President Obama signs Goldman Act into law

Late last night, President Obama signed into law the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (P.L. 113-150).

At this time, all of us at BSHF extend our deepest gratitude to Congressman Chris Smith, Senator Robert Menendez and their wonderful teams. We would have never reached this milestone without their tremendous efforts and ongoing dedication to this cause.

 

PICTURED: David Goldman, Congressman Chris Smith, and Sean Goldman.


 

Two Smith Bills Signed into Law on Same Day

Smith: Different issues, but both stem from parents’ love for their children

By Jeff Sagnip, Office of Congressman Chris Smith

 

WASHINGTON, Aug 9 — Thousands of American families struggling on very different fronts will received federal support now that President Obama has signed into law two separate bills late Friday, one to help prevent international child abduction and return American children now held overseas, and the other targeting $1.3 billion in federal funds to assist families touched by autism.

“What a momentous day for thousands of families across America,” said Rep. Chris Smith, the author of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction and Return Act (H.R. 3212) and the author of the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research and Support (CARES) Act (H.R. 4631). “While different in scope, these new laws have one, overriding common theme: making the federal government work better for children and families.

“Yesterday, if you were a parent whose American child was abducted to a foreign land, the State Department took a step back and quickly outlined the limitations on what it would do to help,” Smith said.

“With the enactment of the ‘Goldman Act’ that policy changes. The State Department gets new tools to effectively engage the fight and work several fronts to get our children back,” Smith said.

“The Goldman Act works to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction, end the enormous pain and suffering endured by separated children and parents, and force the federal government to act to bring abducted children home,” Smith said. “Left behind parents will now have tangible support and backing from their federal government.”

Smith’s Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research and Support Act, The Autism CARES Act, builds on Smith’s long established record of assisting the now 1-68 children who have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to the latest CDC data released in March, New Jersey has the highest prevalence rate in the nation, with one in 45 children identified as having ASD.

“The Autism CARES Act authorizes $1.3 billion over five years to continue the critical pipeline of federal research dollars that are working to identify best practices for early intervention, treatment and care for families touched by autism,” said Smith who has authored previous legislation that has helped form the base line of federal autism programs.

“And the new law, for the first time, tasks the federal government with examining and anticipating needs for autistic adolescents who are ‘aging out’ of their school-based support and transitioning into adulthood,” he said.

Last month Smith held a congressional hearing that delved into successful corporate programs designed to employ persons with ASD worldwide. He said every year 50,000 youths with autism enter into adulthood and communities that are unprepared to meet their need. The federal government can and must play a role in identifying new ways to assist people with ASD in our communities.

Smith said both laws were inspired by the love, work and tenacity of local parents fighting for their children.

The child abduction law is named after David Goldman and his son Sean of Monmouth County, N.J. who were separated for over five years after an international abduction to Brazil. Smith traveled to Brazil with David Goldman twice to help bring Sean home in 2009. Goldman now works to help other left behind parents reunite with their children.

“We finally have a national law that has some teeth in it to prevent future abductions and also get immediate action for victim families,” said David Goldman. “Just as it had been in my case, many of these families have been suffering for years fighting to be reunited with their abducted American children. This is a terrific result of bipartisan work. The enactment of this law has been long overdue and is a life boat for these families.”

Regarding the Autism CARES Act, Smith credited Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Ocean County, N.J.–the parents of two small children with autism who visited his office 17 years ago. Using their own extensive research, the Gallaghers demonstrated how far behind the federal research agencies were in their understanding and work on autism.

“The Gallaghers are pioneers in the effort to find better treatment and interventions for children with autism. Together with other parents they have been tenacious in their efforts to see this bill passed into law,” Smith said.

“The laws we have today to help families with autism would not be on the books were it not for them,” he said.

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N.J. mom step closer to reunion after Obama signs law about international child abduction

By Cristina Rojas, Times of Trenton, NJ.com

 

AUGUST 9, 2014 — The last time Bindu Philips saw her twin boys was in 2012 when she traveled to India for a mediation hearing — but only for a few minutes. For nearly six years, she has been embroiled in an international custody battle with her now ex-husband over their boys, now 13.

Her ordeal could come to an end soon after President Obama signed into law Friday legislation that authorizes the State Department to take increasingly forceful measures against any country that does not help return an American child illegally held there.

