This is the first of a series of posts about Return Our Children Home Canada’s first annual conference in Ottawa, Ontario, held from April 25th to April 28th, 2022.
Return Our Children Home Canada launched remotely in 2021 as a non-profit organization – in the middle of the pandemic – with ambitious goals and zero budget. However, the idea of gathering for some in-person work has always been in the back of our minds…
In September 2021, two of our members were sponsored to attend iStand Parent Network’s conference in Washington, DC. The work iStand was able to do touched on all of our organizational goals, and they came back inspired.
In October 2021 we formed a conference committee consisting of Zainab, Jolly, Elena, Mesi, and Alec. We chose to build this event around April 25 – Parental Alienation Awareness Day – noting that Parliament is generally in session at this time. (We also considered May 25th, which is International Missing Children’s Day, but once we realized that Parliament would not be sitting, we quickly dismissed this date.)
Our committee borrowed extensively from iStand’s example to organize our conference — internal meetings, a public fundraiser including an event, government meetings, and even an embassy walk. Our goals were to start small, with the hope of setting a baseline that we can build upon in subsequent years.
Developing a week-long conference program from scratch is a lot of work, and asking parents to come to Ottawa for a week is a very big request. Travel within Canada is expensive and many of us are working to pay lawyers, or saving to travel in the hopes of seeing our children, or just rebuilding from the financial destruction that an abduction causes alongside other trauma.
However, we needed to establish credibility and trust within our community, the Canadian government, and embassies we hoped to visit.
Fortunately we were able to schedule meetings with Global Affairs Canada and several embassies, notably the Japanese, Paraguayan, and Iraqi. We were able to correspond with the Lebanese embassy and eventually hold a short meeting with the ambassador scheduled at short notice. We are grateful to these delegations for making the time to speak with a young organization like ours about an emotionally charged issue.
While several members of our organization live in Ottawa, others had to fly from far-ranging provinces. In order to support those parents and facilitate their attendance we embarked on a fund-raising campaign with a modest goal of $3,000, with the majority earmarked for flight and hotel costs. The primary mechanism for this was a GoFundMe campaign largely supported by our friends and family and for which we are extremely grateful. Without these generous contributions we would not have been able to credibly hold this event – and especially not with plans to make it annual.
We also raised funds through a “dine with purpose” dinner event, generously sponsored by Grounded Kitchen, Coffee & Bar, a local restaurant specializing in barbecue. They offered to contribute 15% of their evening’s profits to our cause. We sponsored the meal for those seeking parents who were able to attend.
In the end we gathered in person with seven parents who had been victimised by international parental abduction of their children, plus five more virtually throughout the conference. Plus we delivered statements on behalf of numerous others.
We held a vigil in the howling wind and bitter cold on Parliament Hill with dozens of candles, each labelled with the name or first initial of an abducted child. More than two dozen people came out to support us and our endeavours.
We accomplished all of this on a shoestring, thanks to the creativity and generosity of a small army of volunteers preparing posters, painting banners, giving out flyers, and supporting and honouring us with their presence. We are grateful for the hospitality of Boccato Gelato & Crepe, who allowed us to host an art night to prepare all the posters and paintings, while keeping us wonderfully fed with delights throughout. In addition, we are grateful to Randy of Shine The Light on Abducted Children for seeing the potential in this event and throwing his back fully into it. We have more thanks to give, and will attempt to do justice to each of your contributions to this event in the posts that follow.
All of us have felt incredibly lonely at times, not just missing our children but also living an experience that people can struggle to relate to. Our experience in Ottawa was uplifting and surprisingly joyous given the tragedies that brought us together.
Many organisations have come and gone as small groups of parents have struggled and burned out in trying to reunite with their children. While we hope that Return Our Children Home Canada will be sustainable, we also plan to capture and share any lessons learned to be able to grow and develop, to inspire so that others can carry the torch if need be as well.
Please keep watch over the coming weeks as we share with all of you photos, videos, and communication on what we were able to accomplish.
- ‘Left-behind parents:’ Protesters ask government to help bring their children home (Ottawa Citizen; April 28, 2022)
- “Ottawa Now” with Kristy Cameron (580CFRA; May 3, 2022)