August 27, 2013
Published on Aug 24, 2013
CBC News August 22, 2013 – (Toronto, Canada): “International Parental Child Abduction Nightmares” – A group of Canadian parents in Ontario, where about a third of child abductions are reported across Canada, is highlighting the plight of parents such as Cesar Caetano whose children have been abducted with little international protection for their rights.
Caetano is one of three [four] Greater Toronto Area fathers who banded together to form the advocacy group iCHAPEAU Association, which stands for the “International Child Harbouring and Abduction Prevention Enforcement Act Under-Law”.
Three years ago, his former wife allegedly abducted his daughter, Alice, and took her to Brazil, and she’s still missing.
“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, explaining the reason behind iCHAPEAU Association, which fights for the rights of parents whose children have been abducted.
“I’m missing the good years, but I won’t give up.” – Cesar Caetano, parent of missing child, co-founder of iCHAPEAU Association.
The group is lobbying the federal government to harmonize Canadian laws with tougher U.S. laws.
Ontario accounts for roughly a third of all domestic and international child abductions reported nationwide over the past two years, according to Statistics Canada data.
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.
According to iCHAPEAU’s Twitter account, the group has reached out to Zaiba Zaiba to “offer our assistance, provide information and to assist in disseminating information about her children’s case.”
The Middle Eastern country is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, which includes laws protecting children who are victims of abduction.
Ontario accounts for 55 of the 174 child abductions between 2011 and 2012, Statistics Canada figures indicate, although data does not differentiate between international and domestic cases.
However, a spokesperson with Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs said there are approximately 170 “ongoing” international cases in over 50 countries that have been reported to the government.
TOUGHER LAWS ADVOCATED
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.
When asked about such a proposal, a Department of Justice spokesperson 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 from CBC News.
But for Stephen Watkins, who also helped form iCHAPEAU Association 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.”
Stephen Watkins, father of Alexander, left, and Christopher, is one of founders of the advocacy group iCHAPEAU Association, which is lobbying the federal government to harmonize Canadian laws with tougher U.S. laws. (Handout/Canadian Press)
“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.
CBC Toronto News August 22, 2013
Reported By: Marivel Taruc
If your children have been abducted, please contact:
Canada’s iCHAPEAU Association
International Child Harbouring & Abduction Prevention Enforcement Act Under-Law
“Helping to Bring Abducted Children Home and STOP Parental Child Abductions”
Please JOIN, LIKE and SUBSCRIBE to help share the iCHAPEAU cause:
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/iCHAPEAU_Law (@iCHAPEAU_Law)
August 17, 2013
Daphne Bramham: Japan is black hole for abducted children
Police won’t enforce custody orders, law does not recognize joint custody and the country has not signed the international convention on respecting family court decisions
Masako Suzuki holds a photo of her and her son.
Photograph by: wayne leidenfrost , Vancouver Sun
Seven years ago, Canadian-born Kazuya David Suzuki was abducted by his father and taken to Japan. Since then, Kazuya’s mother has only seen her son a couple of times and spoken to him only once.
That’s despite Masako Suzuki having spent close to $100,000 on lawyers both here and in Japan. And she continues to be denied access, even though courts in both countries have ordered that she be allowed to see her only child.
The problem for her and for other parents of abducted, foreign-born children is that Japan is not one of the 90 signatories to the international Hague Convention, which requires member countries to respect the family court decisions of other signatory nations.
Yet even if it were, Japan doesn’t recognize joint custody, which the B.C. court ordered in October 2006.
It’s an appalling, inhumane situation that runs contrary to international conventions that Japan has signed including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Masako Suzuki’s life has been consumed with trying to gain access to her son — just as it has the lives of thousands of others whose children have been victims of parental abduction.
One advocacy group — the Child Rights Council of Japan — estimates there are as many as 2,000 cases of parental abduction to Japan each year.
