That, in the opinion of this House, the government should show leadership on the international stage: ( a ) by taking action designed to increase the number of signatory countries to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; ( b ) by signing bilateral treaties that include commitments to respect custody and access orders as originally handed down by the courts; and ( c ) by taking the necessary steps within its own borders to combat international child abduction.
Mr. Speaker, it is with considerable joy as well as considerable emotion that I rise to speak to Motion no. 219 which I am introducing today.
Although I am aware that it is not traditional to do so, I would like to begin by thanking the standing committee on private members' business, not only for allowing debate on this matter today but for making it possible for members to express themselves clearly in a vote that will be held very shortly in the House of Commons.
I will touch on a number of aspects relating to international abduction, beginning with a general picture of the present situation both internationally and in Canada. I will also list some of the programs developed by the Missing Children's Registry.
As well, I will speak about the convention on the rights of the child, an international convention containing a number of provisions aimed at combatting the illegal transport of children. In my opinion, this is something a number of countries should take into consideration if we are to expand the fight against international child abduction so that it is not merely a Canadian effort but an international one as well.
I will also be speaking about the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, which has been signed by 54 countries. Unfortunately, too few countries have signed it at this point. Unfortunately too, it has certain flaws which need to be addressed if located children are to be returned to their country of origin.
I will also speak to the matter of bilateral agreements. In many cases, even if the international conventions have not been signed, particularly the hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, a certain number of countries have entered into bilateral agreements.
With respect to parents who are victims of child abduction, we will take a look at just how the conventions are applied to see whether parents can find an appropriate way to recover their child as a result of the signing of these agreements.
I will also look at the question of measures to be taken within Canada. It is not just a matter of showing diplomatic and international leadership on this issue, Canada must show leadership at home, within its own borders, in order to fight international abduction of children.
I will set out a number of appropriate measures Canada could consider and act on in order to fight this major scourge.
I will mention a number of recommendations appearing in a report drafted by the standing house sub committee on foreign affairs in April 1998 when the House considered the entire question and proposed a number of recommendations. In my opinion, the government should have between 1998 and today noted the report and come up with a number of solutions and measures to fight this scourge.
Finally, I will note that the fifth special commission on the Hague convention on the international abduction of children is being held from March 22 to 28. The Minister of Foreign Affairs should have been in attendance at this commission in our opinion in order to improve various aspects and measures of the convention.
Therefore, the motion I have tabled today, which will be debated, demands that the federal government exercise some leadership in order to increase the number of countries that are signatories to the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. It calls on Canada to sign bilateral treaties that include commitments to respect custody and access orders as originally handed down by the courts. Finally, it demands that the federal government take the necessary steps within its own borders to combat international child abduction.
Not only am I very pleased to speak to this motion today as a parliamentarian but from a personal point of view this debate also gives me the hope of seeing a fundamental issue finally resolved.
On January 17, 1993, my spouse's son, Karim, of whom she had legal custody for a few years, was abducted. He was three years old at the time. The father, a Canadian of Egyptian origin, took advantage of a Sunday outing with his young son to abduct him and take him to his native country. That was the beginning of a long process involving three lawyers and high legal fees, but above all, it was the beginning of a sad human and family drama that is still unresolved.
In Canada for 1999 alone it is estimated that 358 children were abducted by their father or mother, according to the number of cases reported to the Missing Children's Registry. Half of that number were the subject of a custody order from the court. In Canada, under our criminal code, such an offence carries a sentence of 10 years.
Unfortunately, however, the belief that abduction is the most serious violation of a child's rights is not yet widespread.
The Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, the only multilateral instrument against international child abduction, which came into force on December 1, 1983, has been signed or ratified by only 54 countries.
In order to protect the interests of children, each signatory country agrees to respect custody arrangements made under the laws of other countries and to return an abducted child to his or her legal guardian in the country where he or she resided before the abduction.
Members must know, however, that the geographical scope of this convention is very limited since no country under Muslim law has signed it yet.
It would seem that Muslim laws and religious customs establishing the rights of parents and the influence of the family are the main obstacles to middle eastern countries signing the Hague convention. For instance, by law in Egypt, the child of a Muslim father must observe Islamic religious practices and a mother must be married to the father of her child for reasons of morality. In addition, Islamic countries apparently do not see the family as consisting of two equal partners, both with an equal right to access to their child.
The only recourse for parents whose children have been abducted are bilateral treaties with countries that are not signatories to the Hague convention, negotiations which could be conducted between countries and which could result in the conclusion of provisions similar to the convention. In this connection, it should be pointed out that Canada has signed a repatriation treaty with Egypt. Unlike the convention, this treaty is not binding and contains no obligation to comply with the custody and access order handed down by the initial court.