“I’m longing to see my children,” the Plainsboro mom, 43, said today. “I really hope I will be reunited with them soon.”

The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act is inspired by a Tinton Falls father whose son was kept in Brazil by his wife and her parents for more than five years.

“The Goldman Act works to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction, end the enormous pain and suffering endured by separated children and parents and force the federal government to act to bring abducted children home,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.), who sponsored the bill. “Left-behind parents will now have tangible support and backing from their federal government.”

Philips’ ex-husband, Sunil Jacob, took the family on a sudden vacation to India in December 2008. He separated the children from her and kept them from seeing her parents. After three weeks, he enrolled them in a school without her knowledge. The principal let her talk with them twice a week, but when Jacob learned of this, he transferred them to another school.

She returned home to the U.S. after a few months and has continued to fight for them ever since. He denies her all contact; efforts to send them messages and motherly advice via a website were shut down by an Indian court order.

“The abductor plans everything so well that the left-behind parent really gets taken by surprise,” Philips said, who fears that Jacob has brainwashed her sons into thinking that she abandoned them. “They make the children turn against a parent who really loves them.”

The thought that she could finally be reunited with them gives her a renewed energy to face each day.

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Obama signs new laws on autism, abducted children

By Patricia Alex, The Record, NorthJersey.com

 

AUGUST 10, 2014 — President Obama has signed into law a bill designed to thwart international child abduction and help return American children now held by estranged spouses overseas, according to an announcement by the measure’s sponsor in the House of Representatives.

“The State Department gets new tools to effectively engage the fight and work on several fronts to get our children back.” the sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith, R-Monmouth and Mercer, said in a press release issued Saturday. “Left behind parents will now have tangible support and backing from their federal government.”

Smith’s office also announced the signing of another bill he sponsored that would target $1.3 billion in federal funds to assist families touched by autism.

The two bills, signed Friday night, received bipartisan support and were sponsored in the Senate by Robert Menendez, D-Paramus.

The child-abduction law would help parents whose children have been illegally taken abroad by former spouses, allowing the State Department to act on the issue and in some cases to impose economic sanctions by withholding aid.

The bill was prompted by the case of Tinton Falls resident David Goldman, whose wife abducted their 4-year-old son, Sean, and took him to Brazil. Sean was returned by Brazilian courts in December 2009, more than five years after he was abducted and years after his mother died.

So-called left-behind parents have spent years seeking federal intervention and trying to get people to understand that these are not custody battles but rather violations of American law.

More than 90 nations have signed the Hague Convention, which is supposed to uphold court-ordered custody provisions. The new law would cover nations that are not part of the Hague Convention and give the State Department additional tools for those that are but are not complying with custody arrangements made in the U.S.

The law requires annual reports to determine which nations are not complying, and it allows for punishing them by delaying or canceling state visits and limiting or eliminating various forms of economic assistance. It also allows for the U.S. to make extradition requests.

“We finally have a national law that has some teeth in it to prevent future abductions and also get immediate action for victim families,” Goldman said in the press release issued by Smith. “Just as it had been in my case, many of these families have been suffering for years fighting to be reunited with their abducted American children.”

The Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research and Support Act — or the Autism CARES Act — authorizes $1.3 billion over five years for federal research to identify best practices for early intervention, treatment and care for families touched by the disorder, Smith said.

The measure involves the federal government in “anticipating the needs” of autistic adolescents who are “aging out” of school-based support programs.

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Goldman child abduction bill on Obama’s desk

By Nicole Gaudiano, Washington Bureau, APP.com

 

WASHINGTON —David Goldman remembers the relief he felt on Christmas Eve 2009, when he emailed “wheels up” to family and friends, letting them know that he and his son Sean were on a plane heading home.

That day came five years after Sean’s abduction to Brazil by his mother. He hopes final passage Friday of abduction-prevention legislation bearing their name will help other parents know that relief.

“Once this bill becomes law, they will get the action they deserve and they need and the help that’s required,” said the Monmouth County resident. “They can have their ‘wheels up’ moment.”

The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act passed the House unanimously Friday by voice vote and now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is designed to help the State Department put increasing pressure on foreign governments to send home American children who are abducted overseas. It also requires better reporting and support from the State Department so that left-behind parents are not on their own in overseas battles to win the return of their abducted children.

Smith originally proposed the legislation five years ago, after personally intervening in the Goldman case.

