Toronto·CBC Investigates

Family lawyer of woman abducted in Wasaga Beach questions if police took her safety seriously

The lawyer representing the family of a woman abducted in Wasaga Beach, Ont., says that despite evidence Elnaz Hajtamiri was in 'imminent danger' the circumstances of her disappearance suggest police didn't have an organized plan to keep her safe. 

Elnaz Hajtamiri has been missing since she was abducted on Jan. 12

Elnaz Hajtamiri, 37, was abducted from her relatives' home in Wasaga Beach, Ont., on Jan. 12, 2022. She is still missing nearly two months later. (Submitted by the Hajtamiri family)

Two days before Elnaz Hajtamiri was abducted from her relatives' home in Wasaga Beach, Ont., in January, sources with direct knowledge of the situation told CBC News she returned to the GTA to pick up her car, computer and cellphone from police, who had them to check for tracking devices and software. 

Hajtamiri had given her belongings to York Regional Police for analysis after she was attacked by two masked men in the parking garage of her Richmond Hill condo building on Dec. 21. Prior to the attack, two illegal tracking devices had been discovered underneath her Lexus by workers at a dealership when she brought the car in for service, a relative previously told CBC News.

Fearing for her safety, Hajtamiri moved in with family in Wasaga Beach right after the parking garage attack. She'd been staying there for nearly three weeks without incident. The only time she left was when she picked up her car, computer and cell phone at the request of police and brought the belongings back to her relatives' home on Jan. 10, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

Two days later, on Jan. 12, she was forcibly taken from the house by three men — and is still missing. 

Hajtamiri put her faith in police: lawyer

"Elnaz did everything right," said Toronto lawyer Devin Bains, who was hired to look into the case by Hajtamiri's family. 

"She contacted the authorities every time she should have, she had faith in them as she should have to protect her, and to look into things effectively. I do not know if the police acted as they should have."

The former Crown prosecutor told CBC News that, based on his experience with similar investigations and forensic work, the roughly three weeks police had Hajtamiri's electronics to look for tracking devices and software was "shockingly short" for the work to be completed properly. 

Former Crown prosecutor Devin Bains has been hired by Elnaz Hajtamiri's family to look into the abducted woman's case. (CBC)

"I'm hopeful the work was done, and I'm hopeful that Elnaz's situation was taken seriously, but it is a very short period of time," Bains said.

In a statement, a York Regional Police spokesperson wouldn't confirm whether or not investigators took Hajtamiri's belongings to check for tracking devices or software, citing the ongoing investigation. The service wouldn't release details "on any evidence seized." 

Const. Laura Nicolle did confirm they seized tracking devices as part of their investigation, but wouldn't provide specifics on how many trackers were seized and when. 

On top of the two tracking devices found on Hajtamiri's car by dealership staff before the parking garage attack, sources with direct knowledge of the situation told CBC News a third tracking device was found on her Lexus by police.

Those sources say it's unclear whether police found that tracker when investigators had Hajtamiri's car for three weeks following the parking garage attack, or whether the tracker was found on the car after she was abducted. 

Abduction suggests no organized safety plan: lawyer

How Hajtamiri's car and electronics were analyzed is just one of several aspects of the police investigation Bains finds concerning in the wake of Hajtamiri's abduction. The lawyer told CBC News that despite the parking garage attack — and evidence of surveillance — making it clear Hajtamiri was in imminent danger, the circumstances of her abduction suggest there wasn't an organized plan to keep her safe. 

Hajtamiri was abducted by three men who were dressed in police gear and claimed to have a warrant to arrest her on Jan. 12 around 8:30 p.m., according to the Ontario Provincial Police. The suspects overpowered the homeowner and abducted Hajtamiri, then took off in a white Lexus RX SUV. 

"What happened to Elnaz on the night of her abduction doesn't really suggest that there was active police observation of her home," said Bains.  "If that is correct, it is not promising with respect to an organized plan, or Elnaz's situation being taken seriously." 

CBC News asked the OPP whether York Regional Police had notified the provincial service about Hajtamiri's case, if they'd been told she was staying with relatives in Wasaga Beach and whether the OPP had taken steps to protect her safety.

But in an email, an OPP spokesperson said the service could not discuss specifics of the case in order to protect the integrity of its investigation.

Given the Wasaga Beach address was linked to Hajtamiri's family, and police don't appear to have been watching the home, Bains doesn't understand why police would endorse her move to the small town about 145 kilometres north of Toronto.

"If Elnaz's imminent danger was being recognized and seen — and seen the way it should have been — it is challenging to see how her relocating to a relatively remote town in Ontario increased her safety," said Bains. 

A shelter services manager at Interval House — Canada's first centre for abused women and children — told CBC News that after Hajtamiri reported her assault to police the expectation would be she'd be given resources to navigate her safety.

"She needs to have that safety plan put into place," said Paula Del Cid. "They could have connected her with safe shelters."

Hajtamiri broke up with boyfriend in October

Hajtamiri, who also goes by the last name Tamiri, was born in Iran and came to Canada in 2018. She found work in the import-export shipping industry, according to a news release from her family, but she left her job to focus on building a cake-making business.

Bains and other sources told CBC News she broke off her relationship with her ex-boyfriend Mohamad Lilo in October of last year. On Nov. 19, Hajtamiri contacted police after her ex-boyfriend came to her condo building, according to York Regional Police. 

Mohamad Lilo, 34, was arrested on Jan. 21 and charged with criminal harassment, according to the Ontario Provincial Police. He was released on bail four days later and will next appear in court on April 12. (Mohamad Lilo/Facebook)

The police service says officers spoke with the ex-boyfriend and advised him he was not welcome to return to the building. Since Hajtamiri's abduction, the OPP has charged Lilo with criminal harassment. He was released on bail in late January and is next set to appear in court April 12. Sources say the alleged criminal harassment occurred in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. 

Police haven't charged anyone with abducting Hajtamiri or with assaulting her in her condo building's parking garage at this time. 

'Imminent danger' after first attack

During the Dec. 21 attack, Hajtamiri was beaten with a frying pan, her cousin told CBC News, and suffered a head wound requiring 35 to 40 stitches. CBC News is not identifying the cousin, who lives in the U.S., out of concern for her safety.

The same cousin told CBC News that Hajtamiri had reason to believe she was being watched at the time of the first attack after tracking devices were found on a car she had been leasing. In fact, Bains says, the parking garage attack occurred shortly after Hajtamiri took those tracking devices to York Regional Police. 

Elnaz Hajtamiri suffered a head wound that required 35 to 40 stitches after she was beaten with a frying pan in her condo's underground parking garage on Dec. 21, according to her cousin. (Submitted by Hajtamiri family)

By then, Bains argues investigators should have known Hajtamiri was in "imminent danger." 

"I'm hopeful that there was a plan in place that simply failed. There was a glitch, there was a changing of shifts, there was an inadvertent dropping of a ball. That's what I would like to think," said Bains.

"I don't want to think that Elnaz's abduction was as a result of not only evil intention toward her by her assailants, but also neglect by the system of which I am a part."

In an email, a spokesperson for York Regional Police told CBC News officers have been conducting a thorough investigation and continue to work closely with the OPP. 

"We will continue to work diligently on this until it can be solved," said Const. Nicolle.

Hajtamiri is described as five feet, three inches tall, with a slim build and shoulder-length black hair. OPP investigators have established a dedicated tip line for the case at 1-833-728-3415, and are asking the public for any information that could help locate Hajtamiri.

With files from Ryan Jones, Angelina King and John Lancaster