Canada needs custody treaty, MP urges

Hawach case illustrates need, McTeague says

Jason Warick, Saskatchewan News Network

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2007
The Melissa Hawach case illustrates why Canada needs to hammer out a child custody treaty with countries such as Lebanon, says a Liberal member of Parliament.

"It might be high time for the government to consider bilateral arrangements, particularly when it comes to child abduction," said Liberal Dan McTeague, Opposition critic for consular affairs.

A Canadian court granted Melissa Hawach full custody of daughters Hannah, 6, and Cedar, 3, after her marriage to Australian Joe Hawach ended more than a year ago.

Joe took the girls to his ancestral home of Lebanon in July and refused to return them to Melissa in Calgary.

Melissa, born and raised in Saskatoon, exhausted various legal options before going to Lebanon with her father last month and taking the girls back in a daring rescue operation.

Melissa and the girls remain stuck in Lebanon, according to a statement Monday by Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Lebanon is one of the nations that has chosen not to sign the Hague Convention governing child abduction. That means it does not recognize the Canadian court order granting Melissa full custody of her daughters, nor will it consider extraditing Joe to face Canadian charges of kidnapping the girls.

Lebanese police continue to search for her.

McTeague, who served as parliamentary secretary responsible for Canadians abroad until the Conservatives won the election last year, said Canada should negotiate a "legal assistance treaty" with Lebanon. That would give offi cials some leverage negotiating a resolution to cases like this.

"That's something that needs to be worked on. That's something that needs to be looked at down the road," he said.

But for now, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minster Peter MacKay needs to take an active role on the file, McTeague said. MacKay should express his concerns "in very direct terms" to Lebanon's foreign affairs minister as well as the Lebanese minister to Canada, McTeague said.

Officials with MacKay's office have said he's away during the holiday season and is not available for interviews.

An official at the Lebanese embassy in Ottawa said they "have no comment on this case." The staff working on the ground in Lebanon and at other Canadian embassies are among the best in the world, and McTeague was confident they're doing everything they can to resolve what has become an international incident. Canada's "excellent reputation" in Lebanon will also help any negotiations, he said.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007