As founder of Left Behind Parents Japan (http://lbpjapan.org/LBPJ_Organization/Joint_Policy_Statement.html), Masako is a leading advocate for change, urging Japan to sign the Hague Convention and to overhaul its 100-year-old family law system.
Somehow, the textile designer soldiers on even though she tells me that it is now probably too late to ever have a meaningful relationship with her son, who turns 19 in November.
She is convinced that Kazuya’s father has brainwashed him into believing that she doesn’t care about him. But if Kazuya does want to find her, Masako says the record of advocacy will prove that she’s never given up trying.
Masako has led marches in Japan, has held news conferences and has done dozens of media interviews.
This spring, she spoke at a symposium for Japanese government and spoke at a parliamentary committee in Ottawa that was looking into the issue of international child abductions.
In October 2006, a B.C. judge ordered that Kazuya could not be taken out of Canada and that his parents would have “joint interim custody and guardianship” until a final custody order was made based on the recommendation of a child psychologist.
But by then, Kazuya was already in Japan.
Jotaro Suzuki was granted sole custody by a Tokyo family court in December 2006. Masako got visitation rights in June 2007. But she was only able to see her son once before he and his father disappeared.
But what is more tragic than the separation from his mother is what’s happened since to the little boy, who was known as David at the West Vancouver school where he was diagnosed with a reading disability.
That reading disability coupled with Japanese language skills acquired only at home and at an after-school language program meant that he didn’t score well when he was tested for school placement in Japan.
As a result, Masako said, his father allowed him to be placed in a special class for the mentally disabled.
“I was so shocked,” Masako told me recently when we met in Vancouver. “But my ex-husband has used that. In family court in Japan, he gained the judge’s sympathy by telling him how he is a poor father struggling to take care of a disabled son.”
As far as Masako knows, Kazuya never went to high school.
The last time she saw him was in October 2009 at his junior high school choir concert in Tokyo — he was singing with his classmates, all mentally handicapped.
After the children finished singing, she said, she found him in a hallway. She called out to him and he raised his head. But before they had a chance to speak, the school’s principal came up to her demanding to know who she was.
“I’m his mother,” she told the principal. He told her that she needed her ex-husband’s permission to be at the school. He then threatened to call the police unless she left.
Kazuya never returned to that school. And, as far as Masako has been able to determine, he has never been registered at any other school in Japan.
Since that last sighting, Masako has had no word of her son. Canadian embassy officials are powerless to help the young Canadian boy. Japanese police are unwilling to enforce either court order. And, her former in-laws refuse to say where Jotaro and Kazuya are.
The Suzuki’s story has some unique twists — including the fact that neither parent is Canadian despite the family having owned a house and lived here for 13 years.
Beyond that, it’s strikingly similar to hundreds of other cases including 36 others being tracked by the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, a similar number being watched by the French Embassy and more than 140 known to U.S. Embassy staff.
Japan, along with a number of other countries, is seen as a haven for parental abductions and it’s enough of a problem that former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton told a congressional committee in 2011 that both she and President Barack Obama raised it at every meeting they had with Japanese officials. In February, 2013, after a meeting with Obama in Washington, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan intended to sign the Hague Convention.
Canadian politicians have lobbied for Japan’s ratification and two of the highest profile Canadian advocates for changes in Japan are two Vancouver fathers whose children have been abducted by their Japanese wives.
Murray Wood is the founder of the International Rights of Children Society(http://www.irocs.org/our-mission/) , which works to raise awareness of parental abductions. He has been featured in a 2013 documentary called From the Shadows(http://www.fromtheshadowsmovie.com/).
Bruce Gherbetti, who lives in Japan, is executive director of Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion (http://kizuna-cpr.org/home), which a Japanese-registered non-profit that works toward restoring the human rights of children including the right to have relationships with both parents.
Wood’s two children — then 10 and 7 — were abducted by their mother in November 2004. She had ostensibly taken them to visit their dying grandfather in Japan. She never brought them back even though Wood had sole custody of the children and a B.C. Supreme Court order saying that his ex-wife had to return on a certain date and another that gave him sole custody.
