (CMO) will be assigned to work with you. Your CMO will follow up with you, by phone or email, whenever you have questions. But in an emergency after regular office hours, call the numbers above.
If the international abduction has not yet happened, the CMO will work with other government departments to help keep it from happening.
The Consular Case Management Officer (CMO) will be very knowledgeable about issues regarding international child abductions and have detailed information about specific countries.
Your CMO will always talk with you before taking any action in your case.
Consular Services will ask you, among other things:
- your name, date of birth and citizenship
- your child’s name, date of birth and citizenship
- the other parent’s name, date of birth and citizenship
- to give a detailed description of the situation and the background to it
- what documents (for example, passports or visas) your child and the other parent would use to travel
- to provide copies of legal documents, such as a court order, mediated agreement or signed consent letter for children travelling abroad
- for information on the other parent’s ties to the other country
- the other parent’s travel plans, if you know them
- when you last had contact with the abducting parent and your child
- what steps you have taken already, such as calling the police or consulting a lawyer
- for your consent to speak with other people and organizations that can help get your child returned to Canada.
Consular Services can:
- help you contact another country’s diplomatic or consular offices in Canada to find out whether they have issued travel documents or a visa that your child may have used to leave Canada
- contact authorities in other countries and ask for their help—this help can vary greatly, depending on the country
- help you work with Passport Canada to find out whether they have issued your child a Canadian passport
- try to contact the other parent, if the other parent refuses to speak with you directly.
Consular Services cannot:
- pay your legal fees or other expenses
- give you legal advice, act as your lawyer or represent you in court
- mediate with the other parent on your behalf.
Contact non-governmental organizations
Canada has many organizations that can help when a child is missing. They help in many ways, from giving emotional support to searching for the child.
If you contact one of these organizations, tell your lawyer. Your lawyer can help you make sure the organization does not take steps that get in the way of your other efforts to find your child.
See the list of non-governmental organizations. You will have to decide whether their services are appropriate for you.
Contact the other parent’s family and friends
As you did with your own family and friends, ask them to contact you if they hear anything that might help you find your child or the other parent.
Be sure to keep the contact friendly.
Give them the same phone number or address you gave the police and your family and friends.
The other parent’s family and friends may be able to tell you where your child is—the most important information in a child abduction investigation.
You may decide to contact the media about your child’s abduction. You should consider this decision carefully. You may wish to discuss the possibility of contacting the media with a lawyer to help you consider all implications for your case.
Media attention may not be helpful. Sometimes it may let abducting parents know people are looking for them. That could make them go into hiding, making them harder to find and making the situation more stressful and dangerous for the child.
What authorities can do
Local and national authorities in Canada, as well as those from other countries, will do their best to keep an international abduction from happening. They will try to keep the abducting parent and child from leaving Canada or stop them when they arrive in another country.
Canada does not have “exit controls”—people leaving the country do not go through an immigration check. This makes it hard for authorities to keep people from leaving.
The abducting parent may leave Canada with your child very soon after abducting them. This means authorities may have only a short time to keep the abduction from happening.
What follows describes what the different authorities may do.
Local police may:
- check the abducting parent’s credit card reports and records of purchase
- check what long-distance calls the abducting parent may have made
- seek cooperation from a doctor or hospital that has treated your child, if your child needs prescription medicine or regular medical treatment
- get the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Interpol involved
- issue an Amber Alert
- enter your information into the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) and the U.S. National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer systems.
Be aware: Police can do some of these things only after a judge has determined that there is enough evidence to reasonably believe that police require the authority to carry out such actions. Also, police may require a copy of your custody order or agreement to carry out some of these actions.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is Canada’s national police force. The RCMP’s National Missing Children’s Operations helps other police forces find and return missing children to their parents.
The RCMP may:
- at the request of your local police, put your child’s description on a website that gives the public information on missing children across Canada
- request that Interpol publish a notice that lets police forces in Interpol member countries know an international child abduction may have happened.
Interpol is the world’s largest international police organization. It has about 190 member countries. Interpol lets police around the world work together to solve crimes.
Through Interpol, the RCMP may:
- issue notices to all member countries that a child is missing
- ask police in member countries to look for an abductor or to look for a child and ask about the safety and well-being of that child.
Interpol issues notices to police forces around the world to search for abductors or children. The notices are colour-coded.
Red notices seek people wanted on an arrest warrant.
Blue notices seek people who may or may not have committed a crime (including abductors).
Yellow notices seek missing people (including children).
For more information, visit Notices.
Amber Alerts help find abducted children fast. Every province has an Amber Alert program; the territories do not.
Amber Alerts appear in media such as television, radio, the Internet and newspapers, and through SMS, as soon as police think a child might have been abducted. The alerts ask the public to get involved in finding the child.
Police issue Amber Alerts only when they think a child may be in serious danger. This means they are issued less often when a child has been abducted by a parent.
Your local police will decide whether to issue an Amber Alert for your child.
Canada Border Services Agency (Government of Canada)
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) can:
- issue border alerts to watch for a missing child whose parent may be taking them from the country; often these are part of an Amber Alert.
- CBSA does not check everyone leaving the country, because Canada does not have exit controls.
- It takes time to organize efforts to stop an abductor from leaving Canada. If an abductor and child leave the country quickly, authorities may not be able to stop them.
Other countries’ border services
The Canadian government may:
- ask another country to stop a parental abductor and child as they try to enter that country.
Be aware: The Canadian government can only ask for help from another country’s government. The government of the other country will decide what action to take.
Your Consular Case Management Officer will manage the request (see Contact Consular Services for more information).
Read more here: Government of Canada
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