Mother languishes in jail after unusual custody dispute

Her partner was charged with assault, but those charges were stayed. Now she’s been in jail for months for disobeying a court order.

Lin's father, who lives in China, makes a plea for help in this photo supplied by the family. Lin, a Canadian citizen, has been incarcerated at the Vanier Centre for Women for seven months on a charge of disobeying a court order.

The din of the waiting room outside family court, where it is standing room only for lawyers and warring couples, goes suddenly silent when a side door opens and a guard emerges with Lin, a small woman in prison sweats, handcuffs and shackles.

All eyes are on her as she shuffles past the slim man in a leather coat in the waiting room. She does not lift her eyes to acknowledge Yousef, who she referred to in court as a “devil” who kept her confined for years as a “sex slave.” Yousef has been granted temporary sole custody of Lin’s daughter.

Unlike in criminal courts in Toronto, almost all parties to a family court case arrive and leave by the front door.

An accused person arriving by a side door is a rare spectacle.

And the story behind Yousef and Lin — who has now spent nearly seven months in jail at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton for disobeying a court order to return her 11-year-old daughter from China — raises questions.

How does a single mother with no criminal record end up in jail for so long?

Why would she defy court orders keeping her there?

Serious charges of sexual assault and threatening death, initiated by Lin and laid by Toronto police against Yousef, were placed on hold when officers could not locate Lin. How hard did they try? And now that they know where she is, why are the charges not being revisited?

In China, Lin’s father, who cares for Lin’s daughter, pleads for help.

In Belgium, Lin’s sister, Wei, worries as well. She says Lin has for a decade lived within a “cage of threats” that she kept to herself.

“She is a victim,” says Wei. “She is a good mother. She did not harm anyone.”

The family retained Toronto lawyer Barry Swadron to look into the case and he believes a “combination of circumstances has resulted in (Lin) being railroaded.”

At her family’s request, the Star met Lin at the Vanier jail, making a number of visits over several months . Lin cancelled a last visit after the Star made it clear it intended to write a story, later saying she does not want to be part of it.

What she told the Star is consistent with details contained in court documents and transcripts. Because she did not give her consent, none of the material from the interviews will be part of this story, which, for her, begins in 2001 with a dream of opportunities in Canada and a chance meeting with Yousef.

Because the story involves sexual-assault allegations, Lin’s identity as an alleged victim and any details that might identify her, including the identity of Yousef, are being withheld. Their names have been changed.

Yousef, 55, tells a different story. He says that Lin, 46, concocted the criminal allegations against him to win sole custody. That belief was not shared by police, who in consultation with a Crown attorney felt Lin’s story rang true enough to lay a slew of now-dormant charges.

None of the allegations made by Lin and Yousef has been proved in court.

What follows is based on responses from Toronto police and the Ministry of the Attorney General, court documents and transcripts shared by Yousef and Lin’s family, and on interviews with Yousef, sister Wei and lawyer Swadron.

First months in Canada

Lin left China, and a good career, for Toronto in 2001 at the age of 34. She came as a landed immigrant and would go on to become a citizen.

Within months of arriving, she met Yousef, a taxi driver and courier more than eight years her senior, at a party.

Yousef came to Canada from Iran as a refugee and was already a citizen. Hunched over a coffee and a mound of paperwork at a north Toronto coffee shop, he recalls dancing with Lin at the party and getting her phone number.

According to a police synopsis of the 34 now-dormant criminal charges laid by Toronto police — all of which Yousef told the Star are fabrications — the alleged physical and sexual abuse started within days and spanned nearly a decade. Lin told police of repeated rapes and threats that she and those close to her would be harmed if she failed to comply with his demands or uttered a word about the abuse.

In April 2003, Lin gave birth to a girl.

She told police that Yousef had once put her crying daughter in an oven and threatened to turn it on.

Lin told police she became pregnant again but, after more forced sex, miscarried.

While Yousef, according to Lin, thought of their relationship as a common-law marriage, Lin would later testify at a bail hearing that there never was a relationship. Rather, she told court, she was “confined by him, nine or 10 years, as a sex slave.”

There was the occasional trip by Lin and her daughter to see family in Belgium and China, but Lin’s family knew little of Yousef, nor did Lin ever tell them what she would later tell police.

In April 2004, the couple signed an unendorsed separation agreement, with no formal custody arrangement. Lin went on social assistance. She alleges Yousef was still a presence and that the sexual assaults continued until 2010.

