In May 2021, Ali Al-Aazawi was convicted of abducting his then 10-year-old daughter from Canada to Iraq in contravention of a Canadian custody order in favour of her mother. The verdict has received coverage in national media:
- Calgary father who left daughter in Iraq 3 years ago guilty of abduction (CBC; 2021)
- Calgary mother pleads for return of daughter from Iraq as girl’s father convicted of abduction (CTV, 2021)
This case is unusual in that neither parent is with the child. Al-Aazawi is in Canada awaiting sentencing, and his daughter is apparently with family in Iraq. As a sole result of her father’s destructive decisions, a child has now lost both of her parents and her mother continues to suffer a prolonged and ambiguous loss.
Return Our Children Home Canada supports the decision by Judge Greg Stirling to convict Al-Aazawi for abducting his daughter, but questions the decision to acquit him on kidnapping charges, apparently citing the possibility that the girl may have consented to the abduction. This tragic case bears the hallmarks of the intentional alienation of the girl from her mother by the father and potentially his family, as evidenced by the gradual shift in her attitude towards her mother and Canada in the years since the abduction. It is perverse to incentivize the manipulation of a victim of abduction by incautiously interpreting their testimony, particularly in prolonged cases where that testimony has shifted in attitude.
The risk of incentivizing the manipulation of a victim of abduction has been explored in good practices relating to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, to which Iraq is not a signatory, but which is the major multilateral instrument for resolving family abductions.
It is imperative that these abductions be resolved urgently to protect the child. The Hague Convention sets a guideline time to resolution of six weeks, and carefully restricts the scope of the return decision in order to avoid a complex litigation. Nonetheless, many Hague cases — and especially non-Hague cases such as this one — extend far beyond this timeline. By the time a case is measured in years, there is already irreparable damage to the abduction victim’s sense of trust and security. The Crime of Family Abduction (US Department of Justice, 2010) provides powerful testimony from survivors of family abduction.
Media coverage is quick to note that Canada has no authority to order the child’s return. However, Canada can and must take an activist role, using direct and indirect channels to engage harbouring countries as other nations do. Until there is a clear disincentive, Canadian children will continue to be abducted internationally. While the seeking parent’s suffering may be more visible, it is the child who is the main victim.
While abduction carries a 10-year maximum sentence, sentences of 2 to 3 years are far more common. No amount of time served by Al-Aazawi will bring his daughter home — and it appears to be within his power to do this whenever he chooses. It is a tragic failure of the international system that so much power can be seized by a parent who is so clearly behaving against the best interests of his own child.
We fervently hope that mother and daughter can be reunited soon. Healing will doubtlessly take years — but that healing needs to begin now.
“To my daughter, Zahraa my soulmate, my only daughter, I miss so much. I love you unconditionally. You are the apple of my eyes. I never thought you will be a way from me that much. I’m lonely without you. I will always keep you in my prayers and my thoughts. and will never give up trying to bring you back home also will never give up the hope to reunite with each other until the end of my life.Zainab Mahdi
To the Canadian Government, I beg the government of Canada and Global Affairs to do their best to bring my daughter (who is kept as a hostage in very dangerous war zone country where there is lots of corruption and lack of justice).
My daughter lost her education and her childhood by being taken away from her mom and peace. Please help me to reunite with my daughter. I never see her almost three years and one month. She’s a Canadian citizen before she is Iraqi citizen. I beg my Canada to bring my child back.”