By David Murray
Great Falls Tribune staff writer
The Fernie man accused of abducting his son and fleeing into the U.S. with him is no longer fighting extradition back to Canada.
In a surprise move Tuesday, Robert Barnett, arrested earlier this month for abducting his son Alvin and then crossing into Montana with the child has ended his fight to avoid extradition.
Barnett, who is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, was the subject of a regional manhunt Nov. 15 after disappearing with his 3-year-old son, Alvin, from the hotel where he lived and worked in Fernie. On Nov. 16, Montana authorities issued an Amber Alert for Robert and Alvin Barnett after the two were spotted crossing into the U.S. at the Port of Roosville, north of Eureka, Mont.
He was arrested in Whitefish the next morning. Alvin was found unharmed and has been returned to Canada.
Following his arrest, Barnett initially refused to be voluntarily extradited back to Canada, where he is charged with abduction and theft of more than $5,000. He appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong in Great Falls on Tuesday morning for a hearing originally scheduled to review Barnett’s request for bail. However, midway through that proceeding Barnett’s attorney announced his client had reconsidered his opposition to extradition.
“This is, at its heart, a child custody issue,” federal public defender Hank Branom told Strong prior to Barnett’s decision. “He believes he has a legitimate claim to legal custody of his child, that’s why he brought him here to the United States.”
“It seems to me this is an issue that’s going to have to be resolved in Canada,” Strong replied. “We can’t resolve it here in the U.S.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Whittaker said it would likely take 30 days before an order is issued to return Barnett to Canada.