Last spring, the RCMP reunited five missing children with their families after they were abducted by the other parent — some of them had been separated for years.

Sometimes we don’t get any breaks for months, but May was a good month,” says RCMP Sgt. Lana Prosper, the officer in charge of the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) in Ottawa.

The centre’s main job is to help police across Canada find missing persons, many of them children. NCMPUR officers also work with coroners and medical examiners in investigating unidentified remains.

In 2018, they helped with more than 4,000 cases through the various services they offer.

While a reunion between parent and child is most often a happy ending, Prosper says the younger the child was when they were taken and the longer they’ve been gone, the more likely they’ll have a difficult time reintegrating.

There were 134 parental abductions in Canada between July 2018 and July 2019. Stranger abductions are rare, making up less than 0.1 per cent of cases each year, according to Prosper.

Despite public perception, parental abductions can be just as serious as those by a stranger.

It’s shocking and sad, but sometimes parents use their children to hurt each other and that can be very dangerous for the child,” she says.

In abduction cases where police are certain the child is in danger, the province will activate a public Amber Alert notification. NCMPUR can provide additional support by postings alerts on Facebook and other international channels, according to Kevin O’Shea, an analyst at NCMPUR.

The more vulnerable the person, the more urgent it is to find them,” says O’Shea. “That’s why a child who’s missing is always urgent because they can’t look after themselves.

Crossing borders

Parental abduction are the most urgent investigations at NCMPUR. Prosper says the centre usually gets involved in cases at the request of the investigator after all leads have been exhausted, or when it’s suspected the abducting parent is fleeing the country. The local police force remains in charge of each investigation.

Last May, NCMPUR helped reunite a mother with her son who was missing for nearly 30 years. The child’s father unlawfully took him out of the country and told the boy his mother was dead.

Many years later that child, now a man, began searching for the truth.

The situation isn’t uncommon, according to Prosper.

She says investigating international abductions requires strong partnerships with the Canada Border Services Agency, INTERPOL and the RCMP’s international liaison officers abroad.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction figures in many child abduction cases. Canada is one of 101 member countries that signed the treaty agreeing to respect the custody agreements and family laws of the left-behind country, and work to return a child under 16 to the appropriate parent.

Children who are abducted and taken to countries not part of the treaty are most at risk of never being returned, says Prosper.

NCMPUR helped return 16 missing children to Canada between 2018 and 2019, according to the latest numbers gathered by the centre.

Renewing older cases

Other ways the centre is helping investigators is by managing a national database of missing persons and unidentified remains, advising the National DNA Databank when DNA samples need to be removed, and managing the Canada’s Missing website.

Launched in 2013, the website aims to help generate tips from the public. It contains profiles of missing persons and unidentified remains that have been published at the request of the primary investigator, coroner or medical examiner. Of the 1,700 plus profiles, 174 are children.

According to Ingrid Muhlig, a DNA investigative analyst with NCMPUR, these tools and the work being done at the centre are breathing new life into older cases.

It’s revitalizing missing-person investigations by having investigators review the files,” says Muhlig.

Most missing children cases get resolved fairly quickly, according to O’Shea. Of the nearly 42,000 cases of kids reported missing in 2018, fewer than 70 remained unresolved as of August 2019.