Mr. Benno Friesen (Surrey-White Rock) moved
that Bill C-221, to amend the Criminal Code (abduction of child) be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.
He said: Mr. Speaker, for the past few days the leading international news stories have dealt with hijacking tours covering Spain, northwest Africa, Switzerland and Italy. But the central theme of the bill has nothing to do with any European tour: it has to do with extortion and the kidnapping by a parent of his child. Last October 22 I tabled Bill C-221, a bill to amend the Criminal Code. The operative part of the bill reads:
Every parent of a child who, with intent to deprive of the possession of that child the other parent or a guardian or any other person who has been granted by a court custody of such child, unlawfully
(a) takes or entices away or detains the child, or
(b) receives or harbours the child,
is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.
The bill was important to me last October 22. Because of recent events of the last few days it has become even more important to me, as I am sure hon. members recognize. As I speak on Bill C-221, an amendment to the Criminal Code, I am conscious that private members' hour is not noted for the degree to which it captures public attention since private members' bills often focus upon narrow aspects of public or private business. But what I thought was a bill dealing with an infrequent, though serious problem, has turned out to be one dealing with a national problem and has created national interest. There are people in the gallery today representing not only themselves and their interest in this bill but thousands of
March 15, 1977
people across Canada who have experienced the terror of civil kidnapping or the constant threat of being victims of it.
I have received support for this legislation from all parts of Canada, from the maritimes to northern Alberta, from Halifax to Vancouver. Child welfare agencies from across Canada have written in support of the principle of this bill. I have received letters from both sides of this House, including at least one cabinet minister, supporting the bill. Other ministers have expressed favourable interest. I have received letters from the victims of this distress, from single parents whose trust in custody arrangements and the security of a court declaration has been raped by the callous vindictiveness of an ex-husband or ex-wife.
Most of all, I am convinced I have the support of the real victims of parental kidnapping, the pawns in the vicious game of post-separation or divorce retaliation. It is the children who suffer the most. It is they who suffer lifetime emotional wounds which may never heal. It is they who are asking the unanswered questions, "Where are you taking me?" "When will I see my mother, or father, again?" "When can I go home?" It is the children who suffer the constant mental anguish of torn loyalties, of fragmentary home attachments, of destroyed human relationships. It is the children who are exposed to the terrors of emotional as well as physical torment.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that there are cases where the court has granted custody to an uncaring and irresponsible parent. I know that any feeling and caring, loving parent, seeing his or her child neglected under the protection of a court order must want to right that wrong by forcibly taking such a child from those abject and destructive surroundings. That impulse stems only from a sense of humanity and decency. But our society can never condone any practice of breaking the law to correct a wrong. That is the road to anarchy. What we must do is immediately find ways to ensure that custody arrangements are made equitably, with easy access to redress.
In the meantime we are left with the stark reality that by far the most parental abductions stem from a heinous desire to continue to hurt the ex-spouse, from vengeance, vindictiveness, an attempt to barter a child for a better divorce settlement. In the United States the estimates run from 25,000 to 100,000 a year. For Canada that would mean 2,500 to 10,000 a year. Mr. Speaker, I would like to give just a few examples of what I am talking about. Other members speaking in support of this bill can add endlessly to the list. I know the honourable member for Vancouver-Kingsway (Mrs. Holt) is interested in this legislation, supports its principle and has worked hard for parents who have suffered the anguish of the circumstances to which I am alluding.
There is the case of Stephen Preston whose mother is a constituent of mine. Stephen was kidnapped by his father when he was seven years old. Through a very bizarre circumstance he was returned by the court to his mother three years later. The boy was taken from the courtroom kicking and screaming. Why? Because that fine lady had been painted by her ex-husband as a prostitute, as an alcoholic and any number of other vicious lies. During those three years Stephen Preston
has lived under 12 aliases. He had less than a first grade education and could barely write his name. Two months later he was kidnapped again. We do not know where he is today. I ask hon. members, what kind of a young man do you think he will be when he is 18 if nothing is done?
Several weeks ago I received a letter from a lady in New Brunswick pleading with me to try to help her find her two children. Her husband took them one day six years ago and disappeared. She has pleaded with school authorities and with the police, but they cannot help her. Then there is the couple in Grande Prairie, Alberta: the ex-wife left for several years and has now come back to town, remarried. The grapevine around town has it that they have come back to take the children. What must it be like to send your children to school in the morning and then wonder all day, every day, whether that is the last time you will see them? Another lady in Alberta is in permanent hiding-only her parents know where she is-all because of the constant threat that her children would be forcibly taken.
