TORONTO – A woman who refused to bring her daughter back to Canada from China despite repeated court orders to do so lost her bid on Monday to overturn her conviction and seven-year prison sentence for child abduction.
In rejecting the challenge, Ontario’s top court ruled that Chun Mei Li was properly convicted and sentenced after a jury trial last year.
“The trial judge found that the harm caused by Ms. Li’s actions, when combined with her very high degree of moral blameworthiness, warranted a sentence that was more severe than in comparable cases,” the Appeal Court said. “This was not an error.”
The girl, identified only as M., was the daughter of Li and her common-law spouse Seyed Rezadoust. In December of 2010, when M. was seven years old, Li took her to China without telling the father, the Appeal Court said. She came back without the girl.
When Rezadoust reported the situation to police, Li responded by making several criminal allegations against her ex, resulting in charges against him. She also refused court orders to bring the child back to Canada.
When Rezadoust applied to have her found in contempt, she made further criminal allegations, leading to yet more charges against him — all of which would eventually be stayed. Li was found in contempt and jailed, while custody of M. was awarded to the father.
In December 2013, she agreed to bring M. back to Toronto but did not do so. She also lied about who was looking after the girl. She was jailed again for contempt, and charged with child abduction.
At her arraignment in 2015, she refused to answer questions, branded the proceedings as illegal, and accused Rezadoust of being a terrorist. The trial on the abduction charge began in January last year.
“The trial proved to be very challenging,” the Appeal Court said. “Of importance, Ms. Li initially refused to participate. She then became very disruptive.”
Among other things, she insulted the prosecutor and her court-ordered lawyer, was loud and abusive, and, was eventually tossed from the courtroom and forced to watch proceedings via video, the Appeal Court said. She called no defence witnesses. The jury convicted her.
Despite recognizing that Li was mentally unwell, Superior Court Justice Anne Malloy concluded Li had been fit to stand trial and that her behaviour was “intentional and likely tactical.”
In her appeal, Li railed at the legality of the proceedings, repeated accusations that her ex was a terrorist, and made assorted claims of perjury, judicial misconduct and obstruction of justice.
“There is no merit in any of Ms. Li’s claims that the proceedings, either in the family court or before the trial judge, were tainted with illegality,” the Appeal Court said. “There is no foundation for the allegation of perjury. There is no substance to any of the allegations of impropriety or misconduct on the part of any of the judges or lawyers involved in this case.”
In sentencing her to seven years, Malloy cited as a “significant aggravating” factor the fact that Li had refused to retrieve her daughter or tell anyone here where she was or whether she was safe. The Appeal Court found the punishment reasonable.
However, the higher court did make one adjustment to the sentence, saying Malloy was wrong to count Li’s pre-sentence custody on a one-for-one basis instead of on a time-and-a-half credit.
Malloy had blamed her decision on Li’s “stubborn refusal” to say where the child was, but the Appeal Court said that behaviour was already reflected in the seven-year sentence and so amounted to double-counting of an aggravating factor.
The Appeal Court said M.’s whereabouts remain unknown.