Defence lawyer, Andre Ouellette
Issues surrounding the actions taken by Canadian authorities as a Lethbridge woman and her child were being removed from Belize more than two years ago, resulting in a guilty plea to a much lesser charge on Friday (Jan. 24).
The 35-year old woman, who can’t be named due to a publication ban, had originally been charged with child abduction in 2014 when she unlawfully fled with her infant son to South America, after failing to drop off the boy for a court-ordered visit with his father.
A hearing, which began in November 2018 in Lethbridge Provincial Court, had tasked Judge Jerry LeGrandeur with deciding if the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applied to the conduct of Canadian officials in Belize.
Several Belize officials testified during that hearing that the woman was ordered to be removed from that country for an immigration offence in 2017, when she couldn’t produce a valid passport. In Canada, a warrant was also in effect for her arrest for child abduction.
On Friday (Jan. 24), Judge LeGrandeur concluded that Canada did not control the removal nor did it offer any direction to Belize, meaning the Charter cannot apply to the overall facts of the case. Rather, he found that the fairness of the actions taken by Canadian authorities during the removal process could have caused Charter issues at trial.
“The Hague Convention allows for the return of certain children who’ve been removed from Canada, or any other country, with certain procedures,” says defence lawyer, Andre Ouellette.
“Here, the Canadian officials had played around with those procedures that allowed Belize to go around them… So, on that basis, [the judge] said the Charter doesn’t apply, but it could apply.”
Instead of taking the complicated matter to trial, the woman pleaded guilty on Friday (Jan. 24) to the much lesser offence of disobeying a court order, admitting that she did unlawfully have custody of her child. She was sentenced to one year of house arrest, with one year of probation to follow.
The woman will be under strict 24-hour house arrest for the first six months of her sentence, but will be allowed out of her home under a less strict curfew for the final six months. Court conditions will also allow her to have access to her son as she serves her sentence.
Crown prosecutor, Tony Bell, agreed that it’s a fair resolution given the Charter complications and the lengthy amount of time that the case had been before the courts.
Ouellette says he and his client are pleased with the outcome of the case, which he points out could impact other matters of the child’s custody in civil court proceedings. The boy’s father was granted sole custody in 2014 when the woman was charged with child abduction. The child was returned to his father when he arrived back in Canada in 2017.