Supporters hold rally at first court appearance for Saskatoon mother accused of faking death, abducting child

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Supporters gather in front of the Saskatoon provincial courthouse before the first Canadian court appearance of a Saskatoon woman accused of abducting her child. (Kendall Latimer/CBC - image credit)
Supporters gather in front of the Saskatoon provincial courthouse before the first Canadian court appearance of a Saskatoon woman accused of abducting her child. (Kendall Latimer/CBC - image credit)

A Saskatoon woman facing parental abduction and public mischief charges after allegedly crossing into the United States illegally made her first Canadian court appearance Monday morning.

The woman disappeared in late July along with her seven-year-old child. CBC News is not naming her due to a publication ban on information that could identify her child.

Her truck and other personal belongings were found at Chief Whitecap Park, near the South Saskatchewan River near Saskatoon, on July 25. Police and community members searched extensively for the mother and son.

But the woman and her child were found safe in Oregon City, Ore., on Aug. 5 and she was arrested. The child was brought back to Saskatoon by a legal guardian shortly afterward.

Before her first court appearance on Monday, supporters held a rally in front of court. They held signs of support and shared songs. They also restated their beliefs that the woman should be released on bail.

Crown prosecutor Tyla Olenchuk said Monday that the Crown opposes the woman's release. She said she will explain why at a bail hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon. The hearing is expected to last hours.

The woman's family and friends were not happy that the Crown is opposed to her release.

"We're really disappointed and upset and angry at the way that the Crown prosecutor is treating our sister," said the accused's sister after the court appearance. "She's not a danger to society, she's an Indigenous woman. She's a mother that wants to be with her son."

The Canadian Press/Liam Richards
The Canadian Press/Liam Richards

The woman has previously made domestic violence allegations against the boy's father. Police have said the allegations were investigated and no evidence was found to support them.Olenchuk is also seeking a no-contact order from the court to prevent the woman from communicating with her child or her ex, the boy's father.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), a group representing First Nations in Saskatchewan, has called for the woman's release and an investigation into the police's handling of her domestic violence allegations.

The woman has previously said she was left with "no choice" but to flee the city with her son.

She will be represented by one of Canada's best-known defence lawyers, Marie Henein. Henein is known for several high-profile cases, defending people like Michael Bryant, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and Jian Ghomeshi.

Henein was not in Saskatoon on Monday, but local Chris Murphy acted as an agent for her. He told the court they were not pleased with how the woman was treated while in Saskatoon police custody.

At about 4 p.m. CST Friday, the woman was transferred into Saskatoon police custody after spending roughly weeks in U.S. federal custody and then briefly in RCMP custody in B.C.

Murphy said the woman spent three nights in a small holding cell, sleeping on a concrete slab without a mattress, pillow or blanket. He said she was not given toothpaste or a toothbrush.

Henein released a statement on the case Monday afternoon.

"The system failed [the accused], like it has so many others," the statement said.

"[Her] voice will not be silenced. While it is trite for defence counsel to say that the case will be vigorously defended, in [her] case truer words could not be uttered."

Prosecutor Olenchuk said the woman would be sent to Pine Grove correctional facility in Prince Albert, Sask., to await her bail hearing.

She is also facing charges in the U.S. related to allegedly using false documents to cross the border. U.S. prosecutors previously said in a request to detain her while waiting for a trial that the woman had been planning to fake her own death well in advance of her disappearance.

Additional charges could be tacked onto her case as the investigation into the events surrounding her disappearance progress, Saskatoon police say.

The accused is an acclaimed author and was also the executive operating officer of the FSIN.

When asked if the FSIN would be paying for the woman's legal fees, vice-chief Heather Bear said it would if it had the money, but referenced a GoFundMe campaign set up to aid with legal fees.

That GoFundMe had raised more than $30,000 in donations as of Monday afternoon.