Wed Apr 15, 2009
By Andy Blatchford,
MONTREAL - The father of a Montreal girl who turned up in Vancouver more than two years after she disappeared says he can't wait to bring her home.
Frank Gonis couldn't believe it when police told him his 10-year-old daughter, Ashley, called 911 last Friday from a pay phone at a SkyTrain station.
"I almost had a heart attack, I had to hold something (because) I was going to fall down," Gonis told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. "It's very exciting."
He struggled to find words to describe what he has gone through since Ashley vanished in January 2007.
"You don't know if she's alive or dead," said Gonis, who made a public plea last summer for help in his quest to find her.
"You don't know if your child's hungry, you don't know if she's well-dressed, you just don't know."
Vancouver transit police say the girl was distraught in the 911 call and told them she had moved to B.C. from Quebec some time ago and was now running away.
Transit police quickly discovered Ashley was the subject of a parental abduction investigation.
Police have been looking for the girl's mother - Frank Gonis' former common-law partner - since November 2007, when a Quebec-wide warrant for her arrest was issued on a parental abduction allegation, Montreal police said.
But Vancouver police can't enforce the out-of-province warrant until Crown prosecutors in Quebec persuade a judge to extend it to B.C., said Montreal police Const. Yannick Ouimet.
"When you don't have any reasons to believe that she went outside of Quebec, the court won't give you a Canada-wide warrant," Ouimet said.
Vancouver transit police said the girl mentioned in the call she wanted to escape an abusive situation at home, but a spokeswoman for the city's police force said Wednesday an investigation found the allegations were unsubstantiated.
Const. Anne Longley said no child abuse charges have been laid in the case.
Frank Gonis plans to head out to Vancouver to pick up Ashley, who is currently under the care of B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Families.
But he's bracing for what could be a rocky start to his long-awaited father-daughter reunion.
"It's been so long (since we saw each other) that there's always concerns," he said.
"She might be scared to come home, but I'd like to get her back into the province and then we could work with professionals to re-integrate her back home."
The director of the Missing Children's Network said although Gonis will likely meet with his daughter within a week, his custody order must first be recognized by a B.C. court before he can take her home.
Pina Arcamone also said the father could face challenges reconnecting with his daughter.
"The real work starts when we actually do find (the child)," she said in Montreal.
"But I know that the dad is very anxious to have his little girl. He's worked very hard to find her. I believe he can offer a loving environment.
"He's kept her bedroom intact, so that when she comes home she'll come home to her familiar bedroom."
Arcamone described Ashley's phone call to police as "exceptional." She said it's only the second time she's ever heard of a child who is allegedly the victim of a parental abduction phoning for help.
Gonis called his daughter, who he said was seven years old the last time they spent quality time together, a spunky, athletic girl who loved animals.
"I'm going to have to rediscover my own child after all this time," said Gonis, adding that one of the first things he's going to do with Ashley is take her shopping.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Abduction without a custody order occurs every day and unless you a male abductor, nothing happens. Women can abduct children without a custody order to deny the child a relationship with the father and do it all the time. If a male does the same thing, the police demand he attend at the police station with the child under threat of charges will be issued if he does not. The child is handed over to the mother, the father is then released uncharged. www.OttawaMensCentre.com