Transcript – Episode 20: Chat with Giuseppe Basile

David Morrison: Giuseppe Basile works in Global Affairs Canada’s consular branch where he specializes in cases involving children. Some of these children have been illegally abducted by one of their parents and taken abroad, leaving the other parent here in Canada wondering how to get the children back or how even to get a chance to speak to them on the telephone. Giuseppe works to resolve such cases but also tries to help the left behind parent cope. His work is demanding and often heart-wrenching. Giuseppe recently came by my office to talk about it. So Giuseppe thanks for coming by. We have only just met, which makes you different from many of the people we’ve had here on the GAC Files so far. But you were suggested by a number of listeners because you have a fascinating job. You work in consular affairs, which is different from most of the service lines or most of the things that the department does as it involves services directly to Canadians from all walks of life. But within consular you work in the family unit on the Middle East desk, which means you are involved in some of the trickiest consular—or most complicated—cases that we have. I was just sharing with you that I ran into Omar Al-Ghabra last night, who, as many would know, was until very recently the parliamentary secretary for Consular Affairs. Omar called you one of the unsung heroes of the department for your work helping families in very challenging circumstances. So we want to hear all about that. But as always, let’s start at the beginning. I’m going to guess that Giuseppe Basile is Swedish. So tell me about, you know, your family. I know you’re from slightly west of the Pearson building, but you can you can fill us in. Over to you.

Giuseppe Basile: Before I do, that’s very nice to hear what Mr. Al-Ghabra had to say, but I’d like to think that all my colleagues, we all have a certain case that is a little complicated and difficult to manage. But from where I’m from, so, not too far from Sweden: a little further south, my family comes from the southern part of Italy.

David Morrison: Right. Where, exactly, do you know?

Giuseppe Basile: So my father is from a town about an hour from Bari, south, in the heel part of Italy.

David Morrison: Right...right.

Giuseppe Basile: My mother is from a region of Calabria. So even further south.

David Morrison: Sure. Calabrese. Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: Calabrese, yeah. So my parents met here, but my father came here on the boat when he was 17 and on my mother’s side.

David Morrison: Here being Canada or Ottawa?

Giuseppe Basile: To Ottawa, actually. He says the boat arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax and then he got on a train for 24 hours and came to Ottawa. And he always tells the stories about, you know, all the Italian immigrants: they all have the same stories about how.

David Morrison: Are they true?

Giuseppe Basile: The sliced bread is like glue and the tomatoes in the stores were not the same and how the olive oil was Portuguese. So they all have these stories, and he talks about how, you know, on the train from Halifax to Ottawa, how it was like a western movie and it was so…there were no towns. The roads were small. There were no people around. It was like, you know, one of these western villages.

David Morrison: He should see the real west.

Giuseppe Basile: And then he thought, ``What am I doing here?” And he, you know, they came here alone with no money, no language and no education. But, yes, so I grew up in the west end, and my father.

David Morrison: Did when he…when he came did he go right to the west end or did he go to Little Italy

Giuseppe Basile: No, to Little Italy, Preston Street, right.

David Morrison: Of course…of course…yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: It’s funny enough that on my mother’s side, my grandparents ran like a…my grandfather worked when my grandmother ran…they had a room and board house. You know, they had a three-storey house on Preston Street. So the immigrants would arrive, you know, she would take in these families and give them a house and somewhere to live while they set up and found their own place and found their own job. But the priest was also very involved, so there was there was a whole community approach to helping people settle in get oriented, because no one spoke the language and no one had any education. No one knew what to do. So it was about setting up shop and getting started.

David Morrison: Did your father become more satisfied with the tomatoes when he got to Little Italy?

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah, eventually he found someone who grew the right tomatoes and had someone who knew where to get the grapes to make the wine.

David Morrison: Right. Right.

Giuseppe Basile: But, yeah, eventually all that happened. My father then started his own construction business and he became successful. He had at one point I think over 300 people working for him. And so it was a local business. It’s a local business and he’s still working today. He’s in his 70s and he refuses to quit. But..

David Morrison: That’s a real immigrant story. So you were…you grew up in the west end.

Giuseppe Basile: Right. We didn’t grow up where all the Italians lived, we grew up further west. So I actually went to school in Barrhaven in the very west end of Ottawa. And I was one of the only kids with a strange name. Everyone else was, you know, Mike or Chris or Laura or Megan or... But so my mother actually told them to just call me Joseph because Giuseppe translates to Joseph. And I remember in Grade 5 the teacher didn’t get the right list and my real name was on the list. She read out my name and everyone looked around.

