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Canadian Press

Montreal father of missing girl found in B.C. still fighting to see her

The Canadian Press, ANDY BLATCHFORD, May 12, 2009

MONTREAL - A Montreal father is still waiting for a "miracle" reunion with his 10-year-old daughter who resurfaced last month in Vancouver, more than two years after she vanished.

Transit police found Ashley Gonis after she ran away from her mother's Vancouver-area home and called 911 from a commuter train station several kilometres away.

It's now been over a month since she turned up, but her father Frank, who has sole custody, said Tuesday he still isn't allowed to speak to her.

Instead, Ashley's mother, who Quebec police allege abducted the child, is preparing to restart the family custody fight on a new battlefield - a British Columbia court.

Gonis, who had packed his daughter's teddy bears, clothes and drawings into boxes because it was too painful to look at them while she was missing, described her reappearance as a "miracle." His jubilation, however, has since eroded.

"(It's like) there's a nightmare, you wake up and then the nightmare comes back - and now here we go, Round 2," he said.

"Parents shouldn't have to go through stuff like this."

The home renovator fears the bitter custody battle in Montreal that cost him around $30,000 will restart in B.C. - even though the woman is a fugitive in Quebec.

Montreal police issued an arrest warrant last year for Araceli Bravo for alleged parental abduction, but it is enforceable only in Quebec.

"We're still working with the court systems to get the warrant extended to B.C.," Montreal police Sgt. Ian Lafreniere said Tuesday.

"The kid is safe, this is the main point." The distraught child called 911 on April 10 from a pay phone, telling officers she was escaping an abusive situation at home. Vancouver police later said the allegation was unsubstantiated. Gonis still hasn't seen or spoken to the little girl since before she disappeared in January 2007.

"I never expected to run into this type of problem," said Gonis, who went to Vancouver shortly after she was found.

"They're acting in B.C. like I'm the bad one. What's a court decision from Quebec worth?"

In several letters to his daughter, Gonis told her he would buy her whatever she wanted. He also sent her a photo of her bed, made up the way she always kept it. But he alleges Bravo brainwashed the girl and that she is now afraid of him.

"She's very tentative," he said of his child.

Messages left at the office of Bravo's lawyer in B.C. were not returned.

Edward Kruk, a University of British Columbia social work professor, said the B.C. government has been negligent in not helping Gonis reunite with his daughter.

"This is really the priority here," said Kruk, a child custody expert. "They should be doing a lot more in terms of family support, family reunification and preservation."

The director of the group that helped Gonis in his search said provincial borders can create legal snags when it comes to resolving cases of parental abduction.

"It's very frustrating - and that's an understatement," said Pina Arcamone of Enfant-Retour Quebec.

"It's been over a month now that he's learned about the whereabouts of his daughter and he's very close to bringing her home (but) it's still not close enough."

Gonis, meanwhile, said he plans to use everything he's learned from this experience to help other parents.

"Ashley's coming home to me, where she belongs," he said. "But after it's over I'm going to work to get the laws changed. This is not right. This shouldn't happen to any parent."

© The Canadian Press, 2009