Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Motion no. 219, which deals with international child abduction.
Canada's record in solving cases of international child abduction by the father or the mother is well known not only here but worldwide. Let us not forget that in countries that are not party to the Hague convention child abductions are treated on a case by case basis.
Even though the desired outcome is generally the same, namely bringing the child or children back to Canada, each case must be dealt with based on its own particularities.
The main obstacles to the child's return may be related to the following: the relationship between the father and the mother and other close relatives; the marital status of the parents; the gender of the child or of the parent seeking the return of the child; family law and the religious system in the foreign country where the child is; and the nationality of the parents or of the abducted children.
The consular affairs bureau, which has a vast experience in dealing with child abduction cases in countries that are not party to the Hague convention, has succeeded in securing the return of children from foreign countries, including middle eastern countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, Syria and Iran.
These past few years the department has managed to reunite more than 30 children taken to non-signatory countries with their parents who had legal custody in Canada. No other country with a similar incidence of child abduction by the father or the mother has such a high success rate.
The consular affairs bureau works in close co-operation with other agencies, particularly with the partners involved in the our missing children program, namely the passport office, the RCMP, Customs Canada and Immigration Canada. The high degree of co-operation between these bodies plays a critical role when disappeared or missing children must be rescued.
While there is no single or easy solution leading to success, some measures have, in a number of cases, helped the return of children, or helped maintain contact between children and the Canadian parent left behind. The measures taken by Canadian police forces to lay criminal charges against the parent who abducts a child are important ones. International search and rescue activities conducted abroad by police forces can be greatly facilitated when criminal charges are laid.
Then there are the measures to maintain or facilitate contact and communication between the abducting parent, the children abducted and the parent left behind. Except for our consular agents, parents who are left behind often have no one to turn to in order to get information on their children and to maintain contact with them.
Thanks to these efforts, consular agents have managed to negotiate visiting rights for the parents left behind. Visiting rights can be essential to preserving the relationship between children and the Canadian parent during the years that it may take to settle such cases. These rights are also important to restore confidence between the parents, which can sometimes lead to a voluntary return of children.
Patience also comes into play. Some cases were settled years after the abduction and in rare cases the abducted child sought consular assistance to come back to Canada when he was old enough to do so on his own.
Then there are the representations made to foreign authorities. Consular agents contact authorities in foreign countries and closely co-operate with them to settle these cases. Since most countries that have not signed the Hague convention share with the signatories the desire to reduce the incidence of international child abduction, they are always disposed to support and discuss these cases.
Other countries frequently find ways to help us, within the limitations of their own systems. This approach has, for instance, been used by the Canadian department to negotiate two bilateral agreements with Egypt and Lebanon in order to facilitate the settlement of cases of children that have been abducted and taken to these countries.
Unlike the Hague convention, the bilateral agreements do not include any mandatory provisions relating to the return of abducted children. These agreements are not intended to replace the Hague convention, which is still the preferred means for handling international abduction cases, but they are one of the outcomes of the constructive co-operation shown by the governments of Egypt and Lebanon in consular affairs with the Government of Canada.
These agreements provide an official framework at the diplomatic level for discussion and information sharing on specific consular matters, including cases relating to child abduction and child custody. The agreements set up joint advisory commissions comprised of representatives of the Egyptian or Lebanese departments of foreign affairs, justice and the interior, and representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and of the RCMP.
These bilateral agreements constitute a new approach that has been adopted by the Government of Canada to overcome the difficulties presented by international child abduction cases.
Nevertheless, far too many children are being abducted by parent. When children are taken to other countries, the mechanisms that can be used to obtain their return to Canada are imperfect in that they depend, of necessity, on co-ordination between different national legal systems. This is why the Government of Canada has put in place the most exhaustive measures even taken by any government to help the victims of international child abduction.
The challenge we must face, which reflects the commitment we have made to the public, consists in making these programs and interventions still more effective.
Canada has always urged other countries to be party to the Hague convention which remains, as I said before, the only international instrument that can be used to prevent and solve international child abductions by fathers or mothers.
Moreover, Canada is number one with regard to international efforts to ensure that the Hague convention is properly implemented by other countries. As mentioned by the member for Hull—Aylmer, Canada will be represented at the special commission which meets in March 2001 to have a look at the structure of the convention.
New supplementary agreements have been concluded, for example the 1996 Hague convention on protection of children. Canada provides significant assistance to Canadian parents who are dealing with abductions to countries where the Hague convention does not apply, always to ensure that the child is returned to Canada safe and sound.
To solve the problem of international child abductions by fathers or mothers, the government has come up with several measures, including bilateral conventions and agreements. I would even add that what Canada is doing now goes further than the proposals included in the Bloc Quebecois's motion.
Many of these initiatives have already been endorsed by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, for instance, the 1998 report entitled “International Child Abduction: Issues for Reform”.
I will conclude by saying that all these initiatives show that the Government of Canada has for some time made determined efforts to find ways to prevent international child abductions.