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U.S. custody battle comes to a head in Estevan

A pair of Florida children will soon be reunited with their mother after they were found in Estevan last week.

A pair of Florida children will soon be reunited with their mother after they were found in Estevan last week.

The children, who are aged nine and 12, were apprehended by the Estevan Police Service after officers were alerted to a custody dispute involving the children's mother and grandparents last Wednesday.

EPS Chief Del Block said the department received a report from the RCMP's International Border Enforcement Team informing them that a vehicle with Florida licence plates, which had been seen in the Energy City over the past few days, was connected to the investigation of two missing children from the Sunshine State.

"The information at the time was that it appeared to be family related, it wasn't a stranger abduction or anything like that," Block said during an interview with The Mercury Monday. "We contacted the sheriff's office in Panama City, Florida and found out that as of May 20, the court had awarded the natural mother custody of the two children.

"It is my understanding these children had been with the grandparents somewhere in the neighbourhood of five years or so and that (the mother) had been involved with the law and had been in and out of custody. (The grandparents) were raising the children and then she went to court and got custody."

Block said according to information they received, when the grandparents entered into Canada they were still considered the legal guardians of the two children and presented documentation at the border backing their claim. However, when the kids were not returned to their mother on May 20, she went to police in Panama City touching off the investigation that ultimately came to a head in Estevan.

"We had seen the vehicle parked in the Wal-Mart parking lot but there was no reason (for the EPS) to be involved in anything until we got the report that they were now flagged," said Block. "Once we had that information, we went over and talked to the people and the two children were apprehended against (the grandparents) wishes. The children were then turned over to Social Services and arrangements were made to get them back to the United States."

The already strange story took another twist Thursday when the grandparents created a scene at a pair of locations in Estevan and allegedly made death threats to government employees, prompting the EPS to arrest them for uttering threats.

"(As of Wednesday) there was no grounds to hold them or arrest them so they were released. Then, through their persistence and in going to various locations here in town, they made a death threat if the children weren't turned back to them."

Block said right around the same time the arrests were made Friday, police in Florida issued a warrant for the grandparents, who are both in their 60s, on charges of concealing a minor contrary to a court order.

Shortly after taking the grandparents into custody the EPS turned them over to the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency for further action. They were expected to face a deportation hearing Monday in Regina and will likely be returned to the United States in the near future.
Block said the incident was a somewhat unique one for the EPS given its international nature but as is always the case when children are involved the primary focus is their safety and well-being.

"We can't get into where they are better off. The court has ruled that they are to be with the mother, so we had to facilitate whatever we had to do to get them back there. It's just an unfortunate family situation and we can't take sides in those."

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