“In the five-year push to turn this bill into law, we have seen a sea change in the Congress’ and State Department’s understanding of international parental child abduction — an understanding that these abductions are a form of child abuse and a human rights violation,” Smith said in a statement. “There are many heartbroken parents waiting for this bill to help them in their fight to see their children again.”

Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement the legislation will “focus attention on this heartbreaking issue, assist parents in bringing abducted children home where they legally and rightfully belong, and bolster prevention so that children are less likely to be abducted in the first place.”

Sean was 4 years old when he was abducted in 2004 by his Brazilian mother, who later died. His father drove them to the airport for what he thought would be a vacation. Three days later, he got a call from his wife on Father’s Day to tell him she wasn’t bringing Sean home.

Goldman credits the work of media outlets and pressure from U.S. government officials in helping him reunite with his son. He choked up, talking about Smith’s efforts.

“When he takes up a cause and believes in it, there’s no stopping him,” he said.

After learning the House would take up the bill Friday, Goldman, a charter boat captain, said he raced home to watch the vote on C-SPAN with his family. Sean turned 14 on May 25, International Missing Children’s Day. A big grin spread across his face as he realized what was happening, his father said. He reached for his Dad’s hand and shook it.

“He’s very proud to have his name on a piece of legislation that will go on our national laws forever to help families and children reunite and end the suffering,” Goldman said.

 

PICTURED: Sean Goldman and Congressman Chris Smith.

Among its provisions, the bill provides eight steps the administration should take, increasing in severity, when a country refuses to help resolve overseas abduction and access cases involving American children. They range from a petition through diplomatic channels to a withdrawal of U.S. assistance to a formal request for extradition.

The bill urges the administration to pursue bilateral agreements with countries to locate and foster the return of abducted children and protect the access of the left-behind parent to the child.

The State Department’s position is that it can’t help parents of children who were illegally taken to countries that haven’t signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Smith said. With this bill, he said, parents with children held in “non-Hague” countries can work with the State Department.

“They won’t be on their own, far from the United States, desperately trying to get their children back,” Smith said.

Goldman, who co-founded the Bring Sean Home Foundation to help parents in similar situations, said the bill lets other countries know “we mean business” and that they will be punished if they refuse to help return abducted American children.

Goldman said he had no big celebratory plans for Friday night. He dropped off Sean at a friend’s house. He may watch “Jeopardy” with his wife, Wendy, before turning in early.

Goldman said he’ll begin to celebrate when he starts to see more children coming home to their waiting families. More than 1,000 international child abductions are reported to the State Department each year.

“We look at it as a great step,” he said. “It’s such a nice feeling. But there’s still thousands of parents who are now living what we had for so long. Until they get action, it’s still the same day-after-day of torture.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL TEXT OF LEGISLATION

Follow the Bring Sean Home Foundation on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BringSeanHome).

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Child abduction bill inspired by N.J. father David Goldman earns final approval

By MaryAnn Spoto, The Star-Ledger, NJ.com

 

Federal lawmakers gave more ammunition to American parents whose children are illegally retained by family members in other countries when the U.S. House of Representatives today passed a resolution inspired by a Tinton Falls father whose son was held in Brazil by his wife and her parents for more than five years.

The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, approved by the full House of Representatives, authorizes the U.S. State Department to take increasingly forceful measures against any country that does not help return an American child not illegally held there.

In 2004, David Goldman’s wife left with their 4-year-old son Sean ostensibly to visit her parents in Brazil. Instead of returning home, she divorced him and eventually remarried. After she died from complications from childbirth, her parents refused to return the boy to his father, touching off a bitter 5½-year international legal and political fight that went all the way to the State Department. A court in Brazil finally ordered Sean returned to his father.

Goldman, with strong backing from U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.), turned his case into a very public appeal to tighten weaknesses of international child abduction treaties.

“In the five-year push to turn this bill into law, we have seen a sea change in the Congress’ and State Department’s understanding of international parental child abduction—an understanding that these abductions are a form of child abuse and a human rights violation,” Smith said in a statement. “There are many heartbroken parents waiting for this bill to help them in their fight to see their children again.”

The House originally passed the measure, HR3212, in December but addressed it again today after the Senate approved it with some modifications on July 16. It now goes to President Obama for his consideration.

