Discovering that your child has been abducted is a traumatic experience resulting in panic and confusion. It is extremely important to remain calm, and to immediately seek the assistance of family, friends, and/or professionals. A child’s disappearance should be reported to the police and to the Consular Affairs Bureau as quickly as possible, and a consultation with a lawyer should be immediately arranged. You may also wish to contact local or non-governmental organizations designed specifically to advise and assist parents whose children have been abducted. While some of these organizations may not become involved in the actual recovery effort, they can provide counseling and other assistance to help you deal with your emotions during this time.
Often the extended family of the abducting parent is aware of the location of the child. It is strongly to your benefit to establish and maintain friendly contact with any relatives of the abducting parent whether they are in Canada or abroad. The most effective way to resolve international child abduction is when the child is returned voluntarily. Having the support of the abducting parent’s family can be extremely helpful in reaching a quick resolution.
It is imperative that you have realistic expectations of the process, because it can often take weeks or months before a child is located or recovered. An abducting parent can complicate search and recovery efforts, even more so if that parent removes the child from Canada. Taking certain organizational steps can help with the ecovery process, and can also help you to establish reasonable expectations. Some of the steps you should attempt to take as quickly as possible include:
- Confirming the location of your child;
- Confirming your child’s well-being;
- Arranging a meeting between your child and a Canadian official;
- Understanding your legal situation in Canada and in the country that the child is located;
- Understanding the limitations that may affect the return of your child to Canada;
- Gaining awareness of the potential financial costs for you or your family in the search and recovery process.
Be sure to give your contact information to all of the relevant parties, including professionals with whom you have been consulting. It is imperative that you be reachable at all times, in case someone tries to reach you with information regarding your missing child.
Having a custody order can greatly aid you in the recovery of your child. If you do not have one, discuss the need for one with your lawyer. A custody order granted following the abduction may not be necessary if the country that the child has been abducted to is party to the Hague Convention. However, some countries are not party to the Convention, therefore a custody order may still be important.
AGENCIES AND SERVICES
As soon as you suspect that your child has been abducted, contact your local police department immediately. The more quickly the police network can begin the investigation the better. Give as much about information about the child and the abducting parent as possible, including copies of custody or other court orders, photographs, descriptions, health records, and any other information that may lead to the quick recovery of your child.
Ask the local police to enter the information in the Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC) computer system, so that all police forces in Canada will have access to it. Also request that the information be entered in the United States National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer system. If you have reason to believe that your child has been, or will be, taken out of the country, ask the police to contact the National Missing Children Services of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Also contact the Consular Affairs Bureau.
Once you have contacted your local police, they may begin their investigation, or request you to assist, with the following:
- Reviewing whether criminal charges should be laid against the abducting parent;
- Notifying your child’s school authorities, and asking that they advise you or your lawyer in the event that there is a request for any school records. You may need to provide the school with a certified copy of your custody order;
- Reviewing any credit cards that the abducting parent may have and requesting a record of recent purchases;
- Checking your liability for transactions made by the abducting parent on any common credit cards or joint bank accounts;
- Obtaining records of long-distance calls that the abducting parent may have made prior to the abduction;
- Considering the publication of an Interpol circular;
- Contacting the physician or hospital that has treated your child for any medical problems and asking for their cooperation in reporting any requests for information concerning the child. You may need to provide a certified copy of your custody order.
The Canadian Government’s “Our Missing Children” Program
This program involves five federal government departments: the RCMP, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Department of Justice. The program’s objective is to locate and return missing and abducted children.
Customs officers can immediately have a border alert distributed to the member countries of the International Customs Union once they have received a request to do so from local police. The National Missing Children Services is associated with the global police network Interpol, through which it can assist any Canadian police agency in coordinating investigations abroad.
Among the services offered through the RCMP’s National Missing Children Services is the Travel Reunification Program, which is intended to help parents or guardians who cannot afford to pay the cost of having an abducted child returned to Canada. The following guidelines must be met in order to qualify for the travel assistance offered by the program:
- The request for assistance must come from the investigating police department, the provincial/territorial central authority, or the Consular Affairs Bureau;
- The requesting agency is responsible for assessing the financial status of the family and determining if free transportation and accommodation should be provided;
- The service is available only to return a child abducted by a parent;
- A parent/guardian will not be sent overseas unless all legal steps have been taken for the return of the child to Canada, and the local authorities are cooperating in the return.
Publicity can aid or hinder an international child abduction investigation. You should discuss the matter with your local police or your lawyer before contacting the media. The Consular Affairs Bureau can also provide you with helpful advice regarding the use of publicity.
There are numerous problems that could arise should you choose to contact the media. Some countries may be less willing or able to assist in the recovery and return of a child once the abduction has been publicized. The abducting parent may also go into hiding, which would hinder the investigation and could place your child in a situation of stress or danger.
There are several private organizations that will carry out a search and recovery effort on your behalf for a fee. You may find it useful to seek the advice or guidance of professionals like the local police or non-governmental organizations before engaging these private organizations. If you do ultimately decide to use such an organization, be sure to have your lawyer involved in negotiating fees and services in order to protect your financial interests, as well as to ensure that the proposed activities do not further complicate the search for and recovery of your child.