Missing Children Awareness Month
In Canada, Missing Children’s Month happens in May of each year. To raise awareness, several organizations galvanize to coordinate and promote public events and information. These efforts culminate annually on May 25th, which was first declared to be National Missing Children’s Day by the Solicitor General of Canada back in 1986.
There are many excellent Canadian organizations focused on missing and abducted children. For example, MissingKids.ca – which is Canada’s missing children resource center – is operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. It supports families in helping to find a missing child, and offers educational information and resources on this important topic. It also assists stakeholders to coordinate efforts to deliver services focused on missing children.
Many parents may not be aware that one of those key stakeholders in the return of children, is the Canadian court system itself.
The Ontario Family Courts take child abductions very seriously – even when the perpetrator is one of the child’s own parents (usually as part of a bitter separation or divorce). The courts are empowered to respond promptly when the other parent needs help in having the abducted child returned to him or her, and to expedite procedural steps to optimize the likelihood of a child’s safe return.
How do the courts do this? One of the ways is illustrated in a very recent Ontario case called Bhadauria v. Côté.
The parents had started dating in 2018, but never married. Their relationship deteriorated in July of 2021. Shortly after, the mother emailed the father to say she was grateful for their good moments, and wanted their 16-month child to have a good relationship with him. But things fell apart soon after, with each of them hurling accusations at the other. The father refused to continue with supervised parenting, and stopped paying child support.
In early March of 2022, with no financial support and no family in Canada, the mother suddenly sold her house and moved to France. She did not tell the father.
The father then turned to the Ontario court for help. He applied to have the matter formally declared “urgent”. This would allow him speedy access to a second hearing date – even before a Case Conference in their parenting dispute – where he could ask the court for an order forcing the mother to immediately return the child to Canada. The court wrote:
It is well settled that child abductions are considered urgent under the jurisprudence. It is not disputed that [the child] was, until March 8, 2022, ordinarily resident in Ontario. The [father] never acquiesced or impliedly consented to the respondent relocating with [the child] to France. Moreover, he brought this motion with dispatch upon learning of the [mother’s] relocation.
After agreeing to declare the matter urgent, the court went on to admonish the mother for failing to at least provide the minimum 60 days’ notice of her intent to move, as required under the Children’s Law Reform Act. The court said:
Removing [the child] from the country without advising the [father] strikes me as a particularly egregious form of self-help remedy. The [mother] should have sought the [father’s] consent before relocating, but she acknowledges that she did not seek his consent because she knew that the [father] would refuse. Instead of bringing this issue before the Court to determine if her relocation was in [the child’s] bests interests, she presented the [father] and the Court with a fait accompli. This Court has often held, in the context of motions for determinations of urgency, that self-help must be discouraged and admonished.
Having concluded the matter should be expedited, the court formally set the next hearing date for only two weeks later, where the father could plead his case for an order directing the child’s immediate return.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Bhadauria v. Côté, 2022 ONSC 2476