The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Convention”) is an international agreement that can used by you to try to get your children back if they have been removed from British Columbia (and Canada). Unfortunately, if your children have been taken to a foreign country, the main proceedings under the Convention do not take place in British Columbia, or even in Canada. Court proceedings must be started in the foreign jurisdiction where your children have been taken to, and not all countries are a party to the Convention. For a long time Japan and Russia were not signatories to the Convention, so having children removed to these countries often meant the children would remain in that jurisdiction. If a country is not a signatory to the Convention, it means there is no international mechanism to deal with the abduction, and you must rely on the domestic law and court of the foreign country. Russia and Japan have now signed on to the Convention, but countries such as China and Iraq are still not signatories.
Even if a country is a signatory to the Convention, not every country’s justice system prosecutes International Child Abduction cases with any kind of speed. In these situations, acting quickly and prosecuting the case as soon as possible is incredibly important. If a child becomes settled in their new, though ill begotten home, courts can say it would be harmful to disrupt the child’s life by returning them to Canada, and they may remain where they are.
If you have had a child or children removed from the country wrongfully you should do the following immediately:
1. Contact the Central Authority in your province that deals with International Child Abduction cases. The Central Authority is the government organization tasked with dealing with Convention related matters. In British Columbia, the Central Authority is Ms. Penny Lipsack. She is a lawyer with the Ministry of Justice in Victoria. You can contact her at: 250 356-8433 or Penelope.Lipsack@gov.bc.ca. The Central Authority will help with the first step to putting the process into motion.
2. Contact a lawyer familiar with abduction cases right away. While the main court proceedings take place outside of Canada, there are important steps that can take place in British Columbia that can help with the prosecution of the claim in the foreign country.
3. Contact your local police. Under the Criminal Code of Canada abduction charges can be laid and the police can work with other police bodies, such as Interpol, to restrict the other parent and child’s movements.
4. Marshall your resources. Be prepared to spend time and money. Some countries do provide legal assistance, but in most cases you must privately retain and pay for a lawyer in the foreign country.
Do the above as quickly as possible. Time is your enemy in International Child Abduction cases, but if you act fast and take the right steps, it is possible to have your children returned safely home.
~ Mark Norton