Canada must therefore show leadership on the international and diplomatic stage so as to increase the number of signatory countries to the Hague convention, and negotiate bilateral treaties with non-signatory countries by imposing legal obligations for the return of children to the country in which they resided before being abducted. In addition, Canada must take immediate measures within its own borders.
How is it that three year old Karim was allowed out of the country with his father, who did not have custody of the child, without the permission of his mother, who had a court order? What sort of document check was carried out, particularly with respect to the production of a passport for a child? Did customs officials and airline personnel have the required authority and training to prevent such a situation?
It is estimated that there have been approximately 200 cases where customs officials have suspected that a child was being abducted but were unable to stop the presumed abductors because they did not have the authority.
The fight against international child abduction is first and foremost a fight for the right of children and for the love of their parents. The solutions require the Canadian government to show international and diplomatic leadership and to foster close co-operation between the solicitor general, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the provincial ministers responsible for law enforcement.
As I said earlier, this is a general picture of what we are experiencing here in Canada. Moreover, we know that, in 1988 the solicitor general and the government created the Missing Children's Registry. The primary roles and objectives of this registry, along with a program entitled our missing children, are to intercept and rescue children who have disappeared, have been abducted and have crossed international borders to publish lookout notices at the borders, and to install placards of missing children at all Canadian border crossings. This organization also provides training to the personnel of law enforcement bodies and of other services, such as airline companies, so that child abductors can be found out.
The mandate and role of the Missing Children's Registry and of the related program did not achieve the results anticipated. The time has come to be more rigorous in the training provided to civil aviation staff.
The time has come to give more powers to customs officers. They must not merely monitor the importation and exportation of goods. They must also ensure that children do not leave the country without the previous authorization of both parents.
I referred to the mandate of the Missing Children's Registry. The mandate is even broader. The registry must also help, if necessary, all police forces during their investigations on missing children.
When victim parents appeared before the standing committee on foreign affairs in 1988, many of them told us that even though complaints were made to local police stations, it took more that 24 hours before an investigation was opened. It is important to realize that the first hours, the first days, the first minutes are the most important if we want to find the child.
We cannot wait 24 hours after a parent makes a complaint to his or her local police station to open an investigation. The protocol established for police has to be stronger and stricter to ensure that an investigation is undertaken in the first hours after a complaint is received and that the Missing Children's Registry officials and Interpol are informed. If the abductor is no longer in Canada, we should be able to station Interpol officers at various U.S. border crossings, if necessary, to anticipate the return of the child.
It is obvious that the protocol has to be strengthened, and of course that has to be done in co-operation with the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and municipal police forces.
Moreover, the registry's mandate is to check the Canadian Police Information Centre's file, also called the missing persons computerized system, to give more information or follow up on missing children investigations, as needed.
Would it not be more effective and better if customs officials had in their possession all the information on the custody order? If they saw that there was a custody order from a court and that a parent who did not have the custody of the child was trying to leave the country, that person could be arrested before boarding a plane belonging to a foreign airline. We should never forget that from the moment that the abductor parent and the child are inside the plane of a foreign airline company, there is nothing more we can do, even if the plane is still on Canadian territory.
Customs officials have a crucial role to play in the identification of abductors. They must be provided will all the means to do their job.
As we know, Quebec acts as the central authority in that regard, under the convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. Quebec is responsible for the implementation of the convention. As I said, the administrative law branch of the justice department of Quebec acts as the central authority responsible for the implementation of the convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, which helps to locate and repatriate children who are illegally taken to a foreign country by a parent.
Contrary to what is presently done in Canada, in Quebec we can identify, and this is easily accessible on the website of the Department of Justice, countries where abducted children have been taken.
This was one of the requirements made repeatedly to the House subcommittee on foreign affairs by organizations, namely The Missing Children's Network Canada, which come to the assistance of parents whose children have been abducted. They asked that a national register of children abducted in Canada be established to facilitate their identification.
We cannot help but note there is no such registry available that would allow us to intervene. As we know, Quebec has one. For example, we know of a number of cases in the United States, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Venezuela, Zimbabwe as well as in Egypt. We know that a number of children have been abducted and taken illegally into these countries.
It might be high time we had a national registry, as requested by the groups that appeared in March 1998 before the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs, and by others as well.
We must also know what the terms and conditions of the convention are. It is not that simple. Before one's case can be examined under the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, a number of conditions must be met.
I would like to point out a number of points I have brought forward but I want to remind the House that the fifth meeting of the special commission on the operation of the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction is being held from March 22 to 28.
On March 5, I asked the foreign affairs minister to take part in that meeting. Unfortunately, we cannot help but notice that the minister will not participate. I think it would have allowed the government to show leadership at the diplomatic level, as my motion is calling for today.
I wish that all members of parliament could vote for this motion, which essentially calls for action, as I said earlier, for the defence of children rights and for the love of their parents.