Political pressure may not enough to help a Canadian mother pleading for help bringing her four abducted children back to Canada, but the B.C. woman isn’t giving up hope.
Alison Azer hasn’t seen her two daughters and two sons, aged three to 11, since last summer.
Her ex-husband, Saren Azer, took the children on a trip to Europe in August. But instead of returning home with the youngsters, he flew them to the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq and eventually to his home country — Iran.
But given Canada hasn’t had diplomatic relations with Iran since 2012, when the former Conservative government severed ties and kicked Iranian diplomats out of the country, there may not be much the prime minister can do to intervene in the high-profile case.
“We have to be realistic, in the sense that, what kind of leverage the Canadian government will have on the Iranian government,” said Houchang Hassan-Yari, an international relations professor at the Royal Military College of Canada. “I would say zero.”
Aside from years of tense relations between Iran and the West, the case is further complicated by the fact Iran is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction — the main international treaty to help parents get back their children who have been abducted to other countries.
Alison Azer’s situation is not unique. One-third of the more than 1,500 Canadian children reported as abducted by their own parents over the past 20 years — 409 kids — were taken to countries in the Middle East and Africa where the Hague Convention mostly doesn’t apply.
“If you have a mother from here going to an Arab or Middle Eastern country, trying to assert her rights as she would in a North American or Western country, you’re just not going to have success by how the virtue of that legal system operates,” said Andy Hayher a family lawyer with Calgary’s Vogel LLP.
There’s also the issue of the Islamic Republic having Sharia law, which gives the father all of the rights when it comes to children. And the Azer children’s father has no intention of bringing the kids to Canada.
Global News spoke with Saren Azer via Skype from an undisclosed location inside Iran. In his first interview since becoming a fugitive, he claimed the children are better off with him in Iran than back in Canada.
“God is my witness, from the day that we escaped from that war zone in Canada, we have never been happier,” he told Global News producer Claude Adams.
“They were in a psychological and mental war zone in that country and you could see how their fragile lives were being shattered in front of our eyes,” Saren Azer, a high-profile humanitarian doctor who came to Canada as a political refugee in 1994.
He married Alison Jeffrey (Azer) in 2002. They separated 10 years later and had had a bitter fight over access to the four children, Sharvahn, 11, Rojevahn, 9, Dersim, 7 and Meitan, 3.
Despite the apparent roadblocks, some experts don’t rule out diplomacy as an option in the Azer family case.
Gar Pardy, the former director general of Consular Affairs, told Global News relations between Iran and the West have warmed slightly since a nuclear deal was reached with the Iranian government last year, leading to the lifting of some sanctions.
Prime Minister Trudeau has also promised to re-engage with Iran diplomatically, though no timeline has been made public.
He said the fact Alison Azer indicated the prime minister said he’s taking on the responsibility of trying to get the four children back, shows he’s serious about bi-lateral engagement with Iran.
“Maybe something will happen as a result of this.”
With files from Claude Adams