First Posted: 12/10/11 04:15 AM ET Updated: 12/12/11 04:01 PM ET
Abducted Children , Stephen Watkins , Stephen Watkins Abuduction , Abducted Kids Poland , Canada Abducted Kids , Child Abduction , Cp , Ontario Abducted Kids , Ontario Abduction Poland , Canada News
TORONTO - Stephen Watkins just wants to bring his two sons home.
The Ontario man spent more than two years searching for his missing children and is now caught in the crosshairs of an international custody battle mired in legal technicalities.
While he finally knows where his sons are, he has no idea when, or even if, he'll be allowed to bring them back to Canada.
Still, he hopes his struggle to be reunited with his boys will safeguard other parents from having to deal with a similar situation.
"Two little kids have gone through hell and back," an emotional Watkins told The Canadian Press. "We have to make sure abductions don't happen."
His two boys � Alexander, 10, and Christopher, 7 � vanished in March 2009. Police allege they were abducted by their non-custodial mother, Edyta Watkins, and taken to Europe.
Stephen Watkins contends his ex-wife was suffering from post-partum depression and became abusive toward him six months after giving birth to their first child. After a court battle, a judge granted him custody of the children with his ex-wife having access to the boys on weekends.
Then, one Monday morning, his sons' school called to say the boys hadn't shown up for class.
A Canada-wide arrest warrant for abduction was issued for their mother, and her name appeared on the RCMP's most wanted list. York Regional Police allege the mother and children drove into the U.S. and then flew to Germany.
After that, the trail went cold.
There was a hunch the children might be in their mother's native Poland, but their exact whereabouts were unknown.
A frantic Watkins spent nearly two and a half years hunting for any clues which might lead him to his sons. He appealed to authorities and politicians for support and launched an extensive social media campaign aimed at engaging the public in his search.
At the end of this summer, a glimmer of hope finally emerged.
Polish officials contacted Canadian authorities with details about a woman in Warsaw with two sons they suspected were listed as missing children.
After much legal wrangling and support from officials at Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Watkins travelled to Poland in late November as his custody battle went before a Polish court.
More importantly, the 40-year-old got to see his children a few days ago for the first time since they disappeared, thanks to a court-issued access order. But the short encounter was bittersweet.
"My sons are completely brainwashed," said Watkins. "When I see my kids, they don't call me daddy, they call me by my first name."
Poland doesn't have an extradition treaty with Canada. But it is party to the Hague Convention, which is meant to expedite the process of returning abducted children.
Watkins' hopes of being reunited with his sons now hang on the international agreement.
A Polish judge will rule on Dec. 15 whether it would be detrimental for the children to return to Canada if they're found to have integrated fully into Polish society.
Watkins noted that school officials have said his sons still speak more English than Polish and that he has secured the support of Canadian agencies which would help his sons re-settle into their home in Newmarket, Ont.
He said Poland has recognized Canadian court orders which show that he has sole custody of the children and has acknowledged that international law has been broken. But with his lawyer filing more evidence on Monday and a ruling expected just days later, he feels the court is not allowing itself enough time to come to a fair decision.
"I just feel like I'm set up to lose," he said.
If the judge doesn't order his sons to return to Canada, Watkins plans to appeal.
But if the ruling is issued in Watkins' favour, he worries his sons might disappear again, given that they are currently in the custody of their mother.
"I don't seem to be getting fair treatment one way or the other."
Watkins � who has spent some $20,000 on legal fees and translation services in just the last two weeks � is now hoping the Canadian politicians he's contacted will help push Polish authorities to ensure the Hague Convention is properly applied to his case.
But above all, he just wants to be with his kids.
"We're not here to disrespect countries," he said. "All I want is to go home with my sons."
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