Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support Motion No. 219. International child abduction is a tragic phenomenon that affects too many Canadian families.
The motion calls on the Government of Canada to show leadership on this issue on the international stage. This is what Canada is already doing. Indeed, for many years the Government of Canada has been leading the efforts globally to find effective ways to prevent and solve international child abduction cases.
The Canadian approach toward child abduction has always been to ensure that children's best interests are a priority. The Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction was drafted some 20 years ago and became a reality through Canada's efforts.
For a long time, Canada's priority has been to prevent international child abduction cases, whenever possible, and to find solutions when abductions happen. In the great majority of cases, these situations happen during or after the parents' breaking up, particularly when one parent or both have close family ties with another country whom they are citizens from.
Twenty years ago, Canada started negotiations that led to the drafting of the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. The Hague convention came into force on December 1, 1983. Canada is still the first among those who are trying to broaden the application of the Hague convention, the only multilateral instrument providing for effective assistance to children who are victims of transborder abductions.
According to the objective and guiding principle of the Hague convention, the child's interests are best served by him returning promptly to his normal or regular country of residence.
In 1983, when the Hague convention came into force, only three countries signed it, including Canada. Thanks to pressure by the foreign affairs department, more than 65 states are now signatories of the convention and that number is likely to grow.
The Hague convention is the only international agreement that one can refer to when dealing with international child abduction. Its accomplishments are impressive, and the commitment to make it work and to increase the number of signatory states remains one of the most important and constant priorities of the government.
The Hague convention puts the interests of children first.
In 1998 the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade published a report entitled “International Child Abduction: Issues for Reform.” In that document, the committee recommended that Canada continue to promote the Hague convention and to increase the number of signatory states.
The Canadian government's reaction to the recommendations was positive. The Minister of Foreign Affairs stepped up his efforts and approaches to many countries in order to set forth the benefits of the Hague convention. Representations have been made internationally, especially with several nations in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
For example, a team of officials of the foreign affairs and justice departments went to Vietnam in late February for bilateral consultations. Among the subjects discussed were the benefits of the Hague convention. Canada urged Vietnam to consider signing the convention and offered important practical advice on the implementation of the convention.
The same kind of initiative was taken several times in many countries throughout the world.
Canada has a leadership role in the preparation of the fourth special commission on the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. This meeting will be the most important international operational review since the convention came into effect. Many options have been suggested. The international consensus is that the best option to prevent and remedy the problem of international child abduction is to abide by the Hague convention.
But we know that all countries party to the convention do not always implement it as it should be. Procedural delays, non-compliance with court orders to return children, contradictory domestic legislation and legal interpretations not always in accordance with the Hague convention are some of the problems that can arise when proceedings are taken in other countries under the Hague convention.
To maintain the confidence of the international community in the Hague convention, member states must commit to fully uphold their obligations under the convention. To promote a cohesive interpretation of the convention, the justice minister will hand out a $15,000 grant to the Hague child project in order to set up a data bank where will be stored legal decisions pursuant to the Hague convention.
The fourth special commission will be a crucial meeting where decisions on how to better implement and enforce the Hague convention will be made. Canada is sending to this meeting a huge multidisciplinary team: representatives of the foreign affairs and justice departments, provincial delegates in charge of implementing the convention and judges who have to apply the convention.
Canada is a world leader in promoting the goals of the Hague convention. We do everything we can to increase the number of signatories to the convention. In fact, we are taking all appropriate measures to make the Hague convention more efficient, to help the Canadian families of children who have been abducted and to ensure that abducted Canadian children are returned to Canada safe and sound.
With your permission, I will now examine the question of bilateral treaties respecting custody and access. Canadian consular authorities have growing responsibilities in the area of family matters, including the abduction of children by the father or mother and other types of matters where the wellbeing of Canadian families travelling or residing abroad is a source of concern.
This increased volume of family matters requiring consular assistance is due in part to the increased numbers of Canadians with dual citizenship and the high mobility of Canadians and Canadian families.
Encouraging countries to sign the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction remains Canada's method of choice in managing cases of child abduction. However, given the concerns raised by the Hague convention in many countries in the middle east, where Shariah family law is in effect, Canada has negotiated innovative bilateral agreements that constitute an effective way of dealing with such cases.
As cases of international child abduction are not covered by official agreements, they can drag on, be hard to settle and become bilateral irritants. Parents are separated from their children, and children are taken away from familiar surroundings. The parents of a family in conflict try turning to the justice system of one country in order to establish living conditions or terms of custody of members of the family that live usually in another country.
International child abduction is a crime. Canada has put comprehensive and effective measures in place to fight this phenomenon. However, cases of abduction continue. The Government of Canada is determined to find new ways to prevent and resolve cases of child abduction. We must all work on this objective. It is in the best interest of our children.