“It was a long road, nearly five years, thanks to a tremendous effort of Congressman Smith and his staff,” Goldman said in a statement. “It was a great thing to do. It was the right thing to do. It’s another step closer to reuniting families.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., cosponsor, said he’s working with another father, Mike Elias of Rutherford, whose wife took their two children to Japan four years ago. Elias, an Iraqi war veteran Marine sergeant, is also involved in a bitter custody dispute.

“Today’s passage of this critical legislation will bring us one step closer to reuniting families that were wrongfully torn apart while preventing abductions from happening in the first place,” Pascrell said.

Among its provisions, HR312 requires the State Department to produce a comprehensive annual report on international parental child abductions. That report must include information on whether the government of a country in question has a history of non-compliance with child abduction cases.

It also requires U.S. diplomatic and consular missions to monitor abduction and access cases and to work out agreements with countries that are unlikely to join the Hague Abduction Convention, which sets rules for handling international child abduction cases.

The measure also authorizes $1 million for each of the next two years for judicial training for those countries that have a pattern of non-compliance or that have a significant number of unresolved abduction cases.

“Passing this legislation will focus attention on this heart-breaking issue, assist parents in bringing abducted children home where they legally and rightfully belong and bolster prevention so that children are less likely to be abducted in the first place,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a co-author of the resolution.

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Bill authored by New Jersey Congressman to help abducted children going to Obama’s desk

By Sherrina Navani, The Trentonian

 

PLAINSBORO— A local mom’s desire to regain custody of her abducted children will soon lie in the President’s hands.

A bill that would help Bindu Philips bring back her kids, who allegedly were kidnapped and taken to India by her abusive ex-husband in 2008, is on its way to President Obama’s desk, according to a release.

The lead champion for the bill, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced the legislation over five years ago, as a way to prevent international parental child abduction. On Friday, Congress gave their final approval to The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act.

“Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said in a release. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time—that they can never get back…The Goldman Act is designed to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction and heal enormous pain and suffering and bring abducted children home.”

According to Philips, her husband Sunil Jacob, 45, took the family on a vacation to visit his extended family in Kerala India. However, when it was time to leave, Jacob and his two twin boys did not board the plane, forcing his wife to leave the country without her then five year old boys.

“It was all a big shock to me, I had no idea what was going to happen when we left in December 2008 for the family vacation,” Philips told The Trentonian in 2013. “Through an investigation the Plainsboro Police and the FBI learned that he had been planning this for months in advance and he even had all of our belongings shipped to India, so when I got home there was nothing left, no car, no clothes, nothing.”

Smith’s legislation will give the State Department a variety of tools to pressure “non-Hague treaty” foreign governments — like, India — to send back American children abducted to overseas destinations. Better reporting and support from the State Department is also at the core of the legislation empowering “left-behind parents” to fight and possibly win overseas battles.

The Hague Treaty provides details for the quick return of abducted children to their home country, and helps to facilitate visitation between parents and children while the case is pending, according to the release. However, many Hague signatory countries, like Brazil, refuse to follow the guidelines set by the treaty and many parents are left fighting a losing battle when their children are abducted.

If signed by the president, the legislation would impose stringent sanctions like the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. development assistance, security assistance or foreign economic support, just to name a few.

“Currently, if you have a child who is illegally taken to a non-Hague country, the State Department position is that there’s nothing it can do to help,” Smith said. “That’s totally unacceptable. With this bill, for the first time ever . . . The Act also ensures that the Department of Defense will assist our men and women in uniform who find themselves facing parental child abduction.”

According to the press release, more than 1000 international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues each year. The National Center for Exploited and Missing Children reported that there have been at least 168 international child abductions from New Jersey since 1995.

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‘Sean and David Goldman Act’ to Become Law Congress Clears Smith’s Int’l Child Abduction Bill

By Jeff Sagnip, Office of Congressman Chris Smith

 

WASHINGTON—Today, nearly five years after U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced his first bill to prevent international parental child abduction standing alongside “left behind” parents in front of the Capitol, Congress gave final approval to his legislation, The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, House of Representatives Bill 3212 (H.R. 3212).

Smith wrote the original proposed legislation in 2009 subsequent to his personal intervention in the fight to bring Sean Goldman home to New Jersey, years after he had been abducted to Brazil by his mother. Smith’s successful work with Sean’s father, David, and a team of lawyers—including Patricia Apy, of Red Bank, NJ—and volunteers helped bring Sean home, but also uncovered gaping weaknesses in U.S. law and the need to codify best practices so that other Americans will also see their children returned home.

