A group in Ontario, where about a third of child abductions are reported across Canada, is highlighting the plight of parents such as Cesar Caetano whose children have been abucted with little international protection for their rights.
Caetano is one of three Greater Toronto Area fathers who banded together to form the advocacy group iChapeau, which stands for International Child Harbouring and Abduction Prevention Enforcement Act Under-Law. Three years ago, his former wife allegedly abducted his daughter, Alice, and took her to Brazil, and she's still missing.
- Toronto mom pleads for children's return from Afghanistan
- Parental abductions go unpunished, Canadian dads say
- Grandpa sentenced for helping daughter take sons to Poland
"There's lots of cases, and people don't know what to do and they don't go public. They don't know where to run," Caetano said, explaining the reason behind iChapeau, which fights for the rights of parents whose children have been abducted.
The group is lobbying the federal government to harmonize Canadian laws with tougher U.S. laws.
Ontario accounts for roughly a third of all domestic and international child abductions reported nationwide over the past two years, according to Statistics Canada data.
Earlier this week, a CBC News exclusive told the story of Zaiba Zaiba, a Toronto mother whose two young children where allegedly abducted by their father and taken to Afghanistan.
According to iChapeau's Twitter account, the group has reached out to Zaiba Zaiba to "offer our assistance, provide information and to assist in disseminating information about her children's case."
The Middle Eastern country is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, which includes laws protecting children who are victims of abduction.
Ontario accounts for 55 of the 174 child abductions between 2011 and 2012, Statistics Canada figures indicate, although data does not differentiate between international and domestic cases.
However, a spokesperson with Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs said there are approximately 170 "ongoing" international cases in over 50 countries that have been reported to the government.
Tougher laws advocated
A common characteristic in most international abductions is that the parent left behind usually has sole custody and believes they have legal protection when allowing their children to travel without them.
When asked about such a proposal, a Department of Justice spokesperson said the government is "always looking for ways to improve Canada's justice system.
"We will continue to work with our international partners to reinforce laws related to international abductions," the spokesperson said in a written response to questions from CBC News.
But for Stephen Watkins, who also helped form iChapeau after his two sons were taken to Poland by their mother in 2009, the response from Ottawa simply hasn’t been good enough.
“What we want for our government is to see them standing up and enforcing the treaties that we’ve signed,” he said.
Watkins has full custody of his two sons, and said the Polish courts have on one occasion ruled against returning them to Canada, citing it would be “detrimental to their health.”
"It's worse that they're in Poland because [their] mother's been diagnosed with something. She can't take care of the children. She has a neighbour and the boyfriend taking care of the children," Watkins said. "What is this? ... I have no platform in that nation."
Caetano has spent his own money attempting to ensure his daughter's return to Canada and vows not to stop.
"I'm missing the good years, but I won't give up," he said.