In the summer of 2005, Lin and her daughter moved into a women’s shelter and then into subsidized housing. She told police that Yousef tracked her down and assaulted and threatened her again. Lin and her daughter returned to the shelter.

In denying Lin’s story, Yousef produced medical records showing 2005 was a bad year for him. He says he was incapacitated by sciatica and at times could barely walk, let alone assault anyone. He could no longer drive a cab and had to sell a condo. He went on disability pay and in 2006 declared bankruptcy.

In explaining the shelter, Yousef said it was a “very strange” story. “She suddenly disappeared,” he said. “I couldn’t walk (at that point). I phone her and I phone her and her phone is (off).”

Yousef told the Star he lived with Lin on and off, and that she had a temper. Yousef said Lin would occasionally beat her daughter.

Lin’s story is markedly different from Yousef’s. In telling it to the Star, Lin broke into tears on occasion. It was mentioned in one court hearing that she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2006, Lin began work as a support worker at a social services agency. In 2008, she and her daughter moved out of subsidized housing and into a condo of her own.

In December 2010, Lin went to China with her daughter and left her with her father and stepmother. She returned to Toronto alone on Jan. 6, 2011. Lin, said her sister Wei, was on a probationary period at work and needed to focus on that, and so had arranged for her daughter stay with family for a while.

On Feb. 2, 2011, Lin told police, she contacted Yousef to get a copy of his passport and driver’s licence in order to extend her daughter’s Chinese visa before it expired. He refused.

On Feb. 4, Yousef visited police to report that the girl had been taken without his knowledge to China.

Police called Lin in to investigate. She told police Yousef knew the girl was in China and had given his verbal consent, but had refused to provide letters of permission for travel.

And then Lin said more.

She told police that she was the victim of many verbal and physical domestic assaults and threats. She gave a videotaped statement, but at this point mentioned nothing about sexual attacks. Police charged Yousef with 12 offences.

Lin immediately began a family court proceeding to gain full custody of her daughter. She sought child support and no access or visitation rights for Yousef. In her application, she described Yousef as an “unfit father and dangerous.”

Yousef was up for the fight. He got help from legal aid and Toronto lawyer Chad Rawn and obtained an order in family court from Justice Geraldine Waldman requiring Lin to return her daughter to Canada by April 11, 2011. When that did not happen, Waldman set another deadline of April 30, and added a provision that Lin would have sole access to the girl until the court could sort out custody.

In the meantime, Lin, who did not have a lawyer, went back to police and spoke of the trouble she was having in family court and revealed the alleged sexual attacks. She told police she did not disclose these attacks earlier because of their sexual nature and because she was afraid.

After reviewing her medical records, receiving contact information for doctors and social workers to corroborate allegations, and confirming that Lin had spent time in a shelter, police on May 17 laid 22 more charges against Yousef.

In one police document, one officer said she found Lin “genuine and credible.” Police had also consulted a Crown attorney before laying the charges.

Lin missed her next family-court date, citing illness. She would miss others as well, but sent a friend to act on her behalf.

After further family-court dates came and went and there was no return of the girl, Yousef sought and won a contempt-of-court motion, for which Lin was present. Waldman issued an order on June 3, 2011, that stipulated a jail sentence of 60 days for Lin if the girl was not returned within 45 days.

The judge showed patience. Waldman lessened the jail penalty to 21 days and wrote to Lin offering one last chance, but eventually issued an arrest warrant on Aug. 12, 2011.

The day after Yousef was hit with the additional charges, he filed papers with the family court that called the untested criminal charges a “fraudulent response” to his demand that the girl be returned home. He has also claimed it was Lin who had thoughts of putting the child into a microwave oven. .

A friend of Lin’s told police that Lin had tried unsuccessfully to return her daughter to Canada and had trouble finding a family court lawyer. She continued to miss court dates.

On Nov. 21, 2011, Yousef won sole custody and later approached the same Toronto police officer who’d arrested him about filing a child abduction report.

A file was opened.

Where is Lin?

As Yousef’s trial date approached, police could not locate Lin. Police documents show repeated visits to her address. Voice messages were left. A Crown attorney asked that police try a phone number in China provided by Yousef and his lawyer. A message was left there. A friend was reached and the friend offered to contact Lin by email.

On March 12, 2012, without its key witness, Crown attorney Martin Sabat told court “we’ve been looking for her for months. The best information we have is that she is currently somewhere in China and we are unable to contact her.”

Sabat requested the charges against Yousef be stayed — placed on hold — with the option of reactivating them.

Clearly, police and the Crown believed Lin was in China. However, work records obtained by her family indicate she was in Toronto all along.

