A Fernie man whose case was set to go to trial Tuesday in Cranbrook Supreme Court has pleaded guilty at the last minute.
Robert Barnett was in Cranbrook Supreme Court on Monday morning, June 17, to tell Justice Joel Groves that he had fired his lawyer one day before the trial was set to begin.
Barnett pleaded guilty on Monday afternoon to abduction by a parent or guardian and was sentenced to time served plus one day.
He was charged in connection with the November 2012 abduction of his three-year-old son from Fernie.
The incident last November sparked an amber alert, and the boy was found safe the next day sleeping in a car with his father in Whitefish, Montana.
Initially representing himself, Barnett hired a defence lawyer to represent him during his bail hearing in April and the upcoming trial. However, on Monday, June 17, his defence counsel told the Supreme Court justice that Barnett has terminated her services.
After Justice Groves gave Barnett time to speak to prosecutor Lynall Doerksen, Barnett returned to the court room and said he intends to plead guilty in the case.
Later on Monday, Barnett pleaded guilty to the abduction, telling Justice Groves that it was a mistake.
Doerksen told the court that Barnett had been granted sole custody of his son Alvin last fall because his wife, Alvin’s mother, was dealing with addiction issues.
However, in October, the Ministry of Children and Families removed Alvin from his father’s care after receiving reports that he was not adequately providing care for the boy. There was never any allegation of abuse.
On November 15, Robert Barnett was having a supervised visit with his son at his place of work, a motel in Fernie, when the father and son left the room, telling the supervisor they were going to get a game. They never returned and an amber alert was issued.
Doerksen said Barnett appeared to have made the decision hastily out of frustration with custody proceedings in court.
The father and son crossed the border at the Roosville crossing. The vehicle they were in was found early the next morning with Robert and Alvin Barnett sleeping inside in Whitefish, Montana.
Alvin was returned unharmed to the custody of the Ministry of Children and Families.
Robert Barnett was extradited to Canada later that month.
He was in custody until April 8 when he was released on bail, a total of 144 days.
Barnett now has work and is working to have custody of his young son returned to him.
Crown counsel told Justice Groves that the time Barnett had already served was an adequate sentence.
The judge said he was satisfied with that sentence, and placed Barnett on one year’s probation.
A charge of theft against Barnett was dropped by Crown counsel.