You may have read in the newspapers recently about latest development in a custody battle over a 9-year-old girl that has resulted in the mother being arrested and charged with her abduction. It seems that rather than return the girl to her father on December 1 as required, the mother opted to essentially “run and hide”, taking the girl with her in violation of a custody order. After an Amber Alert prompted tips from the public, police found the mother and daughter living in Hamilton.
The child’s father, Mohamed Abdel-Motaleb, is in Canada from Egypt on a visitor’s visa and is seeking custody here after not knowing the daughter’s whereabouts for over a year. He claimed that without his consent, the mother secreted the daughter from Egypt – travelling part of the route by camel – in order to make their way to Canada where her parents live.
The parents have a history of high conflict over the child, and through their lawyers have levelled accusations against each other. The mother’s family and friends have stood by her in support, believing that she was motived by a desire to protect her daughter and avoid a court battle with the father, whom she claimed to fear. The abduction for which she is formally charged took place only one day before a scheduled court date in their ongoing custody dispute.
Canadian courts universally frown on such self-help measures in child custody disputes, even where the abducting parent has the child’s best interests at heart. Sentences can also be stiff: In the most recent decision out of Alberta, a father who had plead guilty to abducting his 7-year-old son and removing him to Lebanon contrary to a custody order was sentenced to 12 months incarceration including 45 days spent in jail after being arrested.
In that case, the abduction had been premeditated, with the father having planned to sell his home and dispose of all his affairs in Canada in anticipation of moving to Lebanon with the boy. He even created a website explaining his reasons for abducting the child.
In response to the father’s unilateral actions, the mother had been forced to fly to Lebanon to try to find her son. This involved her leaving her home and job, spending her savings, max-ing out her credit cards, and withdrawing from her RRSP. While in Lebanon she visited more than 30 different schools to try to find him, and once she did, she was ordered by the court to post a US$50,000 bond in return for getting access.
In imposing sentence, the court considered an earlier B.C. decision in which the accused father spent a total of three years being incarcerated for abducting his own child, in that case through violent means and involving a car chase which endangered not only the child, but the public as well.
As with these Alberta and B.C. cases, the Ontario courts see many similar scenarios. And whle it’s admittedly vital that courts condemn such self-help solutions, and reinforce respect and compliance with legal process and custody orders, it’s not hard to feel compassion for the situation both parents themselves in.
What are your thoughts on child abduction cases like these? Are the penalties too stiff? Too lenient?
For the full text of the decision, see: