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Why we're powerless to get back abducted children

Vancouver Sun, front page, By Daphne Bramham, March 15, 2005

Murray Wood had no idea last November when he kissed 10-year-old Takara and seven-year-old Manami goodbye at Vancouver International Airport that his ex-wife was abducting them.

That doesn't mean the Richmond elementary school teacher didn't take every possible precaution to ensure that Takara and Manami were only going for a couple of weeks to see their dying grandfather.

Wood had sought and was granted sole custody nearly nine months earlier. Ayako Maniwa-Wood not only didn't contest sole custody, she didn't even bother showing up for the 2 1 /2-day trial.

The day before the children left — Nov. 26 — the B.C. Supreme Court issued an order instructing Maniwa-Wood to ensure their safe return on Dec. 9 and “not commence any application for custody, guardianship or access in any other jurisdiction other than the province of British Columbia.”

One might think — as Wood did — that even if the children were abducted, it would be a simple matter to get them back.

It isn't. Unlike Canada, Japan has never signed the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Japan doesn't recognize other countries' child custody orders and judges will not simply return children to their custodial parents. Instead, they order full hearings and trials.

It also doesn't recognize other judgments such as the Dec. 14 B.C. Supreme Court decision ordering the immediate return of Takara and Manami.

And Japan doesn't recognize the warrant for Maniwa-Wood's arrest on two counts of abduction.

The twist is that if Wood went to Japan and got his children to the airport, he would almost certainly be arrested and charged with abduction.

In the nearly four months since they left, Wood hasn't heard from Takara, Manami or their mother. Staff at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, however, met with Maniwa-Wood and she confirmed that she has no intention of sending them home.

The story is far from unique.

Every year, about 400 Canadian born children are abducted by a foreign-born parent and taken to the parent's country of birth. The numbers have remained relatively constant over the past decade, but are almost certainly going to rise along with the frequency of intermarriage between foreign-born immigrants and native-born Canadians.

And what is worrying is that the overwhelming number of immigrants to Canada come from countries that haven't signed the Hague convention.

Seven of the top 10 source countries for immigrants — China, India, South Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Iran and Pakistan — have all refused to sign.

Murray Wood believed the best care for his two children would be to share their custody with his ex-wife. He hasn't seen them since November.