Saanich child found safe, mother arrested in alleged parental abduction

Tasha Brown expects to soon be reunited with her daughter, more than three years after the child was taken out of the country by Brown’s former partner, in violation of a court order.

Kaydance, now four, was found Monday by police on Jersey, a small island in the English Channel.

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She was with Brown’s former partner, Lauren Etchells, Etchells’ parents and Etchells’ three-year-old son.

The group was landing on the island in an inflatable 13-foot dinghy when spotted.

Brown has not seen Kaydance since May 7, 2016, the day before Etchells boarded a flight from Vancouver to England with the child, new partner Marco van der Merwe and their newborn son, leading to an extensive investigation by Saanich police. Brown, meanwhile, did her own search through social media.

Etchells and her parents, Brian and Angela, were arrested by Jersey police. The two children have temporarily been placed in foster care.

“I am extremely grateful to learn that [Kaydance] is in good health and good care,” Brown said in a statement. “I am celebrating today. Kaydance is alive and we know where she is!

“But I can’t celebrate 100 per cent yet. Not until Kaydance is back in Canada.”

Brown said she was spending Thursday with her lawyer “and the various other agencies involved in bringing Kaydance home safely.”

Brown thanked lawyer Elisabeth Strain and the Saanich Police Department “for their devotion to this case,” as well as Global Affairs Canada and authorities in Victoria and London, England.

“Today would not be happening without these special people.”

Brown said she is also grateful to friends and family “who kept me going during the lowest of lows.” “I guess a person can survive on hope,” she said. “Thank you all for this reminder.”

Brown and Etchells were married in August 2012, and Etchells gave birth to Kaydance in September 2014 through a sperm donor. The couple separated in July 2015 and Etchells was given full custody of the child, but Brown was fighting for equal custody rights.

By leaving the country with Kaydance, Etchells violated a court order aimed at protecting the rights of both mothers, Saanich police said.

Etchells travelled often during her time abroad, leaving a trail that went from Canada to England, France, the Netherlands, the Middle East and possibly Spain and Portugal.

After breaking up with van der Merwe, she continued to travel around Europe with the children using United Kingdom passports.

Her constant travelling drew the notice of Interpol, which flagged her as a wanted person — a move that ultimately led to her capture.

Saanich police were contacted Monday by the RCMP Liaison Office in London and told the group was found after Jersey police were alerted to a suspicious boat.

When they questioned the group, Jersey police were told they had been on holiday in France and were dropping by the island for a visit, but the tale unravelled because no one had passports with them.

When they learned the identity of the dinghy’s occupants, Jersey police surmised the group’s motive was to get to England via Jersey so as to avoid showing passports.

Jersey police said in a statement that a 33-year-old woman had pleaded guilty to child neglect and immigration offences, and that a man and woman, both 67, had pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting as well as immigration offences.

Etchells is still in custody because of a provisional arrest warrant for extradition to Canada, where she faces a charge of abduction by a parent, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and two counts of disobeying a court order.

In a 2016 letter to the Times Colonist, Etchells said she would not turn herself in because the feared for Kaydance’s safety. She denied kidnapping the child, citing the fact that she had full custody of Kaydance.

She said Brown is not legally a parent to Kaydance. Brown’s name was taken off the birth certificate when the two were planning a move to Qatar, where same-sex marriage is illegal.

Etchells said that she feared if she returned to Canada, her children would be placed in foster care. “I am a good mother who has done nothing but love and care for her children and it would not be in either of my children’s best interests for me to be separated from them,” she wrote.

Saanich police Sgt. Julie Fast said officers are relieved to see the case near a resolution.

“It’s an excellent update, it’s an excellent story right now,” she said.

“We’re incredibly happy with where we are right now, but there’s just so much more work yet to do.”

That’s because it could be a complex process to get Kaydance back to Canada, Fast said. “A lot of it is certainly out of our area of authority and expertise.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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