British Columbia

B.C. mother pleads with Ottawa for help in returning children allegedly abducted to Lebanon by ex-husband

Wissam Tarabichi, subject of Canada-wide warrant by RCMP, took son and daughter to Lebanon 10 months ago

Posted: February 07, 2019
Last Updated: February 07, 2019

Shelley Beyak wants her children returned to Canada after Mia, 10, and Liam, 8, were taken to Lebanon 10 months ago by her ex-husband, who's wanted by the RCMP on a Canada-wide warrant. 'It's a horrible thing to see my children in this predicament ...,' says Beyak, who is calling on the prime minister for help. (Shelley Beyak/Facebook)

Shelley Beyak thought that once she could get to Beirut, she would have a fighting chance of retrieving her two children, who were taken to the Lebanese capital by her ex-husband 10 months ago.

But since landing in the city where she once lived and where Mia, 10, and Liam, 8, were born, she has found hopes of getting them back home to Abbotsford, B.C., have been dashed.

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She said the children seem stressed, wary and conditioned by their father, who won't speak to her. Because Canada has no jurisdiction in Lebanon, and Lebanese religious courts favour fathers for custody, there's nothing she can do to bring them home, although a Canada-wide warrant was issued months ago by the RCMP for her ex-husband's arrest.

She's now pleading for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene.

"I need something tangible to be done to get the kids back home. I just can't do it on my own," she said in a phone interview from Beirut.

A bittersweet reunion

Beyak and ex-husband Wissam Tarabichi have joint custody of the children. She said that in March, he told her he was taking them to the United States for a week-long trip.

Instead, after arriving in Seattle, they boarded a flight to Paris, then another to Beirut.

For months she had no contact with her children, because Tarabichi refused to answer her calls.​

Beyak had no contact with her children for 10 months after they were taken to Lebanon by her ex-husband. (Shelley Beyak/Facebook)

In January, Beyak flew to Lebanon. Since then, she has had some victories, most notably being reunited with her children and obtaining visiting rights, as long as Tarabichi is present. But she said that first reunion in late January was bittersweet, taking place in a bleak government building in the seaside town of Jieh, which Beyak said had no heat and was "not fit for children."

She said the children did not hug her when they first saw her, and repeatedly left the room during their visit, which lasted several hours, to check in with their father, who sat outside a locked door. 

"If the kids are this affected after 10 months, I'm so distraught about how they're going to be after a year, a year-and-a-half, it just cannot continue on like this," she said.​

Beyak said the children were told — she suspects by Tarabichi — that they could not take photos together with their mom. As well, during the visit, they would not eat the snacks she brought them nor accept gifts she brought for Mia's 10th birthday.

When she asked them where they live and go to school, they hesitated to answer and told Beyak they couldn't remember or weren't sure. 

A Canada-wide warrant was issued in April for Wissam Tarabichi's arrest on allegations of parental abduction, and notices were put through to Interpol that he's wanted internationally. But authorities here have no jurisdiction to force Tarabichi to bring the children back to Canada. (Courtesy of Shelley Beyak)

"Any child should be able to respond without fear that telling the truth is going to get them in trouble with a parent," said Beyak, who worked in child advocacy for years.

There is a Canada-wide warrant out for Tarabichi's arrest on allegations of child abduction, and notices have been put through to Interpol that he's wanted internationally.

In an interview, Tarabichi said he didn't abduct the children but "returned them to their home country."

"They don't want to go back to Canada. Their mother has to accept this if she really wants them to be happy," he said.

"The legal process is very clear in Lebanon: I have full custody here."

'If the kids are this affected after 10 months, I'm so distraught about how they're going to be after a year, a year-and-a-half, it just cannot continue on like this,' says Beyak. (Courtesy of Shelley Beyak)

​Tarabichi said he took the children to Lebanon because the Canadian family law system is corrupt and discriminated against him.

Global Affairs said in a statement it was aware of the case and "our hearts go out to the family at the centre of this difficult situation," but declined to comment further, citing the privacy act.

An uphill battle

Beyak faces an uphill battle in retrieving her children.

Lebanon is not a signatory to The Hague convention, a multilateral treaty that protects children from international abduction. And the country does not recognize international child kidnapping by parents as a crime.

In Lebanon, women cannot take their children out of the country without written permission from their husbands.

Beyak is calling on Trudeau to speak directly with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and ask for a presidential order for the children to be returned to Canada.

"It's a horrible thing to see my children in this predicament and I'm absolutely disgusted that they're stuck here like this, knowing the prime minister could step in and say something," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Ghoussoub
@MichelleGhsoub

Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. She has previously reported in Lebanon and Chile. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.