Dear Justice Stirling,
To Whom It May Concern,
We are a community of Canadian parents whose children have been abducted internationally. Ms. Mahdi is one of our members; her resilience, generosity and resolve have inspired and supported us in the years since we were brought together by this terrible shared circumstance. She has suffered immeasurably and her suffering is now multiplied as another system fails her.
Please consider Ms. Mahdi as you read this. We have been with her on the long, traumatic road that has led to this futile end. But instead of her, we will write about her daughter, Zahraa.
Zahraa was 10 years old when she was abducted. A 10-year-old cannot meaningfully consent to an abduction – particularly one that is contrived so the abductor “could have complete control over her education”, “so the child’s mother would not have access to her”, and resulting in clear alienation and brainwashing. In dismissing the kidnapping charge based on the possibility that she may have consented, the message to the abducted child as she struggles to understand her situation – which she doubtlessly will for decades – is this: maybe this was your fault. Maybe this was your choice.
This pressure on Zahraa is doubled by putting her in a situation in which she has to choose again – the supervised call in which her father “implored his daughter to return” without success.
No child should ever be put in a position where they need to choose between one parent and the other. The very framing of this situation is destructive to a child’s sense of family, trust, and identity.
In our community, each story is different. There are common elements, however, and one is the strategy used by abducting parents. Successful abductors are destructive, self-serving, and indifferent to the terrible damage they cause their own children – but they are not stupid. They have researched and they have planned ahead.
Once the child has crossed into the harbouring country, the abducting parent knows that they have little more to do than delay, obstruct, and influence their child’s thinking. Time, bureaucracies like the justice system, and the child’s need to find safety in whatever environment they have – the abductor’s chosen environment – will do the rest.
The CBC article chronicles the shift in Zahraa’s thinking. She “was initially scared and wanted to come home.” Three years later, she does not want contact with her mother.
Justice Stirling, you recognize that the father bears responsibility for the abduction and alienation. You see a reconciliation with her mother as instrumental to Zahraa’s future happiness. What we cannot understand is why you would put your faith in a man who has made his will very clear. He will now serve less than a year in jail – possibly much less, with probation – and he will doubtlessly leave Canada as soon as he is able and return to his wives and daughter in Iraq. He will have gotten what he wanted, at far less cost than Ms. Mahdi continues to pay. Zahraa will have been made responsible for her own abduction. And the path will be further illuminated for future abductors. This does not serve anybody.
Abductors use brinkmanship to get what they want. Instead of a quick resolution by returning an abductor and child to the appropriate jurisdiction within weeks – as described in the HCCH 1980 Child Abduction Convention, which is the main multilateral instrument for resolving these cases, but to which Iraq is not currently a signatory – the abductor constructs a stark choice between two lives, two identities, two parents, and two countries; between the left-behind set of roots and community vs. the one the child comes to know and depend on after the abduction. They delay proceedings for years, aided by legal systems that do not treat family abduction cases with the urgency they deserve. And finally they may even force the child to make the choice, as Zahraa has done.
If you recognize this scenario as the intentional construct of the abducting parent, your decision is clear. You must not allow it to happen. When it does, you must impose serious consequences, leaving room for the abductor to receive more lenient treatment if they do bring the child home. And there must be no room in the decision for the child to blame themselves for the destructive choices of a parent. Zahraa already has enough healing to do.
Return Our Children Home Canada has recently published a set of Calls to Action (https://returnourchildrenhome.ca/calls-to-action/) asking the Government of Canada to enact concrete changes to resolve existing cases of international parental child abduction and prevent those to come. We believe judges need more information about these cases. These Calls to Action echo similar calls that have been made for decades. These Calls are also attached to this letter. We hope you’ll join our efforts and put an end to this senseless crime.
We accept that this decision was made with a judge’s authority. Nonetheless we would like the court to know that we disagree strenuously and feel the justice system should be able to find another solution with Zahraa’s best interests in mind. Her course is evident should she remain in Iraq. See in particular the article in Stars and Stripes cited below, in which an abducting parent was given a harsh sentence unless she returned the child. This pressure did compel her to comply and reunited the abducted child with the seeking parent.
Return Our Children Home Canada Board
- ‘She’s very angry,’ judge says of abducted child left in Iraq as dad sentenced to 2 years in jail (CBC; December 2021)
- Judge asks father who left daughter in Iraq to help mend her shattered relationship with her Calgary mom (Calgary Herald; December 2021)
- Statement on Al-Aazawi Verdict (Return Our Children Home Canada; June 2021)
- Canadian Abducted Children Calls To Action (Return Our Children Home Canada; December 2021)
- Courts should punish parental abduction (The Globe And Mail, December 2011)
- Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee Report (Government of Canada, 1998)
- Japanese mother must return child to States or face lengthy jail sentence (Stars and Stripes, December 2011)