“In the five-year push to turn this bill into law, we have seen a sea of change in the Congress’ and State Department’s understanding of international parental child abduction—an understanding that these abductions are a form of child abuse and a human rights violation. There are many heartbroken parents waiting for this bill to help them in their fight to see their children again.

“Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time—that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fights to recover their children. Every day a child is separated from his or her rightful parent and home in the United States brings immense suffering to both parent and child. The Goldman Act is designed to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction and heal enormous pain and suffering and bring abducted children home.”

David Goldman watched the final House approval on television today with excitement. He stood by Smith in 2009 when the legislation was first unveiled.

“It was a long road, nearly five years, thanks to a tremendous effort of Congressman Smith and his staff,” Goldman said. “It was a great thing to do. It was the right thing to do. It’s another step closer to reuniting families. Next step: the White House.”

At its core, Smith’s legislation will give the State Department a variety of tools to pressure foreign governments to send home American children abducted to overseas destinations. The bill also requires better reporting and support from the State Department so that left-behind parents are not on their own in overseas battles to win the return of their abducted children.

During his five year struggle, Smith has authored four versions of the bill (HR 3240; HR 1940; HR 1951 and HR 3212) using each to educate his colleagues and make modifications aimed at winning widespread support in an increasingly partisan Congress. In December 2013, the House passed Smith’s bill, 398-0. Smith noted the work of Foreign Affairs Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Republican Bob Corker when the bill passed the Senate on July 16th, with some final modifications.

Smith named the bill after David and Sean Goldman who have been reunited in Monmouth County for nearly five years. Following Sean’s return to New Jersey, David Goldman has stayed active in promoting the legislation in an effort to spare other parents and children the painful, illegal separation he and his son endured for five years.

Smith has held multiple hearings on the heartbreaking cases of left-behind parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Russia, England and other countries, from which few are returned. Not all countries have signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the main international treaty to address parental abductions. The Hague provides a civil framework for the quick return of abducted children to their home country, and facilitation of visitation and contact between parents and children during the pendency of the case and after the resolution. Unfortunately, many Hague signatories, like Brazil, fail to consistently enforce the Hague Convention provisions.

Among its many provisions, H.R. 3212 provides eight steps the Administration should take, increasing in severity, when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children:

  • a demarche (a petition or protest through diplomatic channels);
  • an official public statement detailing unresolved cases;
  • a public condemnation;
  • a delay or cancellation of one or more bilateral working, official, or state visits;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. development assistance;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. security assistance;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of foreign assistance to the central government of a country relating to economic support; and
  • a formal request to the foreign country concerned to extradite an individual who is engaged in abduction and who has been formally accused of, charged with, or convicted of an extraditable offense.
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    The bill also—for the first time—urges the Administration to enter into Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) or other bilateral agreements with both Hague Convention and non-Hague Convention countries, to locate and foster the return of abducted children and protect the access of the left-behind parent to the child. In order to ensure better accountability of the Administration and to warn U.S. judges who may allow a child to visit a country from which return is difficult, the bill significantly enhances reporting on country-by-country performance. Smith noted that countries that have signed the Hague Treaty, like Japan, may still need an additional MOU to help those left-behind parents that were separated from their children prior to treaty accession.

    H.R. 3212 also requires the Administration to inform Members of Congress when a child has been abducted from their districts. It also directs the Secretary of Defense to designate an official within the Department of Defense to coordinate with the Department of State on international child abduction issues and “oversee activities designed to prevent or resolve international child abduction cases relating to active duty military service members.”

    “Currently, if you have a child who is illegally taken to a non-Hague country, the State Department position is that there’s nothing it can do to help,” Smith said. “That’s totally unacceptable. With this bill, for the first time ever, parents with children held in non-Hague countries can work with the State Department. They won’t be on their own, far from the United States, desperately trying to get their children back. The Act also ensures that the Department of Defense will assist our men and women in uniform who find themselves facing parental child abduction.”

    More than one thousand international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues each year. Between 2008 and 2013, at least 8,000 American children were abducted, according to the State Department. Earlier this year, the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children reported that there have been at least 168 international child abductions from New Jersey since 1995.

