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Aunt, grandmother of previously missing Alberta girls charged with abduction

A RCMP vehicle in Wetaskiwin, Alta. on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Global News

The aunt and grandmother of two Cochrane girls taken from their grandmother’s home in mid-March have been charged after the children were found in B.C. two days ago.

RCMP announced Thursday that the girls, age five and two, were found in the Columbia Valley. The girls didn’t appear to be in ill health, police said.

Read more: Two missing Cochrane, Alta., girls found safe in B.C.

On Friday, Insp. Rick Jané, Southern Alberta Operations Officer for the Serious Crimes Branch, announced the two women were arrested at the same time, and charged with one count each of forcible confinement, abduction of someone under 14, abduction in contravention of a parenting order and abduction.

The women were being brought back to Alberta from B.C. on Friday, Jané said, after being arrested “without incident” at a private home in the Columbia Valley.

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“This has been a long and challenging investigation that has caused understandable concern to all involved,” he said.

“High-conflict custody battles are some of the most challenging situations that police are called to respond to.

“These challenges are due to the understandable emotional commitment of the parties and intersecting roles of multiple government systems, including the courts, children’s service and police.”

The search for the children involved RCMP working with Canada Border Services Agency, Interpol and law enforcement agencies in the U.S., to ensure the girls weren’t taken out of the country, Jané said.

He added investigators examined throughout the last month whether the girls’ abduction was grounds for issuing an Amber Alert, up until the time the children were found, but the case never met all the criteria for the alert to be sent.

“Our investigators were very mindful of the potential risks to the children, and had to balance the public’s right to know versus the evidence being gathered as we tried to locate them,” Jané said, adding police don’t release all information they learn in investigations.

Read more: RCMP ‘imploring’ public to offer tips about disappearance of Cochrane-area children

Jané said investigators pursued many leads throughout the month-long search for the children, including interviewing people and neighbours, which eventually led them to B.C.

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RCMP said early on in the investigation they believed the girls, who were at the centre of what officers called a “volatile” custody battle, were with their aunt and grandmother, and that other people may have been helping the pair hide the children.

No charges have been laid against anyone else, Jané said, but the “RCMP is continuing to investigate whether anyone else were a party to the offence, or contributed either by aiding, abetting or counselling the individuals who have been charged.”

Read more: Search continues Tuesday for 2 girls missing from Cochrane, Alta.

He said the girls’ father didn’t know where they were in the month they were missing, but it’s still unknown whether their mother did.

The children were reported missing on March 12, when their father went to pick them up at their grandmother’s home after being awarded full custody of the girls earlier that day, and nobody was there.

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