Calgary child taken to Iran 'without my knowledge or consent' says mother

A Calgary judge has ordered a young girl returned to her mother after the child was taken to Iran without the mother's consent or knowledge.

Girl, 6, issued passport and taken to Iran without mother's consent

Hasina Shah, seen here in a photograph with her 6-year-old daughter Elnaz Ebrahimi, says not only did she not know her daughter had been taken to Iran, she says she didn't even know the child had been issued a passport. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Update June 17, 2016: Shah said her daughter has been returned to her and she has been granted full custody of the child.

Hasina Shah went to court feeling upbeat last month, confident she would soon see her daughter return from a trip she said she didn't know about and didn't approve.

"I thought I had the upper hand and that I would learn my daughter was coming back soon."

Shah knew her daughter had been taken to Europe by the paternal grandmother. What she learned that day in court was worse than she expected.

Her little daughter Elnaz Ebrahimi was no longer in Germany, but in Iran.

"I just found out, in front of the judge, that my daughter is in Iran," she said, looking shocked outside a Calgary courtroom.

Shah does not believe this is a case of child abduction; the grandmother has relatives in Iran and does have a return ticket.

But the more pressing questions are: how did the girl get a passport when the mother insists she never signed for one?

How is it that the "consent to travel" letter was only signed by the father?

And how can she ensure her daughter is returned from a country with which Canada has no diplomatic ties?

In the dark

The twisted tale started four years ago, when Shah and Elnaz's father split up after a short union.

They settled on joint custody, though the father, Omid Ebrahimi, had day-to-day custody — meaning the girl lived with him and his mother, the child's grandmother, Mansoreh Haidary.

Shah was supposed to have the child every other weekend.

On May 13, Shah says she called the family to say she would be late picking up the girl the following day.

"I kept calling and they were not answering on a Friday night. So on Saturday, I got a message from my ex's sister that my daughter is in Germany and the dad is aware of it. I called the sister and said, 'How is that possible? I didn't even know she had a passport.'"

Hasina Shah, 26, has gone to court to have her child returned from Iran, a trip she says she did not consent to. (Judy Aldous / CBC)

Shah immediately called Calgary police and the following Monday filed a "Hague Application" in court, which is a mechanism for parents to have their child returned to Canada. The hitch is that it can only be used in countries that are party to the Hague Convention. Germany is one such country; Iran is not.

On May 25, Shah went to court, hopeful she would learn of plans to have the child returned.

But in court she was told that, not only was the girl not coming back anytime soon, little Elnaz was now in Iran with her grandmother.

'How did she get a passport?'

Court documents show that Elnaz Ebrahimi was issued a passport in December 2014.

Both parents must sign a passport application and Shah insists she never did.

CBC asked the department which oversees passports, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, to produce a copy of the original passport application for Elnaz so the mother can see who signed it.

A department spokesperson said in an email to CBC: "We take allegations of fraud very seriously. We are aware of this situation and will be in touch with Ms. Shah as soon as possible."

Hasina Shah says she has not heard from the government.

Then there's the question of the "consent to travel letter."

These are notarized letters parents are encouraged to have with them when travelling without both parents present, though they are not required by law.

The father did sign one of those letters May 1, 2016, authorizing his mother to travel with the child first to Europe then to Iran.

It was notarized.

Both parents are not required to sign it, which leaves Shah wondering what the point of the letter is, especially in the case of a divorce.

"How can only one parent consent to travel?"

In an affidavit, Omid Ebrahimi said he was not aware he was signing a letter allowing his mother to travel because "I do have some difficulties with the English language."

To add to the drama, the affidavit states that Ebrahimi has had a falling out with his mother and she will not talk with him from Iran.

Cracks in the system

Christy Dzikowicz, a director with the Canadian Centre for the Protection of Children, said there is a growing problem of unauthorized travel with children.

"We don't have exit controls," she says. "So consent letters are recommended, but they are not mandatory."

It's left to airlines to scrutinize travel documents at the point of departure. Border guards are only in place for when people are entering Canada. 

Immigration lawyer Raj Sharma said there are cracks in the system that need to be filled.

"We have got to have systematic determination of when a child is travelling overseas. There have got to be more checks because this is happening way too often. Obviously, people are slipping through the cracks. Parental child abductions are happening way too often. Why is it still going on?"

Courtroom pressure

On May 25, the judge ordered the child returned and awarded the mother sole custody when she does. A Certificate of Pending Legislation (CPL) has also been placed on the grandmother's home in Calgary as an incentive for her to return with the child.

A CPL acts like a lien on the title of a property, stating that were the home to be sold, proceeds of the sale could be tied up in litigation.

According to the affidavit, the grandmother is not feeling well and does not want to travel until she improves. The case has been adjourned until July.

Waiting game

All this means Hasina Shah is left in limbo.

She has applied to Legal Aid to get a lawyer, a process she has been told could take three weeks.

In the meantime, she feels there is very little she can do.

"What can I do? I have no power."

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