It's a very difficult area because these are distressing cases. There’s a lot of very strong emotion and grief when these abductions occur.
I don't know if you're aware, Minister Baird, but Lois has become a little bit of a go-to person in her area because she's developed some expertise and some real depth in dealing with these cases. I know other committee members may have experiences as well.
The first actor to get involved is always the province, because child custody orders are provincial orders in family courts. They generally will call in the OPP or local law enforcement, who often work with NGOs such as Child Find and other actors that provide support and expertise.
The Government of Canada is often asked to go and get the child and bring them back because the parent has a custody order and feels that somebody should enforce it, and they look to the government to do that. But that simply is not something the federal government is able to do. We have to work through the existing legal framework, both in our country and in the country to which the child is taken.
Many countries have signed what's called the Hague Convention, which is something Canada has been promoting. The Hague Convention essentially says that the child's custody should be decided by the country of their ordinary residence. That's been very helpful because it's kind of a quick and clear litmus test on which country has jurisdiction. We often claim the Hague Convention in asking for children to be returned to Canada.
Where it gets complicated is often these child abduction cases involve children with dual citizenship. Often we find that the country of other citizenship is very reluctant to cede to Canada their sovereignty over the child, even though the child also has Canadian citizenship. So there are appeals to the other court to ask that the Hague Convention be overridden in that case. These can be very complex legal cases, and generally are as a matter of fact.
There are a few things parents can do if they think this is going to be an issue for them and their children. One is that they can put the child on the Passport Canada's security list. The child's name is then flagged so that if the child is travelling under a Canadian passport or if the parent who intends to abduct tries to get a passport for the child, then the flag comes up and both parents will be consulted. There's some protocol to ensure that there's consent from all the players.
It helps for a parent to have a notarized consent letter when the child is travelling because that helps border officials sort out whether they should be concerned or whether they should be asking more questions. It's something also that our consular officials in other countries should be made aware of. So if you think your child might be taken to another country, just notify our mission there. We'll help them to be aware of the issue and to work with local officials, if in fact the problem develops.
But there are publications available on the travel.gc.ca website to assist parents in these heartbreaking situations. Parents should also be aware that in Muslim countries, strong preference is given to the father. In fact, a child in those countries cannot legally leave the country without the father's consent. That's another area.
We are working to get information about this widely disseminated. We had a briefing for members of Parliament and senators last week. Some of you were there. Knowledge is to some degree I think helpful for people, but the bottom line is that there are no quick fixes, so the care and concern of members of Parliament like you give a great deal of comfort and support to parents in these difficult situations.