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    New Westminster man’s daughters abducted to radioactive Fukushima, Japan

    http://www.royalcityrecord.com/Westminster+daughters+abducted+radioactive+Fukushima/5013371/story.html

    By Brent Richter, New West Record June 27, 2011

    It’s been 22 months since Bruce Gherbetti has seen his three children and it would be hard to pick a worse place for them to be: Fukushima, Japan.

    The New Westminster man says his is a classic case of international child abduction but with the last known whereabouts of his daughters Rion, Lauren and Julia being about 45 kilometres from the disabled and still deadly nuclear reactor damaged in the March earthquake and tsunami, Gherbetti doesn’t just miss his children, he lives in constant anxiety over their safety.

    Making the situation worse is the fact that in the world of international child abduction, Japan is referred to as a “black hole,” meaning once children go in, they never come out. According to the United States Department of State, of the approximately 400 cases of abduction to Japan since 2000, “no child has been returned to his/her country of habitual residence as a result of any action taken by the government of Japan.”

    Gherbetti met his wife, Taiko Suzuki, in 2001 when she was visiting Canada on a student visa to study English. The two began dating but neither had plans to continue their relationship after Suzuki returned to Japan.

    Then, Suzuki contacted Gherbetti in late 2002 to tell him that she was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Rion (Suzuki), who was born in Iwaki, Japan in May of 2003.

    “Ultimately I decided at that time that I wanted to be with Taiko and raise our child and be a family and make a go of the traditional husband and father role,” Gherbetti said.

    Suzuki and Rion moved back to B.C. and Gherbetti and Suzuki married in February 2004. Over the next two years the couple had daughters Lauren, born January 2005, and Julia, born April 2007, both at Royal Columbian Hospital.

    During the economic turmoil of the spring of 2009, Gherbetti was laid off from his sales manager position at Sears in Vancouver and the marriage became strained. Gherbetti said Suzuki was depressed and struggling with the separation from her culture and family. Gherbetti said he offered to move the family to Japan but Suzuki dismissed the idea, saying he wouldn’t earn enough to support the family.

    In September 2009, Gherbetti was blindsided by an accusation that landed him in jail.

    “She went to the New West Police and leveled a charge that I had assaulted her and threatened to kill her. Completely fabricated,” he said. “Unfortunately, the way our system is set up, if you are accused of domestic violence, you are thrown in jail.”

    Gherbetti, still in shock, spent six weeks at North Fraser Pretrial Centre, where he was alone and exposed to violence while awaiting his trial.

    “(I was) with murderers, rapists, drug dealers; you name it. The very worst of the worst. I’ll admit, I was frightened and cold. I saw man get stabbed in the face,” he said.

    Two days before his trial, he was called to court and learned Crown counsel was willing to offer him a deal – no more time in jail in exchange for a guilty plea.

    “I was dragged to the New West court two days prior to my trial date, with no notice, very little to eat, not enough to wear, freezing my butt off in the sheriff’s cell, two blocks from my apartment and they were saying, ‘Just plead guilty and we’ll let you go home.’”

    Despite maintaining his innocence to himself and his court appointed-lawyer, Gherbetti took the deal.

    “I was under duress. Of course, I would have said anything to get out of that prison to go home,” he said.

    After literally running home, the reality of what had happened set in for Gherbetti. He found the house “cleaned and scoured” of everything belonging to Suzuki and the children.

    “Not a photo, not a drawing, nothing. Not a remnant left of my children,” he said,

    He said his voicemail had 17 messages from Crown counsel attempting to get in touch with Suzuki, indicating she had already left the country.

    He did find though, tucked under a chair, a drawing Rion had done and hid for him while he was in jail.

    “It’s a drawing she made that says, ‘Free the rainbows’ and it’s a bunch of rainbows in the middle of a prison cell,” he said breaking into tears. “She knew what was going on. She knew what was going to happen to her.”

    Gherbetti has only spoken with Suzuki once since they returned to Japan. The next time he called, the number had been disconnected.

    “She indicated she wasn’t going to let me speak to the children nor ever see them again. It was her intention to ‘erase Canada from their memories,’ quote,” he said.

    Hindsight being 20/20, Gherbetti said he should have known what was coming.

    “What she wanted was to go back there with the children, without me, which is ultimately what she manufactured,” he said. “She didn’t want to be married to me anymore, which is alright. These things happen, but to abduct the children in the manner that she did, and to lie to the police… I’ve been crushed by this whole experience.”

