Appeal in Calgary child abduction case results in 8-year sentence | #childabductors

An appeal judge has extended the sentence of a man convicted of abducting his daughter, taking her from Calgary to Iraq four years ago.

Ali Farhan Al Aazawi had told the mother of his then-11-year-old daughter Zahraa that he was going on a vacation with the girl to Egypt in 2018.

According to a parenting order that was established on May 11, 2016, approximately four years after their separation, Madhi had sole custody while Al Aazawi was “granted access” to Zahraa every other weekend, on Father’s Day and on Muslim holidays as agreed to.

However, Al Aazawi took Zahraa to Iraq instead and returned later without her.

As a result, he was charged with abduction and sentenced to 28 months in jail, a term that was reduced to 342 days after taking into account pre-trial custody and “restrictive bail conditions.”

In an appeal, the Crown suggested that the sentencing judge erred when they considered mitigating and aggravating factors in the case.

Justice Wakeling granted the prosecution’s appeal, extending Al Aazawi’s sentence to eight years less time served.

In his reasons, Wakeling said that Al Aazawi’s actions involving his daughter, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, caused “irreparable” damage to her and her mother Zainab Madhi.

“Mr. Al Aazawi felt he needed to separate Zahraa from Ms. Madhi as he believed Ms. Madhi was not raising Zahraa properly,” documents of the trial said.

Under the guise of a family trip, Al Aazawi took his daughter to Iraq, where the girl learned she would attend school there.

When Zahraa did not return to Canada by Sept. 5, 2018, Madhi contacted Calgary police and obtained a court order to have her returned to Calgary.

A Canada-wide arrest warrant was issued for Al Aazawi in Nov. 2018 and he was arrested during a trip from Cairo to Toronto.

Following a police investigation involving an undercover officer, the court said Al Aazawi had intended for his daughter to “learn the values of his religion and culture in Iraq.”

“He conversely suggested that it was Zahraa who decided to stay in Iraq and that he would otherwise have brought her back to Canada,” the court document says.

While previous conversations between Zahraa and her mother, as outlined in court documents, indicated the girl was scared and wanted to come home, by May 2019 she “denied being kidnapped.”

“In September 2020, one week before Mr. Al Aazawi’s trial commenced, Zahraa called Ms. Mahdi,” court documents read.

“One of Mr. Al Aazawi’s brothers was with Zahraa. She said she did not acknowledge Ms. Madhi as her mother, and she asked that Ms. Madhi never call her again. Zahraa said she only wanted her father and that it was totally up to her when she might return to Canada.”

When Al Aazawi was convicted of abduction, the Crown proposed an eight to nine-year sentence, less time served. He was given a sentence of 28 months, which was further reduced to 342 days.

Wakeling says the sentencing judge erred in deciding that certain factors of the case were mitigating and “failed to consider several aggravating factors.”

“It is apparent that Mr. Al Aazawi does not fully appreciate the harm he caused or the problem with his attitude toward Ms. Madhi,” he wrote.

Of the aggravating factors in the case, Wakeling said the sentencing judge ignored:

  • The fact that Zahraa has been deprived of a life with her mother;
  • Ms. Madhi is deprived of a life with her child;
  • Al Aazawi committed a “gross breach of trust” against both parties;
  • Al Aazawi used his daughter’s presence in Iraq to coerce Madhi; and
  • There is no extradition treaty between Canada and Iraq and therefore are no legal means to enforce a parenting order.

“The gravity of Mr. Al Aazawi’s offence and his degree of moral blameworthiness are more substantial than the sentencing judge appreciated,” Wakeling said.

“While there may be abduction cases that are more egregious than this one, not many circumstances are worse than the ongoing and life-altering situation Mr. Al Aazawi imposed upon Zahraa and her mother.”

Undated photo of Ali Al Aazawi, the man found guilty of abduction after failing to return his daughter Zahraa to her mother in Canada following a trip abroad in 2018. (file)

Wakeling also dismissed an appeal from Al Aazawi’s counsel, who said the sentencing judge “double counted” the aggravating factors of the offence and the sentence was “too severe.”

He said Al Aazawi’s assertions that his crime was “less serious” and he is “less culpable” are both “inconsistent with the evidence.”

“The gravity of Mr. Al Aazawi’s offence and his degree of moral blameworthiness do not justify a reduced sentence,” Wakeling wrote.

Balfour Der, Al Aazawi’s lawyer, had no further comment on the case.

Zahraa, now 15, has not returned to Canada.

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