The abduction of two Winnipeg children — believed to be taken by their own mother — comes on the heels of a nasty, prolonged family court battle that hinted things were only going to get worse.
Court documents reviewed by the Free Press Wednesday paint a troubling picture of how Montana Giesbrecht, 11, and Joshua Giesbrecht, 9, were caught in the middle of an ugly dispute between their parents, who married in 2005.
This include Child and Family Service involvement, allegations of sexual assault that were found to be false, violent threats and psychological abuse.
Queen’s Bench Justice Cathy Everett awarded full custody of the children to their father, lawyer Jacob Giesbrecht, on April 8 after a four-week trial. Sandra Giesbrecht was only allowed to have supervised visitation once per week after the judge found her to be an emotionally unstable manipulator. She was also ordered to pay monthly child support.
"Since the separation, the mother’s behaviour has been disturbing. She continues to show an unwillingness to parent the children in a healthy manner. She continues her attempts to prevent their parental bond with their father," Everett wrote. "Immeasurable harm has been caused to these children over the past 21/2 years by the mother’s toxic conduct. She has attempted to destroy the parental bond between the children and their father. To some degree, the extent of which is unknown, she has been successful."
Sandra Giesbrecht is wanted on a Canada-wide arrest warrant. Montana and Josh were last seen getting into a white four-door car in the Crestview area Monday evening.
As part of the court ruling, the mother was also banned from having any unauthorized contact with her children or her estranged husband.
"This dynamic places the court in an almost impossible situation. The children are attached to their mother and need a relationship with her, but she shows no motivation to change," said Everett.
CFS seized the children in January because of concerns they were being "emotionally and psychologically abused" by their mother. There had been two previous criminal complaints in 2014 and 2015 made against the father for alleged sexual abuse of his daughter. A lengthy investigation by police and CFS found there to be no merit and deemed they were the mother’s attempts to manipulate custody.
This has led to an ongoing police investigation of the mother for possible public mischief charges. As well, police uncovered disturbing text messages the woman sent to her friend, which were presented in court at the recent custody battle.
"They confirmed she was having the father followed and that she wanted to kill him if the court gave him more time with the children. In the text messages she also mused about disappearing with the children," said Everett.
When asked about those texts during her trial in April, the mother simply said, "I can neither confirm nor deny that I sent them."
The children were recently found to each have "secret" phones their mother had given them to communicate. The mother was also found in contempt of court for hiring the person to follow her estranged spouse around, apparently in an attempt to dig up dirt on him.
As well, Everett said two unidentified women in a rental vehicle were seen in April taking pictures of the children’s school and all the entrances. An adult woman was also caught by staff in the school that month, speaking briefly with the children. She refused to identify herself before fleeing.
Everett ordered Sandra Giesbrecht to pay a $5,000 fine for the contempt charge and gave her a 45-day suspended sentence.
"The mother shows no contrition and no inclination to change her contemptuous behaviour. At trial her, conduct continued to border on contemptuous. This conduct included yelling at the father’s counsel, refusing to answer questions and inappropriate commentary directed at the court following rulings on objections," Everett wrote.
The mother has also lashed out at her estranged husband by recently sending a "highly personal and vicious" email to the man’s co-workers.
"Much of the content was not true. It is demonstrative of the unstable behaviour that the mother has exhibited over the past two years," said Everett.
In another incident, the mother threatened to scatter the father’s legal files all over the neighbourhood and then telephone the Law Society unless he gave in to her demands.
"The impact on his career from such an action could have been devastating. This threat is indicative of the mother’s pattern of behaviour that is intended to destroy the father when she does not get what she wants."
Everett said the mother’s actions are beginning to rub off on her children, noting two experts who spent time with them for the purpose of court-ordered reports presented major concerns about their well-being.
"Her influence on the children is destructive and is manifesting itself in the behaviour of the children," said Everett. "Both experts expressed concern about the mother’s refusal to allow the children to have a healthy relationship with their father."
The mother also filed assault charges against the father in 2013 for an alleged incident in a Sobey’s parking lot. They were later dropped by the Crown, found to have no merit.
The court battle clearly took a major toll on all parties. The father estimated his legal costs to be more than $70,000. The mother, who owns a real estate licence but hasn’t been working since her unlicensed daycare was shut down by the province last year, recently declared bankruptcy.
And it all could have been avoided. Jacob Giesbrecht made a settlement offer in 2014 that would have given his estranged wife much more access than she ultimately was granted by the courts. She refused, and the fight was on.
The mother recently filed documents indicating she planned to appeal Everett’s custody decision, but no date for a hearing had been set.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 7:05 PM CDT: Adds photo