A year ago, my children were abducted to a war zone in Iraq by their father while on a court-approved "vacation to Europe." The past year has been an excruciating – and unfulfilled – quest to bring Sharvahn, Rojevahn, Dersim and Meitan home. There is much uncertainty, but one thing is crystal clear: Government inaction on child abduction begets more child abductions.
The failings of our court system, the inadequacy of the Government of Canada's response and an abdication of leadership from our elected government leaves Canadian children vulnerable. Government must be held to account and the system has to change.
After leaving my marriage fearing for my children's and my safety, I fought against international travel – with either parent – because the risks were too grave. All the warning signs were clearly laid out in court filings. My ex-husband's abduction playbook was spelled out right in front of the court. But the people assigned to protect my children deemed abduction a statistical outlier. My odds of winning the lottery were higher, they said, while bureaucrats in Ottawa offered assurances they were on the file.
The news of abductions and kidnappings are common, as is the news of families using their own resources to solve them. Others are not so lucky. Not having the resources should not mean they love their children any less. Our government can and must do more.
Since the abduction, our government has constantly been four steps behind. As a mother, I would not idly sit by waiting. I packed up and went to Iraq to track down my children. I got as close as a few hundred metres before being turned away from the village they were in. From there, my children were taken to Iran in February, where they have remained since.
I continued to travel from my home in Comox Valley to Ottawa pleading for someone to show the leadership and creative thinking required to direct a siloed bureaucracy of departments and agencies to work as one to return my children.
Consular Affairs passed the buck to Geographic Division. Department of Justice lawyers held up Global Affairs. The local RCMP detachment had to check with HQ in Ottawa. RCMP officials told me Global Affairs blocked their request to speak with Iranian authorities through Interpol. All the while, our elected government offers hollow assurances it is on the case. Prime Minister Trudeau himself told me in his office that my children's file would remain on his desk until they were home safely.
The fugitive wanted for the abduction broke his silence and took to the media to brag about what he had done. For anyone watching and thinking of doing the same, the message was clear: Canada cannot stop him. Government inaction is proving him right.
Since that time, I learned authorities in Iran detained the fugitive on Canada's Interpol Red Notice. This was news to our government when I shared the information. Finally, I thought, an opportunity for Canada to bring my children home. Instead, Canada never responded. Even worse, Global Affairs had no clue what was going on in Iran. My sources told me Iran was waiting for Canada's call, but it never came. Iran dismissed Canada's charges and Global Affairs had not a clue when I shared the development.
The Government of Canada is failing Canadian fathers and mothers in similar circumstances. Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion was looking for credit for the hours and effort put into my case, gallingly dodging accountability by claiming responsibility rests with Iran to live up to international obligations. They did, minister, and Canada never returned their call. Someone in Ottawa needs to wake up and realize the system is broken.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was quoted this week as saying: "There is no greater responsibility of the government than to keep its citizens safe." I could not agree more. A year on, my children are waiting for their government to act.