The mother of two young girls who went missing in the aftermath of a bitter divorce has lost a bid for a stay of the court’s decision to grant full custody to the father.
The decision came down Thursday — one month after the disappearance of five-year-old Leonine O’Driscoll-Zak and two-year-old Wyatt O’Driscoll-Zak, who were last seen in Cochrane on March 12. That same day, the father was given custody of the girls.
“I conclude that Ms. (Jacqui) O’Driscoll has not satisfied her burden of persuasion relating to irreparable harm or balance of convenience when viewed through the children’s best interests,” said judge Frederica Schutz in her decision.
“I am not satisfied the children will suffer irreparable harm if a stay is not granted.”
In the mother’s appeal, she alleged due process was not followed and voiced concerns about the girls’ safety with their father. The allegations have not been substantiated in court.
RCMP said on Tuesday it had no update on the ongoing missing persons investigation.
Investigators continue to operate under the belief that Leonine and Wyatt are with their maternal grandmother, 68-year-old Therese O’Driscoll, and aunt, 38-year-old Alison O’Driscoll, who are also missing. RCMP suspect they are receiving assistance from others to avoid being found.
The possible child abduction case has drawn attention to a “high conflict” situation between the girls’ parents, who separated in July 2019.
Court documents detail serious allegations launched by both parties, related to issues such as parental alienation, child welfare and mental health concerns.
Colin Zak, the girls’ father, opposed the stay application, stating it would be an “inappropriate remedy” because his former partner “does not appear before the court with clean hands,” according to legal documents.
“The application for a stay, while the children’s whereabout(s) are unknown, raises the question of whether Ms. O’Driscoll is seeing a stay prior to the children being returned from the ‘abduction,’” it continues.
Legal counsel for Jacqui O’Driscoll argues the RCMP are only investigating one possible conclusion for the kids’ disappearance and are failing to consider alternatives. They are concerned about the safety of both the children and their grandmother and aunt.
Schutz noted the “unusual and unique circumstance” of an RCMP missing persons investigation in obstructing the transition of children into Zak’s care.
“However, I do not rest any aspect of my decision on this very concerning state of affairs,” she said. “To be clear, Ms. O’Driscoll has admitted no part in the children’s disappearance. If cogent evidence had been adduced proving otherwise, I would have considered that evidence.”
An appeal of the March 12 custody decision will be heard on May 4.
Until then, ordered custody remains with Zak.
A separate hearing will be held on April 30 to determine if the case management judge will be recused, which has been requested by the mother.
Anyone with information related to the investigation is asked to contact the Cochrane RCMP at 403-932-2211. Anonymous tips can be submitted through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.P3Tips.com.
Therese is described as Caucasian with blue eyes and medium-length grey hair, about five feet two inches tall and weighing around 120 pounds. Alison is described as Caucasian with blue eyes and long brown hair, about five feet three inches tall and weighing about 120 pounds.
Leonine and Wyatt are described as Caucasian with blue eyes, long blond hair and slim builds.