Vanier jail

In March 2013, Lin went on sick leave from her job. She was also contemplating a change in career and looking at real estate. She told her lawyer that she went to York Regional Police on Oct. 28 to get a required criminal background check.

The Toronto warrant for contempt of court popped up.

She was immediately arrested and, according to the Ministry of the Attorney General, today stands charged with one count of abduction in contravention of a custody order and three counts of disobeying a court order.

With no criminal record but a poor record of showing up for court, Lin was deemed a flight risk and denied bail. She’s been at the Vanier jail ever since.

Now caught up in both the criminal and family court systems, Lin was shuttled in handcuffs and leg irons to both courts.

On Nov. 4, 2013, Lin appeared once again before family-court judge Waldman.

From a reading of the family-court transcripts and a court appearance attended by the Star, it’s clear Waldman became increasingly frustrated by the case. There were undertakings to get the girl back to Canada but none resulted in any movement.

Waldman, aware that Lin had been denied bail in criminal court, nonetheless imposed a series of consecutive jail sentences for recurring failures to bring her daughter to Canada, the latest of which expires next week.

A reading of the transcript suggests that at Lin’s last family court appearance on April 4, Waldman was uncomfortable issuing another 60 days of jail.

“It becomes abundantly clear to me, that no matter what I do, I’m not going to be able to compel compliance, that I’m keeping someone in jail on an open-ended basis, really for disobeying a court order. And even under the Criminal Code when you’re charged with disobeying a court order, you don’t get sentenced to life.”

Although the latests sentence imposed by Waldman expires this coming week, it’s unlikely Lin will be free anytime soon.

Lin could make another try for bail in Superior Court on the criminal charges. But even if she were successful, Yousef could go to a higher court and have a longer sentence imposed on the contempt charges, one that might keep Lin jailed until the daughter is returned to Canada — or until she turns 18, in seven years.

The lawyer retained by Lin’s family says Lin is not even in a position to bring her daughter to Canada. She “is homeless and penniless,” said Swadron, and “is being played like a ping pong ball between the family court and the criminal court.”

Toronto police did speak with the Crown about reactivating the charges, said police spokesperson Meaghan Gray. “Reactivation of any charge, in any case, requires the Crown to seek approval from the Attorney General,” she said. “The Crown will not be pursuing this option.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General was not as definitive. “We can confirm that the Crown has not sought to recommence the proceedings against (Yousef) at this time,” said Brendan Crawley. “As in all cases, any additional evidence or circumstances warranting new proceedings will be considered by the Crown.”

For his part, Yousef has been writing to provincial officials and politicians to highlight the case and says he would welcome a testing of the charges that are now dormant. He also filed a public complaint about what he felt was a shoddy police investigation into Lin’s allegations.

Yousef feels police are too quick to accept a woman’s version of events in domestic cases and do not do enough to independently verify before laying charges.

He shared the police complaint investigator’s report with the Star. It clears the two investigating officers of neglect of duty and finds that there were reasonable grounds to charge him.

Yousef, who said he has no other family in Canada, said he would care for the girl if she was returned. “I love my child. Everything I do, I do it for my child.”

Lin’s daughter is happy where she is in China, says Lin’s sister in Belgium, and is receiving an education, including English lessons at the insistence of her mother.

The girl, says Wei, misses her mother and is afraid of Yousef. The family believes the child would be at risk in Canada with Lin in jail and the dormant criminal charges against Yousef untested in a court.

“Would he be convicted or not?” asks Wei. “We don’t know.”


Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre

Police Officers all have rear ends and opinions that often have nothing to do with reality and under extreme pressure to make their charges look good. There is no better way than by the use of adjectives such as
"In one police document, one officer said she found Lin “genuine and credible.”
Genuine and Credible are standard adjectives provided as part of Police Training in what is called CYA procedures. It also CYA's the superior officer who approves the charge, then gives the crown all the scope and power in the world to disagree and drop the charges if the "victim" is female.

Ontario Police treat criminal law as though they have the power to make custody decisions to help mothers.

Western men need to be aware that many foreign women such as Chinese will choose to place children permanently with Maternal Grandparents and or any remote person will care for the child in China rathrer than allow a western man, aka Canadian Father to raise the child.

This case shows how Courts need to be aware that Children of Chinese mothers can be in some cases a very high risk of permanent abduction.

If your wife is chinese, and has mental health problems, talks about a trip to China for the child to visit family, get a court order and notify border services. Be prepared for her creative ways of fleeing Canada with the child.