There is the young mother whose son is in Coquitlam, British Columbia, snatched from a day-care centre here in Ottawa. She has neither the emotional strength nor the financial resources to find ways to bring him back. There is the tragic story of Vicki Starr, from Ottawa and Burlington, whose Iranian father took her to Iran eight months ago. Can you imagine the anguish of dealing with a government that does not recognize women's or children's rights even as much as we do? What must it be like for a 12 year-old to be virtually alone in a strange country, unable to speak the language and knowing she may never see her mother again?
Several weeks ago I was interviewed on this subject by a reporter. After we were through she said quietly to me, "You know, that's what happened to me when I was a little girl. My mother kidnapped me and wouldn't let my father know where I was till he promised her a different divorce arrangement." Believe me, Mr. Speaker, that young lady is interested in seeing this bill pass.
I know this bill is not perfect. I think several changes ought to be made at committee stage, for that is what parliamentary debate and committee discussion is all about-to perfect proposed legislation. I offer the following suggestions to members for discussion at committee stage. First, I think the age mentioned in the bill ought to be uniform with other legislation and should be changed to 14. Second, I think custody arrangements ought to include those in addition to court appointed ones, such as legal agreements arrived at in a law office. Third, and most important, there are some who feel the penalty provision of Bill C-221 as it now stands is too severe for some cases. I agree. Therefore, I would commend to the justice and legal affairs committee, or to the health and welfare committee, an amendment which would bring greater accommodation for the varying exigencies under which the kidnapping took place. I am not adamant about seeing this bill pass in its present form. I am interested in the co-operation of the minister in seeing the principle of this legislation go on to committee stage for discussion.
March 15, 1977
The most formative and enduring relationships we will ever have are those we build with our parents. It is from our parents that we first learn about our sense of identity, who we are. It is from our parents that we get our first feelings of worth and being wanted. It is with them that our need to be loved and wanted is first satisfied. However, what if these relationships are shattered, first by divorce and custody proceedings, and then by parental kidnapping? What is the harvest of emotional problems we are going to reap in the coming generation because we have not dealt with this problem?
We have spent a great deal of time and energy protecting the material rights of children. We look after their property rights, their inheritance rights, their rights of succession. We have health and immunization programs to protect their bodies. We have laws to protect them from all forms of physical contamination. We have laws which prohibit the transport of diseased cattle across provincial boundaries-all to protect the body. But if an estranged parent, father or mother, forcibly wrenches a child from the home that has given him security, takes him away from the parent with whom he or she is most firmly attached, and moves him into another province, into alien surroundings, and force-feeds his mind and emotions with the venom of a destroyed marriage relationship, and we offer that child no help, no warmth, no healing, no security, then surely that child must cry out that ancient pitiable cry, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?"
This is not a government problem, or an opposition problem, or a provincial problem; it is a human problem. All it requires is the will to make a few simple but fundamental changes.
The present law is based on the premise that parents cannot kidnap their children. The increasing number of marriage breakups, the increased mobility of our people, the increased expressions of hostility and violence in our land, make that premise obsolete. Bill C-221 recognizes the reality of that basic change.
At present, the provisions of the divorce act are portable across Canada and around the world, but the custody arrangements issuing from those divorce settlements enjoy only provincial recognition. So it is that a parent can kidnap his child, take him into another province and have almost total immunity from arrest. Ever since the 1957 ruling in Regina vs. Austin, this kind of criminal activity has escaped prosecution because of the loophole that exists in paragraph two of section 250 of the Criminal Code.
Even when all the provinces recognize each other's custody arrangements, as necessary as that is, it will not eliminate the furtive running and hiding by the parental kidnapper, nor will it take care of international implications.
Our Canadian Bill of Rights guarantees to each the right "to life, liberty, security of person". At this very moment there are countless children born with that right who have it denied them by the unconscionable action of a vindictive parent. Bill
C-221 would go some distance in ensuring that right to those things for our children.
I trust hon. members will permit this measure to go to committee for examination, amendment, and approval.
Subtopic: CRIMINAL CODE