Teens plead with justice minister to halt mother's extradition for allegedly abducting them
Family says Jody Wilson-Raybould would be first person to consider children's wishes in complex custody battle
A pair of teenage boys caught in a bitter international custodial dispute want Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene and stop their mother being sent back to the U.K.
If the minister does that, the boys' aunt says it will be the first time someone in power on either side of the Atlantic has taken into account the wishes of the children trapped in a battle supposedly being fought in their best interests.
"The two boys do have a say," said the aunt, who can't be identified as part of a ban protecting the names of the boys. "They do have thoughts. They do have feelings. They weren't abducted, and they would like to say that. But nobody will listen to them or let them, because they're children."
'Very, very slight evidence'
The boys, aged 14 and 16, sat in court in Vancouver Wednesday watching a sheriff lead their mother — K.T. — down to the cells after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes ruled she could be extradited back to England.
K.T. is charged in the United Kingdom with offences that would equate in Canada to abduction in contravention of a custody order and abduction of a child under the age of 16.
K.T.'s lawyer Gary Botting said the case underscores the limitations of the law surrounding extradition, which allows a judge to assess whether enough evidence exists to justify a trial — but not to weigh that evidence or make findings of fact.
"The judge said as long as there's any inference that can be drawn that infers guilt then she has to send them back. Her hands are tied," Botting said.
"And that's the state of the law, unfortunately, in Canada right now. Anybody who faces extradition can be extradited on very, very slight evidence."
Long and winding road
Holmes said the events that led to the extradition order began in July 2014 when K.T. and her husband divorced after 14 years of marriage.
K.T. holds both Canadian and British citizenship.
She applied for permanent custody, but a Liverpool family court denied her request. The court ordered the boys to live with K.T., but said they couldn't be removed from the U.K. for longer than a month without her ex-husband's consent.
In October 2015, the woman took the boys to Calgary without the ex-husband's knowledge. The next year, an Alberta Court granted his application for the boys' return through the Hague Convention.
The boys travelled to Duncan, B.C., to live with their aunt. Their mother followed. And in 2016, their father came to Vancouver Island to try to enforce a court order for their return.
"The boys did not wish to engage with him or the police," Holmes said.
After a 20-minute meeting, the father returned to England without his sons. K.T. claims he consented to them staying with her.
But on his return to Liverpool, the father reported his ex-wife for child abduction, which brings the story to the present day and Holmes's courtroom.
'They express frustration'
K.T. claims she had only planned to take the boys to Canada for the length of their half-term vacation but was forced to stay, because the court proceedings her ex-husband initiated resulted in an order not to leave.
In ordering the extradition, Holmes said that argument might qualify as a defence — but evidence still supports the basic charge: neighbours who saw commotion and moving vans and an acquaintance who claims K.T. said she was moving to Canada without her ex-husband's knowledge.
K.T. immediately appealed the extradition ruling to the B.C. Court of Appeal and was granted bail.
Botting said she plans to exhaust all legal options, including a last-ditch appeal to the justice minister.
As part of the proceedings, Holmes refused to admit affidavits from the two boys in which they allegedly said they don't want to live in England again and have asked their father if they could simply visit.
"They express frustration at what they see as [their father's] ongoing refusal to listen to them or to take their wishes into account," Holmes said.
The judge said the affidavits were not relevant to the proceedings she was overseeing, but she did order them sent to the justice minister.
'It's very traumatic'
Botting drew a parallel between his client's case and that of Hassan Diab, a Canadian university professor extradited to France in 2014, only to spend three years in prison before French authorities dropped terrorism charges against him due to lack of evidence.
He said the judge in Diab's case "said he had no option but to send him back because of the limited role of the extradition judge, and this judge said almost exactly the same thing here."
Diab has called for a public inquiry into Canada's extradition system.
Botting said the boys should be heard.
"The affidavits speak for themselves. They may want to add to them now, having seen what their mother's gone through up to this point. It's very traumatic for a family, especially for the mother."