Following her toddler’s weekly overnight visit with his father, Tammy Chan was scheduled to pick him up after she finished work. Instead, she got a te
Following her toddler’s weekly overnight visit with his father, Tammy Chan was scheduled to pick him up after she finished work. Instead, she got a text message from her ex.
He had taken three-year-old Alex to Armenia.
“I was in shock, I just broke down,” recalls Chan, 33. “I just started crying uncontrollably.”
She’s barely stopped since then.
That was April 18. Despite an Ontario court order that gives her custody, her ex-husband, Armen Avansi, 35, refuses to return their son to Canada. And because Armenia is not a signatory to the Hague Convention — an international treaty for the return of unlawfully removed children — the country will not interfere.
“It’s a nightmare,” says her lawyer Michael Stangarone. “If you lose a child to one of these countries (that isn’t a signatory), it’s hard to have them returned. Tammy is stuck in a quagmire in a foreign land trying to bring her child home.”
Now she’s turning to Justin Trudeau, who is in Armenia this week for la Francophonie summit.
“I’m pleading with him to help me return my son to his rightful home in Canada,” she says. “I need Canada to step in and get Alex and me back home.”
Her ex-husband was born in Iran but is of Armenian heritage. After meeting at University of Toronto, they married in June 2012. They separated shortly after Alex’s birth in 2015 and have fought over access ever since.
Alex was taken a few weeks before they were scheduled to be back in Oshawa family court to determine custody.
“First he said he was just going for a week vacation,” Chan recalls. “Then it turned into two weeks and then four weeks until I realized he had no intention of coming back.”
Avansi didn’t reply to an e-mail seeking comment.
Chan ached for her little boy. “I had no idea where my son was for weeks. I couldn’t see him for months.”
She missed Alex’s third birthday. Six days later, she was awarded sole custody — but she was thousands of kilometres away from her child.
“The respondent ( father) abducted the parties’ child, Alexander Armen Avansi, born May 1, 2015, on or about April 18, 2018. He took the child to Armenia purportedly on a vacation as ‘he needed a break from things,’” Ontario Superior Court Justice Laura Fryer wrote in her decision.
“His text messages are deliberately evasive,” added the Oshawa judge. “In these text messages, the respondent (father) warns the applicant (mother) ‘not to contact anybody as it might make it dangerous.’”
Fryer said Chan will have permanent sole custody to “ensure and facilitate the immediate return of the child.”
Yet Alex remains in Armenia.
Chan flew there at the end of May. Avansi agreed to meet her in a public square and for two glorious hours, she was reunited with Alex. Then his father abruptly ended the visit.
“Alex became very sad and started to cry out for mommy. Armen quickly hailed a cab, jumped in and took off with Alex crying for me,” she recalls. “I begged Armen every day to see Alex, but he would not allow me to see him.”
After eight days, Chan returned home without her boy. She quickly realized she couldn’t fight from afar.
She’s taken leave from her job as a radiation therapist in Durham and since June 20, Chan has been in Armenia battling to have their courts recognize her Ontario custody orders. “It’s very scary. I don’t know the language, which has been a huge, huge problem.”
It took five weeks before she was finally able to see her son again — but only for a few hours. Her Armenian lawyer eventually won court-ordered visitation, but no one will enforce it. Often she arrives at Avansi’s apartment but no one answers.
When she is allowed in, she must play with Alex under the hostile eyes of her ex-husband and his parents. “It’s really awful,” Chan sighs.
So she’s begging the prime minister to plead her case with the Armenian government this week.
“It’s been six months now and I’ve been fighting every day. It’s just been emotionally draining and exhausting. The only thing that has kept me going is hope, hope that I will get him back and return to Canada.”
Back home where both belong — and Trudeau needs to make that happen.