W5 investigates cross-border custody battles as more parental child abductions go international
Emma Jarratt, W5 Associate Producer
Published Saturday, January 28, 2017 8:00AM EST
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: your child goes missing.
Hollywood films would have you believe a sinister stranger, or an old associate with a grudge is the culprit, but the truth is usually far more disturbing.
“Parental abductions come in more often than anything else,” says Ted Davis, senior investigator for the Missing Children Society of Canada.
“You have a mother and a father that aren't getting along…one of the ways that one or the other can get back at the other parent is to take their kids away.”
The 21-year child recovery veteran estimates he’s seen between 300 and 350 parental child abduction cases come across his desk. But in the last seven years he’s noticed a change.
In years past a parental abduction may have meant one parent taking the child to a different city, or, at most, a different province in Canada.
But a W5 investigation has found that along with increased cross-border marriages and travel at the click of a button, Canadian parental child abductions have gone international. Gaps in existing border security means it's nearly impossible to stop.
In May, 2016, Tasha Brown’s, estranged wife and dual Canada-UK citizen, Lauren Etchells, fled Victoria, B.C. with their shared 18-month-old daughter, Kaydance, after custody negotiations broke down.
Etchells was able to do this despite two court orders in place to prevent this exact issue; one forbidding her from getting a new passport for Kaydance and the other barring her from leaving Vancouver Island with the child. Brown, who works as a teacher in Nanaimo, B.C., was shocked.
Neither Kaydance nor Etchells have been seen since.
Across the country, Thunder Bay businessman, Gary Mezo, has been locked in a six-year international custody dispute with his ex-partner Boglarka Balog – a Hungarian-born woman he met online and who moved to Canada to be with him in 2008.
In 2011, after a nasty split, Balog left Canada to return to her Hungarian hometown. She took the couple’s then-one-year-old son, Gary Jr., with her.
Mezo estimates he’s spent over $300,000 dollars trying to secure his parental rights to his son in both Canada and Hungary. The court battles have included everything from taking DNA tests to establish paternity, to custody hearings to trying to enforce visitation agreements.
Brown and Mezo’s cases – just two of the 300 international parental child abductions Global Affairs estimates are ongoing at any given time – highlight Canada’s outdated safeguard systems and the problematic notion that family matters are, as a rule, not the concern of the state.
W5’s investigation explains the flaws that allow for international child abductions to occur with more frequency from Canada than from some other parts of the world, the dizzying array of agencies left-behind parents are shuffled between, in their quest to bring their child home and what fixes could make a big difference in preventing these abductions in the first place.
Gary Mezo Custody Order
Gary Mezo was granted full custody of his son Gary Mezo Jr. by an Ontario court. The court also ordered his son be returned to Canada. Both Gary and his son’s legal names are “Gergely” – the Hungarian version of Gary.
Gary Jr.'s Hungarian Birth Certificate
After Gary Mezo’s ex Boglarka Balog fled Canada with his son, she had a new, Hungarian birth certificate made for Gary Jr. The document listed a different last name and Boglarka said she did not know who the father was, so that field was left blank. Both Gary and his son’s legal names are “Gergely” – the Hungarian version of Gary. It took Gary two years of court battles and DNA tests to have his name added to his son’s second, Hungarian birth certificate.
Boglarka Balog's Lover's Affidavit
After Gary Mezo’s ex Boglarka Balog secretly took their son from Canada to Hungary, her lover filed an affidavit swearing that all of Boglarka’s actions were part of a plan. The lover says he told Gary about her plans because he felt guilty that Gary Jr. was taken away. According to the affidavit, Boglarka’s affair began when Gary and Boglarka were still together, after Gary Jr.’s birth.
Tasha Brown non-removal order
Tasha Brown’s lawyers filed a non-removal order after she found one-way plane tickets her estranged wife had booked before their divorce and custody hearings for their daughter Kaydance. This meant that Kaydance could not be removed from Vancouver Island without Tasha’s written consent.
Tasha Brown visitation order
Tasha Brown was granted visitation with her daughter Kaydance while she awaited a divorce and custody hearing. The order also stated that Tasha’s ex Lauren was to surrender Kaydance’s passport and was barred from applying for a new one for the child.
Tasha Brown Declaration of Parentage
Tasha Brown was re-declared a legal parent to her daughter Kaydance in 2016 after she separated from her wife Lauren. They had removed Tasha’s name from Kaydance’s birth certificate the previous year when planning to move to the Middle East. They were concerned about homophobia and did not want Kaydance to have two women listed as her parents.