Toronto family reunited after children held in Zimbabwe
With tears in her eyes, a Toronto mother spent time Monday morning thanking those who helped reunite her with her two children, who had allegedly been abducted by family members in Zimbabwe.
“Thank you very much for everything, you made it possible for me to be with my children for Christmas,” said a visibly emotional Beatra Muzabazi as she held her two young children by her side at police headquarters.
The situation arose on Sept. 1, when Ms. Muzabazi called 22 Division with concerns that the children — who had been in Zimbabwe since April to spend the summer with extended family — would not be allowed to return home.
Four-year-old Shane and seven-year-old Renee, both born in Mississauga, had been on this same vacation several times in the past without incident according to Det. Const. Shari Nevills, of 22 Division’s Family Violence Unit. As with the other trips, this was an “agreed” arrangement.
“I don’t think [Ms. Muzabazi] thought for a minute that this would happen,” she said.
The two children were allegedly placed in a Zimbabwean boarding school and denied the ability to return home by their family members. Police say they notified various authorities in an attempt to locate and return the two youngsters to Canada.
Foreign Affairs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Missing Children Services and Interpol were just some of those involved, along with authorities in the southern African nation.
Dealing with a foreign country and having to “abide by their laws and work with their system,” Det. Const. Nevills said there were several moments where she “really didn’t think [the children] were coming home.”
“There were a lot of hiccups along the way,” she said. Despite that, she did make reference to the high level of co-operation with the Zimbabwean government and local authorities.
After four months of that co-operation, she said word came in that the children had been dropped off at the Canadian Embassy in Harare on Dec. 11, by the same family members who at first refused to let them leave. Once that happened, 22 Division Superintendent Jim Ramer said the mother was quickly on a plane to Zimbabwe — a flight he said was funded by the division’s Community Police Liaison Committee.
Zimbabwean police required that she be present to regain custody of her children.
The three finally returned home together this past Thursday – nearly eight months after they left.
So why the change of heart from the family?
Det. Const. Nevills said the Ministry of Justice in Zimbabwe had a lot to do with it, calling them “instrumental” in helping to “notify the family that they were now breaking Zimbabwean court orders.”
There is an investigation into possible criminal charges, Det. Const. Nevills said, noting this is not something police will “just close the book” on.
As they held their mother’s hand and walked up to the podium, the two children seemed oblivious to the scene around them – something Det. Const. Nevills said most likely worked in their favour throughout the entire ordeal.
While Renee may have understood what was happening better than her younger brother, they were both still in an unfamiliar country with a different language and culture, Det. Const. Nevills pointed out.
“So I think any one of us could put ourselves in that position and realize how terrifying it would be for anybody in that situation.”
Before stepping away from the podium, Ms. Muzabazi — who is divorced and has sole custody of the children — held out special praise for Det. Const. Nevills.
“I would like to thank Shari for everything. For all the calls I was making to her in the middle of the night, when I didn’t know what to do,” she said as she broke down crying.