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This article was published 27/10/2015 (638 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A mystery woman who lied when she told police she’d been abducted as a child, forced to work in the sex trade and didn’t know her true identity has been fined and put on probation for the elaborate story.
Before authorities learned the truth — that she’d actually fled Ontario with her daughter in the midst of a custody dispute — the investigation into their identities involved at least four police agencies, the Canada Border Services Agency, Child and Family Services, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the Department of Homeland Security in the United States.
"This is a highly unusual case," Crown attorney Marnie Evans said in Brandon provincial court on Monday just before the woman was fined $2,000 and put on probation for two years.
"It essentially involves a very lengthy investigation which criss-crossed this country and down into the States."
The woman can’t be named due to a publication ban put in place during Monday’s hearing to protect the identity of her daughter, who remains in the care of child welfare authorities.
Evans outlined the great lengths authorities went to try to identify the woman and girl who had shown up at the Westman Women’s Shelter, bags and suitcases in hand, just before midnight on Aug. 22.
The woman told shelter staff that she’d been abducted as a child and forced to work in the Winnipeg sex trade. She claimed to have recently escaped with her daughter and had travelled to Brandon by bus.
Brandon police were notified by the shelter on Sept. 8, and also were contacted by an employee of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg.
Shelter staff had contacted the centre, which offered to help police by checking missing-persons databases.
At police request, the woman in question provided a written statement that told an elaborate lie.
She stated that she believed she’d been taken from her mother at four years old and forced into prostitution.
She had been kept in a home with other children, she claimed, and one of the older kids taught her to read. She and her daughter later lived in a home alone, but the captors had keys to come and go.
She provided a birthdate and names for herself and her daughter (ones that would later turn out to be false), claiming that she didn’t know their real names.
The men who held her captive would move her around, she said, and she’d never been to a dentist, hospital or clinic.
They forced her to have sex at knifepoint or gunpoint, and at the threat of harming her daughter. At times, she wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom or go outside.
On threat of death, she was told to avoid police, not to look out windows and keep her head down when in public.
Her daughter had been born in a basement, and her father was unknown. The mother said she and her daughter fled Winnipeg when the men wanted to take seven-year-old daughter away and make her work in the sex trade.
She claimed that she told her captors that they were going to the park, but they jumped onto a bus bound for Brandon instead.
The mother told staff at the women’s shelter that she was afraid her former captors would find her, so they helped disguise her and her daughter by cutting and dyeing their hair.
"The shelter took a number of steps to make sure that the identity of these individuals was protected, given the story they had provided," Evans said.
While the woman stuck to her story in at least two police interviews, it lacked detail.
Initially, the daughter would cling to her mother and hide her face when police tried to talk to her. When CFS finally got to interview her, her story lacked specifics about their lives. While she maintained a similar story to her mom’s, it differed from it in some respects.
Police then distributed a photo of mother and child to Child and Family Services and other police agencies, and the mystery pair provided their fingerprints and DNA samples.
Meanwhile, the worker in the Canadian Child Protection Centre had found a missing person case in British Columbia with similarities. So, Brandon police contacted the Delta Police Department.
In addition, the Brandon Police Service briefed Brandon and Winnipeg school divisions and contacted a member of Homeland Security in the U.S. who offered to run the fingerprints through databases linked to the FBI and Interpol.
At one point, CFS found a file out of Winnipeg with names to those provided by the mother, so BPS contacted the Winnipeg Police Service’s Missing Persons Unit.
A check with Employment and Income Assistance turned up a match for the mother’s name with a slightly different birthdate, and a similar name to that of the daughter. However, a further check turned up a detailed description of the woman from the income assistance file that didn’t match the mystery woman.
Meanwhile, their DNA was prepared for analysis at a forensics lab.
Then there was the tip from Toronto child welfare authorities that went nowhere, and a fruitless effort to identify the pair by consulting a provincial child sexual exploitation specialist.
Police checked video surveillance footage from the Winnipeg airport, where mother and daughter were said to have spent a day prior to boarding the bus for Brandon. They checked WestJet and Air Canada flight lists, too.
They checked for video from the Brandon bus station.
All these leads proved to be dead ends, for reasons that are now obvious. When the BPS finally issued a media bulletin, complete with a photo of the woman and girl, it generated a number of local tips that proved false.
The Canada Border Services Agency was notified as well, but they were worried that the pair were American fugitives.
Finally, on Oct. 15, Brandon police got the answer they sought. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection called back to report that it had identified the woman and her daughter as being from the Toronto area. A social worker there viewed their photo and confirmed their identities.
"Police became confident that this was all an elaborate scheme," Evans said.
Officers arrested and confronted the woman, who continued to try to mislead them, then resorted to silence, before confirming her true identity and that she was from Etobicoke, Ont. She made up the abduction story, told her daughter and instructed her not to talk to police.
She claimed she’d fled Ontario because she believed her estranged husband had abused their daughter.
Evans said that the Children’s Aid Society in Ontario had opened a file based on a report that the girl had reported her father had touched her sexually. However, police investigated and no charges were laid — the credibility of the girl’s story was called into question based on descriptions she had provided.
As a result, the society discontinued its investigation. Prior to that decision, the father’s contact with his daughter had been suspended.
Once the society abandoned the investigation, it informed the dad his access to his daughter could continue as per the family court agreement he had with the mother. However, the society had lost all contact with the mother.
Under the agreement, each parent had to secure written permission from the other to take the girl out of Ontario and provide an itinerary.
Evans said that Toronto police are investigating, but as of Monday no abduction charges had been laid against the mother.
Staff at the Brandon women’s shelter had been working with the mother to secure social assistance, but that had proven difficult without proper ID.
Following the mother’s arrest, police asked shelter staff to check her room, and they found $11,727.
Defence lawyer Ryan Fawcett said his client maintains that she fled Ontario for Manitoba to escape domestic violence and was looking for a fresh start.
"Obviously, that completely backfired. Her hopes have been dashed," Fawcett said.
The girl’s father, who lives in Richmond Hill, Ont., says he hasn’t committed any abuse against his ex or daughter.
He said his daughter arrived in Toronto on Friday. Upon arrival, she was placed in the care of the Children’s Aid Society. In a previous interview, he stated he believes his daughter will soon be placed to live with him.
As for his ex, he said he supports her in the sense he favours mental health care for her over incarceration. He says he would be supportive of supervised access between mother and daughter.
"It is my daughter’s right to have a relationship with her mother," he said.
With a fine and probation, the mother — who had no previous record — should now be free, at least pending the outcome of any abduction investigation.
Fawcett noted in court that his client lives in supported housing in Ontario, where there’s a mental health worker on site and a psychiatrist available.
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