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September 4, 2010 permalink
Father Richard Armstrong has been sentenced to jail for taking his own children from Frontenac children's aid. Five months earlier, a court had ordered them returned to their home province of Saskatchewan, but CAS had failed to comply. A March article showed names and pictures of the family.
In a healthy society, the state respects the bond between parent and child. But the very existence of involuntary child protection requires Canada to jail parents who try to exercise their responsibilities. A few, such as Mr Armstrong, are jailed, and all are restrained by the threat of jail. The policy of parental jailing, intrinsic to child protection, is an assault on the normal course of human life, an assault that small reforms cannot repair. Only complete elimination of forced child protection can restore normal relations between parent and child.
Man gets jail time for abducting sons
A Saskatchewan man who snatched his children from the Frontenac Children's Aid Society in March, setting off the first Amber Alert ever requested by Kingston Police, is going to jail for eight months.
At his sentencing hearing Thursday, the man's lawyer, Mike Woogh, said his client, Richard Armstrong, was acting out of frustration.
Armstrong, 46, pleaded guilty in May to abducting his young sons in order to deprive the Frontenac Children's Aid of custody, in contravention of a court order, and to having unauthorized possession of bear spray.
Woogh told Justice Rommel Masse that a Family Court judge here had ordered in November 2009 that the boys be returned to Saskatchewan where they'd be closer to their half-siblings.
Five months later, he said, Armstrong was still waiting to see any action on that order.
Assistant Crown attorney Priscilla Christie told the judge that the local Children's Aid Society was granted care of Armstrong's sons in March 2009.
Since then, she said, he's made threats against the workers handling his case and on more than one occasion expressed his intention to get the boys back.
Christie told the judge the Children's Aid Society received information late in 2009 that Armstrong intended to kidnap the children. Yet, in spite of his history and threats, she told the judge arrangements were made for a supervised visit between father and sons on March 22 at the agency's Montreal Street offices.
Masse was told that Armstrong flew to Toronto from Saskatchewan and arrived at the CAS offices here before 9:30 a.m. Shortly after the boys were brought to him, Christie told the judge, Armstrong bent down and hugged them, "whispered something to them" and announced he was taking them to the bathroom.
He was followed by one of the child protection workers, according to the prosecutor, and he was observed passing right by the washroom, heading for a rear exit.
She told the judge the worker cried out "no" as Armstrong approached the door and moved to prevent him leaving, but he produced a can of bear (pepper) spray and held it in front of her face, intimidating her into backing off.
Christie said he then loaded his sons into a silver Dodge car he'd rented at the airport and drove away.
Roughly 3 1/2 hours later, having tracked down a description of the rental car and its plate numbers, Kingston Police got the Provincial Police to issue an Amber Alert, notifying the general public through the media to watch for the car, Armstrong and the children.
At about 3 p.m., two hours after those descriptions were broadcast, a man driving just east of Toronto noticed the silver Dodge and thought its driver and two child passengers matched the alert. The rear licence plate number wasn't the same one he'd heard on the radio, but he drove past the car and, observing that the front and rear licence numbers didn't match, called 911.
Armstrong told Masse that he'd heard the Amber Alert as well and had pulled over and swapped licence plates to throw off the search.
Minutes after the 911 call was made, however, York Regional Police converged on Armstrong's rental car near Markham Road and Hwy. 7 and he immediately surrendered. Christie said he asked the officers to not return his children to the CAS. The boys were unharmed, she told the judge, and Armstrong had food for them in the car.
However, he was also found to have an air horn in the car and a supply of marbles, which Christie said he'd planned to scatter on the floor of the CAS offices to impede pursuit if he'd met with more resistance taking the children.
She argued for a jail sentence of between 18 and 24 months.
Woogh, who urged the judge to sentence his client to time served, noted that much of the case law dealing with similar crimes involves parents depriving each other of custody for revenge or being indifferent to the needs of their children. That wasn't the case here, he said.
He argued that the crime doesn't become more serious when it's a state agency being deprived of custody.
"No question there was a court order and by taking them he was violating that court order," Woogh admitted, but what his client did, he suggested, was less aggravating than if he'd been taking the boys away from another parent.
Woogh also observed that Armstrong wasn't taking the boys to Switzerland. He just wanted to get them back to Saskatchewan, under the supervision of the Children's Aid Society in his home province -- as two Ontario courts had already ordered.
"He loves his children," the defence lawyer told Masse, and "he never could understand why they weren't coming back."
Woogh admitted his client "didn't really have a good plan for going back to Saskatchewan." He disclosed that Armstrong hadn't even bought airline tickets for his sons, "but there was never any doubt they were going back to Saskatchewan."
In sentencing Armstrong, Masse agreed with the Crown that the key sentencing principles he needed to address were denunciation and deterrence.
He told Armstrong he believed that he loves his children but his actions haven't always demonstrated wise choices and "your criminal record indicates you don't care a great deal for court orders."
Armstrong's record consists of four breaches of court orders from Saskatoon, one count of mischief and a threat, all committed between 2006 and 2008.
His defence lawyer also disclosed that he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder in 2004, though Woogh said there was no evidence his illness played any role in his decision to abduct his sons.
"I've got to convince you and I've got to convince others not to defy court orders," Masse told Armstrong, "and not to take children, not to abduct children and not to use weapons."
Armstrong was credited with 164 days of pretrial custody when he was sentenced to a further eight months in jail. That will be followed by two years of probation.
Masse acceded to a defence request, though, agreeing to recommend that Armstrong be allowed to serve his sentence at the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville.
Source: Kingston Whig Standard
Addendum: A year later the family is partially restored.
Richard Alan Armstrong I have good news, after 3 years of CAS I now have visitations 3 times a week, only asked for one, the Judge was disturbed by CAS's case, he asked the CAS lawyer what they were trying to cover up. A great big mess is what. My brother, mother and sister were slowly coerced into siding with CAS by CAS with the promise that they would allow my brother to adopt my children and i would be blocked from seeing them. My mother gave CAS all in the information she could about me, behind my back, see she knew that if I got them back myself I would take the boys back to Saskatchewan and she wouldnt have the same ease of seeing them as she would if my brother got them.
This has been a hideous battle, it has left me broke, jobless, in debt but strong in resolute. Once the final trial is over in January, which now seems winnable I will seek a good lawyer to get my boys financial compensation. Two weeks ago I went down to TO to see More Power than God, it was a Pilgrimage and it gave me the strength to make it through this last court hearing. I also thank my 9 year old daughter who was the only one that did not sway in her support and desire to have her brothers returned. I promised her that I would fight as hard as I could for their return and she stood by me and gave me strength.