    Since then Gherbetti has become depressed and been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said was helpful, but he’s run out of cash to continue paying for counselling. While looking for work, he has also taken to the Internet where there is a support network for mothers and fathers of abducted children. With them, he has found some badly needed support but more is always welcome, he said.

    Then came the “triple tragedy” on March 11. Gherbetti was at home watching TV when news broke that a massive earthquake and tsunami had struck the coast of Japan.

    “I saw it live. The next 18 hours were really the worst,” he said, struggling to hold back tears.

    Gherbetti played the only card left in his hand to learn about his daughters’ fate.

    “I had a phone number for my wife’s brother, which I saved and had not used because I did not want it to get disconnected. I had my brother phone her brother and he was able to tell us that they survived the tsunami and the earthquake. In his words, they were ‘fine’. That’s all he would say,” Gherbetti said.

    Suzuki’s family home in Iwaki is just 500 metres from where the tsunami’s devastation stopped. An elevated highway slowed the waves from reaching Rion, Lauren and Julia.

    But within days of the earthquake, it was learned that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was heavily damaged and leaking radiation several times higher than what is safe for humans. And as the weeks and months have rolled on, the news about the radiation leak has become worse, not better. In April, the International Atomic Energy Agency had rated the disaster at Fukushima as a seven, the same as Chernobyl. By June, it was revealed that all three reactors at the plant were in meltdown and there was no plan in place to deal with the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive water being pumped in to cool the reactors. The Canadian government’s official position on Fukushima is that all Canadians should stay at least 80 kilometres away from the nuclear plant.

    Gherbetti contacted Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which was able contact Suzuki’s brother to offer evacuation for the girls and Suzuki’s family, but so far, the family has not responded.

    “What my contact there tells me is, ‘We can offer assistance but that’s it. That’s all we can do.’ If they choose not to accept, there’s nothing they can do for me,” he said. “The last thing foreign affairs did for me is send Taiko a registered letter requesting information about the children’s well-being and photographs.”

    Today, Gherbetti cannot even be sure if Suzuki’s family is still in Iwaki but he suspects they are. That uncertainty, he said, makes matters worse.

    Gherbetti has since taken to social media to raise the issues of international child abduction and the growing radiation crisis, and to post messages calling for an evacuation of all children and young mothers from Fukushima prefecture.

    Gherbetti, like most other “left behind” parents, now does what he can, which isn’t much. The one hope he has of seeing his children, short of hiring a recovery agent to “re-kidnap” and transport them back to Canada, is the faint hope of gaining access to them under the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, article 21, which states parents of children taken across boarders without permission, must have access to their children.

    The trouble is, Japan is the only industrialized country that has refused to sign the convention.

    But that chance, albeit slim, remains. The government of Japan announced in June that it would begin a legislative process this fall to sign the convention.

    William Storey, a family lawyer and international child abduction expert who Gherbetti retained in 2010, said Japan is one of the toughest countries to deal with.

    “I’ve had several cases over the years of children being taken to Japan and it can be an extremely difficult situation,” he said.

    Storey said Japan’s announcement regarding the Hague Convention sounds good, but it is far too soon to say if will help any mothers or fathers outside Japan to see their children again.

    “In theory, it should change the playing field a lot. Whether it will in practice or not, is another matter,” Storey said. “It’s one thing to sign the treaty and it’s something else to put the legislation in place and to put the judicial authorities and the bureaucracy in place to have the treaty enforced in a practical way.”

    Despite Japan’s announcement, Gherbetti remains skeptical. Should Japan sign the convention, Gherbetti will need to go through a family court process in Japan just to see his daughters and given his previous experience and witnessing the Japanese government’s response to the Fukushima disaster, he has little faith. Because the abduction pre-dates any signing of the convention, Gherbetti will not be able to use the convention to bring the girls back to Canada.

    Gherbetti has requested help from the Prime Minister’s Office as well as former and current foreign affairs ministers Laurence Cannon and John Baird but only received form letters in response.

    Nevertheless, Gherbetti said he’ll pursue any chance he gets to be reunited with Rion, Lauren and Julia.

    “I’m fighting this fight on my own and I’m prepared to just continue because I’ll never stop fighting for them,” he said.

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