A B.C. Supreme Court judge has split guardianship of a five-year-old girl between her mother in Richmond, B.C., and her father — a Chinese airline pilot who flew the child to Chengdu in 2019 and has detained her there ever since.
The decision is part of a bitter custody battle playing out in courts on two continents, one that includes the mother's accusations that the father tried to force her to have his name tattooed on intimate parts of her body and threatened to use his access to free flights to track her down if she didn't agree to his terms.
"If you did this, the worst-case scenario is that your whole family, no matter where you hid or how far you hide, very soon someone will know why you moved to there. Everywhere in the world," the man allegedly said in a phone call recorded by the mother.
"Being in my profession is convenient this way, free flight tickets everywhere. You can go anywhere, I can find you."
Conditions included tattoos
The woman, known as YQ, also claimed her ex-husband, known as JD, asked her to have her ovaries removed.
Although Justice Sharon Matthews did not make a finding one way or another on that claim, the judge did find that JD had tried to impose conditions for continuing the marriage, which included YQ getting the tattoos.
Matthews ordered JD to inform everyone involved in the girl's care that YQ is an equal interim guardian, to renew the child's Canadian passport and to pass on gifts her mother sent for her birthday and International Children's Day.
It's uncertain what effect the ruling will have, though, because the child — known as AD — remains in China with JD and JD's mother, with all access to a maternal grandmother who lives nearby cut off to this point, and parallel divorce proceedings underway in a Chengdu court.
According to the ruling, YQ and JD met in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, in 2013. He worked as a pilot for Sichuan Airlines at the time and she worked as a flight attendant.
The couple moved to Canada and got married in B.C. in 2015. AD was born in June 2016.
"In October 2019, AD travelled with YQ's mother to Chengdu. JD piloted the aircraft on which they travelled," the judge wrote.
"When AD left British Columbia in October 2019, she had a return ticket with a flight home on December 31, 2019."
'He needs to see sincerity'
Once they were in China, JD sent YQ video clips that seemed to indicate that AD was having trouble adjusting. YQ's mother asked for help and JD arranged for the child to stay with him at his parents' house.
YQ's mother has not seen the girl since and has been largely cut out of her daughter's life, bargaining for time with a man half a world away.
According to the decision, the marriage broke down because JD accused YQ of having several affairs — something she denies.
"She deposed that she confessed to an affair because JD would not agree to move forward unless she confessed and so she made a false confession in order to repair the marriage," Matthews wrote.
YQ claimed JD also made the demands about the tattoos and the removal of her body parts. She backed her claims with messages that the judge said did not contain any of the statements in which JD allegedly set conditions.
"However, they do include communications in which the basis on which they can move forward is discussed in conjunction with YQ expressing concern about the size and location of tattoos (she objects to them being in a private place) and concerns that JD is asking her to harm herself," Matthews wrote.
"JD responds by saying that he needs to see sincerity so that they have a foundation to move on."
'Clearly the most appropriate jurisdiction'
JD's demands factored into Matthew's ruling on custody.
The judge found JD had perpetrated family violence and acted against the best interests of the child by including "threats of alienating her from her mother and refusing to discuss AD and her mother having video chats until YQ addressed the plan for resolution of their disputes."
In her first decision, Matthews was asked to rule on the question of whether a B.C. court had jurisdiction over the matter, given that AD and JD are in China.
JD also claimed that the couple had renounced AD's Canadian citizenship at the Chinese consulate after her birth. YQ said they did not do anything that affected her Canadian status.
Matthews found that B.C. was "clearly the most appropriate jurisdiction" because AD has spent most of her life in the province with her mother and maternal grandmother.
She said the evidence suggested that Chinese law also differed significantly from B.C. law in a way that would favour JD.
"Although both jurisdictions consider the best interests of the child, China also considers fault and slightly favours the party not at fault on custody matters," Matthews wrote.
"This raises the possibility that YQ's alleged unfaithfulness could be considered by the Chinese court as a factor against her in making a parenting order. Such a situation would not be in AD's best interest."
The judge said giving China jurisdiction would also effectively condone JD's actions and fail to discourage child abduction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.
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