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Harper asked to intervene in bizarre international custody case Add to ...

For nearly two years, 12-year-old Noah Kirkman has been shuffled through Oregon foster homes as his family in Calgary fights through the U.S. court system to bring the youngster back to Canada.

Now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been asked to intervene in the bizarre international custody case, and federal Liberals are slamming Ottawa for not doing enough to protect the young Canadian citizen.

"I'm hoping that the Canadian government will step in at this point and just say, 'Give us this child back. He's Canadian and we can handle it thank you very much,' " said Lisa Kirkman, Noah's mother.

The Kirkman family has been locked in Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo since a misunderstanding ruined an idyllic summer vacation in small-town Oregon in 2008.

That's when Noah was in Oakridge spending time with Ms. Kirkman's husband, John Kirkman, who has raised the boy since he was a toddler and is the biological father of Noah's younger sister, Mia. Mr. Kirkman is an American citizen, and he and his wife for a time lived in different cities.

One day, police in the U.S. stopped Noah, who was riding his bike without a helmet. The boy, who has severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but maintains an A average in school, had trouble answering questions. Officials looked into his background and found a social services file open in Canada (the result of his special needs assistance) and that he was in the U.S. without his mother, his legal guardian (her note permitting care by his stepfather wasn't enough).

Noah was taken into custody to protect his welfare.

U.S. officials will not talk about the case, citing state and federal privacy rules, but Gene Evans, a spokesman with Oregon's Department of Human Services, said American and Canadian governments are "continuing to work together to provide appropriate assistance to the Kirkman family."

The battle for Noah has since been waged on two fronts: through Oregon's Lane County Circuit Court, and in the U.S. federal court through a Hague Convention application that deals with child abductions in foreign countries. The latter requires by international law that governments hand over children to their place of usual residence to decide what's in the youngsters' best interests.

Last week, circuit court Judge Kip Leonard ruled that he might be open to sending the boy back to Canada when the school year ends, but there was no guarantee. There's no date to hear the Hague application.

Tony Merchant, Ms. Kirkman's Regina-based lawyer, is hoping for another audience at the circuit court level to sort things out.

"Just having a social service file in Canada doesn't mean that you have a family problem or the child is in need of intervention and I don't think they know that," he said. "It's pretty easy to see how the mistakes began. I can't be so sympathetic about the failure of the judicial system to let the mistake come to an end. Some people have difficulty backing down off the hill."

Calgary Conservative MP Rob Anders has been raising the issue with U.S. officials. He said he is willing to go down to pick Noah up, and this week he asked Mr. Harper to help.

"It's a complicated case," he said.

Federal Liberal consular affairs critic Dan McTeague said the government hasn't done nearly enough to demand Noah's return and warns this could erupt into a "serious diplomatic row" between Canada and the U.S.

"This is the most outrageous case I've ever confronted," he said.

Ms. Kirkman, 35, has already jumped through hoops required by the U.S. courts - parenting classes, psychological testing and therapy - and even has Noah's grandparents in Calgary ready to assume custody if she and her husband, who also now lives in Calgary, are deemed to be unfit.

Ms. Kirkman, a self-described "anti-prohibition activist" who writes for marijuana magazines for a living, was sentenced to community service in 2005 for growing medicinal pot for her husband, who has chronic fatigue syndrome. She and her supporters wonder whether that background is partly to blame for Noah's situation.

She hasn't seen her son since July, 2009, and the family is only permitted one 15-minute supervised call with Noah every two weeks. Mia, now 7, keeps saying "the government in U.S.A. took my brother."

"She's kind of stopped asking when Noah's coming home because I don't know what to tell her," Ms. Kirkman said as her eyes welled with tears.

"Although I'll never ever, ever stop fighting for Noah," she added, "… I'm afraid I don't think they have an intention of ever giving Noah back. I really don't."

 

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