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A Westman mother accused of parental abduction — arrested as she was about to board a plane to Australia with her son — testified that she’d always intended to return to Manitoba.
She says she was taking her son to visit her family for Christmas when, to her surprise, she was arrested by U.S. marshals at the Los Angeles International Airport.
"I was in shock, I was scared, I was in disbelief," the mother testified during her trial in Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench on Monday.
The Brandon Sun isn’t naming the parties involved in the case in order to protect the identity of the boy who was seven years old at the time.
Court heard the incident came in the midst of a marriage that was falling apart.
The mother is originally from Australia. She and her husband met in that country in the mid-1990s, wed in November 2001 and had a son.
The family moved to Canada, specifically to Westman, in 2008.
On Dec. 14, 2011 — with the marriage crumbling — the mother picked up her son at school. She then drove with the boy to Minot, N.D., and flew to Los Angeles via Minneapolis.
The father testified that on Dec. 14 2011, he returned to the family’s Westman home from work to find it in darkness.
Some of his wife’s jewelry was missing, and so were many of her and his son’s clothes. About $500 and some cash and travel bags were also gone.
While he guessed his wife and son may have been headed for Australia, he said he didn’t really know where they’d gone and feared for their safety.
He couldn’t reach his wife when he texted and called her cellphone.
A call to his son’s teacher, his wife’s friends and her family in Australia failed to determine his family’s whereabouts.
It was then that he called RCMP who issued an amber alert.
RCMP contacted border officials and U.S. authorities, and determined that mother and son had a flight booked from Los Angeles to Australia.
Following her arrest at the L.A. airport, the mother was held at in a jail in that city until Feb. 24, 2012 when she was extradited to Canada with her consent.
After his wife’s arrest, the father travelled to L.A. to pick up his son, who had been placed in a foster home overnight, and brought him home to Canada.
His son was left confused and upset by the ordeal, the father testified.
Prior to the incident, he said, his wife had asked about the possibility of moving with her son back to Australia after the couple separated.
The father said he was against that idea, and hadn’t given his consent for his wife to travel with their son to L.A. or beyond.
While they’d discussed separation, there were no family court proceedings underway, so both parties had joint custody of their son at the time.
On her part, the mother testified that she needed space from her husband to think about their separation.
She’d learned that her husband had started to pursue a relationship with another woman.
Originally, she’d planned to take her son to a Brandon hotel for a getaway, but was worried her husband would stop by.
She was scared when her husband delivered a look of "pure hatred," she testified, and made a snap decision to make good on a previous plan to take her son to Australia to visit her family for Christmas.
In L.A., she called her family who booked the tickets for the leg to Australia.
She said she left without telling her husband, but he’d known she’d wanted to travel to her home country. She intended to call her husband from there, she said, and always intended to return to Manitoba.
Initially, upon her return to Canada, she was placed on bail with an order to have no contact with her son.
However, court heard that she and her estranged husband now share equal access to their son who splits his time between his parents’ homes.
"He’s happy. He loves his mom, he loves his dad," the mother testified. "He’s glad he sees us both."
The trial continues on Tuesday.
» Twitter: @IanHitchen