Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Colorado Boy Abducted To Canada Traveled On An Illegally Obtained U.S. Passport

Illegally Obtained U.S. Passport And Limited Amber Alert Issuance Lead To Colorado Child's International Parental Child Abduction. 
Brandy Turner, the woman who had her three-year old son Luke abducted from her home in Longmont, Colorado and illegally removed 1,500 kilometers to Manitoba, Canada despite an Amber Alert has finaly been reunited with her son after a three-day ordeal that is any parent's nightmare.

Monty Turner, her estranged husband, 51-year-old Monty Turner, remains in custody in Winnipeg for allegedly abducting Luke. He was arrested after he was found with Luke at the Casa Blanca Motor Inn in Brandon, Man., on Sunday. Mr. Turner is being held on numerous state charges, including:
  • Second-degree kidnapping.
  • Second-degree burglary.
  • Menacing.
As previously shared, it is alleged that Mr. Turner used a taser gun and pepper spray against Mrs. Turner during the abdcution act.

The circumstances leading up to the abudction of the child raise great concern over the relative ease a parent intending to internationally abduct a child can accomplish their goal.

The Cloud of Abduction

The case of Luke Turner brings international scrutiny to the effectiveness of precautionary measurements presently in place to prevent abduction.  In the case of Luke Turner, there was an Amber Alert in place; however, for those of you who do not know how an Amber Alert works: the issuing law enforcment agency can issue the alert to specific states.

But the head of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Christy Dzikowicz, isn't surprised they were able to cross. The alert was issued in Colorado, so border officials might not have known about it. "The Amber Alert was issued in a state that wasn't a border state. I think the story may have been very different if it had been a border state where they would have been inclined to alert the border immediately," she said.

That is exactly what happened, said Longmont Detective Commander Jeff Satur. Police had no indication Turner might be heading to Canada, nor did they realize Luke had a passport. "The Amber Alert, when we issued it, initially concentrated on the surrounding states of Colorado, which would have been Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona. And then we also entered an Amber Alert in Missouri because our initial information was that he was heading toward Missouri. We did not have any information that he was heading to Canada. That is something else that we are looking into because the boy's mother was not aware and did not authorize any passports."

Illegally Obtained Passports

The case of Luke Turner's abduction highlights many immediate challenges and grave concerns targeted parents of abduction going into the summer months face, including the ease of illegally obtaining a valid U.S. Passport for a child without the other parent knowing. 

As stated by Detective Commander Jeff Satur, Mrs. Turner was not aware that Luke had an American passport.  According to U.S. law, both Mr. and Mrs. Turner were required to sign the passport application for their child. Clearly this did not happen, as the notion of abduction to Canada was initially not considered by law enforcment because Mrs. Turner did not know of the passport. 

Clearly, neither she nor law enforcment were aware that under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, Mr. Turner could have also traveled to Canada and crossed the border with his child only presenting a photocopy of his birth certificate accompanied with a travel authorization letter issed by Mrs. Turner that could have beeen easily forged.

In a similar case of international parental child abduction case that utilized illegally obtained passports the I CARE Foundation was heavily involved in and played a key role in reunification, another Colorado mother, Britnee Degenhart, had her two-year old son abducted to the not-so-cooperative non-Hague Convention country of Nigeria. 

At the time of her son's abduction, the child's father had illegally obtained a valid U.S. passport for the child by forging the mother's signature on the passport application. Then, under the guise of a weekend visitation, the father, who lived in Colorado, but possessed dual citizenship, fled to Africa with the child, using the U.S. passport of the child in order to board an aircraft on American soil.

Through great effort and cooperation from key individuals in Nigeria, the child was returned to the United States.  Seargent Paul Cortapasso, based out of New York, and who assisted the I CARE Foundation during the reunification process said, "It is very troubling to see how these illegally obtained passports for children are being obtained with relative ease and are unknown to the targeted parent.  The parallels between the two Colorado mothers and how the abductor was able to leave the country present a serious concern for society, particularly now as the summer months approach and abduction rates dramatically increase. I will never forget the sense of happiness I felt seeing the young child when he was returned from Nigeria. International parental child abduction is a serious crime.  I was very happy to help. Sadly, the majority of children abducted abroad will not come home. This is why abduction  prevention measures are critical, espeically at this time of year. As for the case of Ms. Degenhart, I think it was important that the abductor was prosecuted.  All parental child abductors should be prosecuted for abduction is a crime against a child that is beyond words."

As for Mr. Turner, he remains in Canada awaiting extradition proceedings. He is expected to be returned next week to Colorado, where he will face as assortment of criminal charges.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Over the past two years, international parental child abduction reported outbound cases originating from the United States has declined by 15% per year. This is a major accomplishment when considering abduction rates increased substantially during the near 30 year period the United States became a signatory member of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects Of International Child Abduction.  However, despite the declines, the reality is that abduction remains rampant in the United States and abroad, and only through raising society's awareness of these issues combined with new laws or modification of existing policy, will we be able to truly protect children.

Case in point: in the case of Mrs. Turner, she nor law enforcement bothered to check if a passport had been illegally obtained for her son. Canada very well could have been the first country Mr. Turner had abducted to since there is relative ease of entry due in part to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and weak travel documentation requirements needed for minors. Hypothetically, Mr. Turner could have used Canada as a launching point, and traveled to another country in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, or Africa, including any number of countries around the world that are not members of an international treaty on abduction and who may not view parental abduction as a crime.

How real is this issue? One only has to look at the case of Mr. Stephen Watkins, who had his two children abducted from Canada to the United States via invalid passports. From America, Mr. Watkins children were further moved to Poland, where they disappeard for a long time until Mr. Watkins and his relentless effort to reunite with his sons, located them. Sadly, no tragically, and of great point is that despite the Canadian authorities having serious criminal charges against Edyta (Ustaszewski) Watkins, and, despite Stephen Watkins having filed a Hague Application for the wrongful abduction and detention of his children to Poland, the Polish government and courts have refused to return Mr. Watkins abducted children.

Outrage?  You bet.

So What Did We Learn And What Should We Do?

Hopefully the abduction of Luke Turner will open the eyes of many parents who today do not realize they and their children are being targeted for abduction.

Obviously, the key to stopping child kidnappings is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

It is critical that the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative be modified so that all children traveling
abroad, regardless if they are traveling by land, sea, or air, must present a valid passport.

In addition, we must create a stronger verification system in place when passports are being requested for children. As the cases of Ms. Degenhart and Mrs. Turner illustrate, if there were better control systems in place, there children would not have been wrongfully issued valid passports that allowed the abductors to flee the country.

We must be mindful that parents who possess a right of citizenship to another country provide a child of a multinational relationship the same right of citizenship.  Children who possess a right of citizenship can be issued a passport from that country.  Dual passports are a major issue because the United States, similiar to Canada, has limited exit controls in place. For further information on how to reduce the risk of abduction due to dual passports, please read, Dual Citizenship and International Child Abduction.

As seen in the cases of Mr. Watkins, Ms. Degenhard, and Mrs. Turner - and I speak for myself as a once targeted parent of abduction - the abductors' schemes caught everyone off guard. It is a common theme. Thus, the key to stopping abduction begins with educating society, particulary parents presently involved in multinational relationships.

As summer approaches, know the warning signs of an abduction scheme.

I know many share the same sentiment tha we can hope that the tragic event of Luke Turner's abduction during the Memorial Day Weekend will cause other parents to be aware of abduction, and, equally, bring about positive change so more children can be protected.

For more information of international parental child abduction, please visit the I CARE Foundation and Chasing The Cyclone. In Canada, please visit I Cheapeau.