Shelley Beyak has a message for her children, Mia, 9, and Liam, 8, who were abducted by their father and were taken to Lebanon in March: “It’s not your fault that this happened. I will always keep looking for you.”
The Abbotsford mother also has a message for their father, Wissam Tarabichi: “I really want him to know that this can be resolved. I still want him here, and involved with the children because that’s what’s best for them.”
Beyak has not seen her kids since Tarabichi took them on a weeklong trip to Seattle during spring break. When the children did not show up for school on April 3, the school contacted Beyak. Beyak didn’t want to believe they had been abducted.
“I called the hospitals, thinking maybe there had been an accident,” said Beyak. Then she left work and went to Tarabichi’s house to discover it was eerily vacant. An internet search showed that her former partner had surreptitiously listed the house for sale “with contents.”
Beyak was shocked. “I was sick to my stomach.”
After Beyak filed a missing persons report, the RCMP was able to track the children’s passports. “He had taken them to Seattle, from there they boarded a plane to France. A week later, we found out they were in Beirut.”
There are now two warrants for his arrest under Section 282 of the Criminal Code: Abduction in contravention of a custody order.
“I don’t know where they are. I don’t know what he’s telling them. I don’t know if the kids think I’m dead or alive,” said Beyak.
Beyak, a youth worker, has since discovered that Tarabichi, mild-mannered former Telus employee, had meticulously planned the kidnapping. In the months before his disappearance, Tarabichi had transferred large amounts of money out of Canada, and his mother had quietly moved back to Lebanon.
Beyak met Tarabichi in 2006, when she travelled to Beirut from Cairo, where she had been teaching English. The couple married, and two children quickly followed. In 2010, months after Liam was born, the couple moved to Canada and settled in Abbotsford.
Shortly after their arrival in Canada, they separated. Tarabichi moved back to Lebanon for 18 months. When he returned to Canada in 2012, the couple began to work out a shared custody agreement.
Eventually overnight visits with their father extended to a 50-50 custody agreement that, said Beyak, was sometimes difficult, but fair to both parents.
“I always wanted to do what is in the children’s best interests, and I believe children need both parents,” said Beyak.
Tarabichi began to press for permission to travel internationally with the kids, arguing in court that he owned a home, and had a good job and would never leave Canada. In 2017, Tarabichi received permission to travel with the children to France.
Beyak believes the trip to France was about building trust: showing the parenting coordinator and the B.C. family court that he could take the children out of the country and would bring them back.
But when he returned, Tarabichi announced that he had lost the children’s passports. Tarabichi also let it slip during a meeting with their parenting coordinator that he had taken the children to Lebanon during that time. He later retracted the statement.
“I think he ‘lost’ the passports because he didn’t want me to see the stamp showing he had taken them to Lebanon.”
In December 2017, Tarabichi took Beyak to court, requesting permission to travel the world and go to the Middle East with the kids, without having to get permission from their mother. Beyak was vehemently opposed: The lost passports and the possibility that he had already taken them to Lebanon were red flags.
Beyak said she felt that the family court judge didn’t take her concerns seriously. She was counselled to give a little, and allow Tarabichi to travel to the U.S. with the kids. “My lawyer wanted me to show I was willing to mediate and come to some sort of resolution.”
When Tarabichi announced he was taking the kids to Seattle for spring break, Beyak had no choice but to comply. She hasn’t seen them since.
Tarabichi has had sporadic contact with Canadian authorities in Lebanon, said Beyak. “Before he agrees to mediation, he has requested I give up my parental rights, and to have the international arrest warrants removed.”
Beyak has no control over the arrest warrant. “Crown has been very clear that they will not discuss dropping the charges until the children are back on Canadian soil,” said Beyak.
Lebanon is not a member of the Hague convention, a multilateral treaty that protects children from international abduction. In Lebanon, international child kidnapping by parents is not recognized as a crime and custody decisions are often made by religious authorities.
In a statement the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General said, “When a child has been taken to a country that is not a party to the (Hague) convention, the central authority does not have a role and must refer parents to Global Affairs Canada.
Beyak appreciates the efforts Global Affairs has made on her children’s’ behalf, but she urges stronger action. “Lebanon needs to be held accountable by Canada, and by the international community.”
Beyak is raising funds to hire a lawyer in Beirut through a gofundme https://ca.gofundme.com/5ejxr68
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