NEWS

Ontario child abductions among highest in country

08/22/2013 11:12 EDT | Updated 10/22/2013 05:12 EDT
Ontario accounts for roughly a third of all domestic and international child abductions reported nationwide over the past two years, according to data provided by Statistics Canada.

Earlier this week, a CBC News exclusive told the story of Zaiba Zaiba, a Toronto mother whose two young children where allegedly abducted by their father and taken to Afghanistan.

The Middle Eastern country is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, which includes laws protecting children who are victims of abduction.

Zaiba's story is far from an isolated incident with Ontario accounting for 55 of the 174 child abductions between 2011 and 2012. Although, data gathered by Statistics Canada does not differentiate between international and domestic cases.

However, a spokesperson with the department of foreign affairs said there are approximately 170 "on-going" international cases in over 50 countries that have been reported to Foreign Affairs.

Tougher laws

A common characteristic in most international abductions is that the parent left behind usually has sole custody and believes they have legal protection when allowing their children to travel without them.

Cesar Caetano's former wife allegedly abducted his daughter Alice three years ago and took the young girl to Brazil.

He's one of three Greater Toronto Area fathers who banded together to form iChapeau — an advocacy group fighting to improve the rights of those parents whose children have been taken.

"There's lots of cases and people don't know what to do and they don't go public. They don't know where to run," Caetano said.

iChapeau is lobbying the federal government to harmonize Canadian laws with tougher U.S. laws.

When asked about such a proposal, a spokesperson with the Department of Justice said the government is "always looking for ways to improve Canada's justice system."

"We will continue to work with our international partners to reinforce laws related to international abductions," the spokesperson said in a written response to questions.

'Missing the good years'

But for Stephen Watkins, who also helped form iChapeau after his two sons were taken to Poland by their mother in 2009, the response from Ottawa simply hasn’t been good enough.

“What we want for our government is to see them standing up and enforcing the treaties that we’ve signed,” he said.

Watkins has full custody of his two sons and said the Polish courts have on one occasion ruled against returning them to Canada citing it would be “detrimental to their health.”

"It's worse that they're in Poland because (their) mother's been diagnosed with something. She can't take care of the children. She has a neighbour and the boyfriend taking care of the children," Watkins said. "What is this? ... I have no platform in that nation."

Caetano has spent his own money attempting to ensure his daughter's return to Canada and vows not to stop.

"I'm missing the good years, but I won't give up," he said.

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