In the past nine years, he has had very limited contact with his son and daughter. But this spring — with the help of Canadian Embassy staff — Wood’s 19-year-old son arrived in Vancouver and plans to start college here in the fall.
It’s a happy middle part of the story. There will only be a happy ending if Wood is able to establish contact with his daughter, who is now 16.
Gherbetti’s three daughters were abducted from Vancouver and taken to Japan in 2009.
Like Masako Suzuki, Gherbetti is skeptical that Japan’s announced decision to sign the Hague Convention will solve the problems.
He and his organization for “left-behind parents” are concerned that even if Japan does sign, it will not live up to the convention’s spirit and intent just as it has failed to comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it signed two decades ago.
In an email, Gherbetti said the root cause is Japan’s outdated laws and views about both divorce and child custody.
Still, signing the convention is a step forward and Gherbetti’s group is trying to raise money for a post-Hague program that would provide resources and services to reuniting parents and children.
But for now, Masako told me that when it comes to abducted children, the red sun on Japan’s national flag should be replaced by a large black hole.
The Supreme Court has issued a case-by-case manual for court-appointed administrators on how to retrieve children in parental cross-border abduction cases under the Hague Convention, minimizing the use of force to avoid traumatizing the kids, the court’s spokesman said.
The manual, issued June 14, outlines measures the administrators who would be assigned the task of returning children to their place of habitual residence, even by force, should take as Japan considers joining the Hague Convention by the end of next March, the spokesman said Friday.
It says the administrators “should take utmost consideration” to protect the interests of the child.
The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction mandates procedures for a child abducted by one parent of a failed marriage to be swiftly returned to its country of habitual residence. The convention only applies to children under the age of 16.
The nation has come under fire in recent years over cases in which Japanese parents in estranged marriages overseas have brought children to Japan in defiance of divorce court custody or visitation rights rulings abroad.
Often, the estranged Japanese spouse claims to have fled from an abusive relationship. But the removal of a child from its country of habitual residence has been deemed a violation of that nation’s law, and the abducting parent a fugitive.
Under legislation that cleared the Diet in May, a court-designated officer can forcibly retrieve a child abducted or retained by a parent residing in Japan in defiance of an overseas custody ruling and who refuses to hand over the child.
The manual calls for the officer to attempt to take custody of the child at the home of the abducting parent, in an environment where privacy is thus protected and the child feels safe. Taking a child away in a public place, such as a day care center or on a street, may lead to “unpredictable situations” and traumatize the child, it said.
If the child cries or refuses to be returned to the other parent, the officer should not use force, according to the manual.
Should an officer visit a home to retrieve a child and is told it is not present, the child’s name should be called out and a check made on the presence of the child’s belongings, the manual says.
The officer is authorized to forcibly enter and search a home if there are indications the child is inside.
In the case of an infant, the manual allows the officer, with the parent’s consent, to remove it from the crib. But the officer must not try to forcibly take custody of an infant if the parent is hugging it tightly to prevent such action.
The manual, issued by the Supreme Court’s Civil Affairs Bureau, is based on meetings involving judges and other court officials nationwide in January and February. The gatherings covered past cases of failed domestic marriages where one parent fled with a child from the country of habitual residence without the consent of the other parent.
Court-designated officers have retrieved children in those cases but have not had specific manuals or regulations to follow. The latest document urges such officers in domestic cases to follow its instructions to avoid harming the child in any way.
In past divorce custody cases in Japan, officers apparently tried to retrieve children in public places, resulting in shouting matches.
Fiscal 2010 saw 120 domestic cases processed in which a parent demanded the forcible return of an offspring. The figure was 133 in fiscal 2011 and 131 in fiscal 2012.
Japan is the only Group of Eight member yet to accede to the Hague Convention. If it becomes a signatory, the cases will be handled by a family court in Tokyo or Osaka.
August 5, 2013