David Morrison: We don’t have one of those.

Guiseppe Basile: Who’s that? And I raised my hand, and ever since then she says well we’re just going to call you Giuseppe from now on I think. And so I was just too afraid to say no. I just said okay. And that was it.

David Morrison: And that was it.

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: So.

David Morrison: Full conversion.

Giuseppe Basile: That’s our story.

David Morrison: So you went through school in the west end and do you have siblings?

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah: I’m the oldest of four.

David Morrison: Okay. And are others/other of your siblings, or are your siblings public servants or what…? What drew you to a government career?

Giuseppe Basile: No, never actually. So my youngest sister, she’s still in school. My brother is working with my father and one sister is just starting out, so she she’s started in government as well. But what brought me here? It’s funny because you think back about, you know, what attracts you to, you know, the scope of this department, the international-ness of this department, and I can’t help but think back to, you know, my first trip as a kid and going back to Italy to visit family. You think to yourself it’s so…you know, I was fascinated by the fact that people live in other countries and have a different life and speak a different language and eat weird food and drive strange cars, you know, that was always interesting to me. And then as I started going through school, you learn about how Canadians are working abroad and what they’re doing and the different things they’re doing for this country, but not in this country.

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: So that was always interesting. So that’s what attracted me to this place.

David Morrison: And when you…when you pitched up here you…I mean, looking at your CV, you worked at Agriculture for a while, but when you pitched up, here you started in personnel.

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah. So I worked in the corporate side in in HR on teams for recruitment of foreign service officers. So I did that for a little while. I also worked in the assignment section working on the head of mission files, so coordinating the process of Canada’s ambassadors and how they go abroad and setting them up to go, and then I started in consular.

David Morrison: So let’s…I mean it’s…it’s the head-of-mission process is…perhaps should be…maybe a whole podcast on that. We’re at that season right now. But…but let’s fast forward then to your work in consular. Tell us briefly about did you enter a competition or did you get headhunted, or how did you switch from corporate over to consular?

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah it was always interesting to see…you know, you hear about the crises that happen around the world and you see how this department has a role to play and so you know where the list came out with jobs available. And so I applied. I, not thinking, you know, I’ll give it a shot and then I interviewed and…and I was selected. So, you know, there were some positions in case management and one that was interesting to me was always the one with the family unit in working on cases related to children and families and the different things that they go through.

David Morrison: Right. So my understanding is that in the children’s unit you have cases that generally fall into four categories. I have those listed as parental child abduction, forced marriages, child welfare, child abandonment or children that get orphaned abroad. And maybe there’s a couple of more in terms of families that are in dispute, and children and youth arrested abroad but…but tell me, when you start, you just…you deal with what comes in the door or are things subdivided or how do you.

Giuseppe Basile: So in terms of the way we divide our work?

David Morrison: Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah, so within our within consular there’s case management division and within that division there’s a section that deals with, you know, high-profile political cases. Then there is a division that deals with anything related to anything that happens to a Canadian abroad. And there we divided into things that involve children and families.

David Morrison: Okay.

Giuseppe Basile: Or things that don’t. So in order for it to come our way, there has to be something about a child or the welfare…

David Morrison: …the welfare of the child.

Giuseppe Basile: …or the well-being of the family. Yeah. I mean, I know a mother who’s facing domestic abuse and wants to leave with her children. That would come…something like that would come our way.

David Morrison: You told me briefly of the particular challenges of doing this kind of work in contacts. Very different from the Canadian contacts. The issue of dual citizenship is another layer of complexity because many countries don’t recognize dual citizenship, so we have…we, as Canada, believe we have an obligation to intervene and some of the countries don’t agree with that. In your part of the world there are very different legal systems and very different customs and mores. I’m speaking here of the Middle East. Tell us about some of the…without obviously naming names or even revealing which countries…tell us about some of the more complex issues or cases you’ve had to deal with.

Giuseppe Basile: My mind automatically goes to cases involving parental child abduction. So these are cases where, you know, there’s usually a an existing custody dispute or some sort of dispute between mom and dad while in Canada and for one reason or another, I’ll just say the father decides he’s going to take the children and bring them abroad and not come home. Sometimes there is communication between parents between the left-behind parent and the children, but often there’s not. So it’s very much sometimes we see these things in the movies that you know. The kids lose contact with their mother. And I have cases where a mother hasn’t spoken to her children in two years or a father as well hasn’t spoken to his children in two years. There’s a…I can think of a more recent case where a mother just lost her children maybe six months ago, and it was odd because both parents had such a important role in the life of the children here. You know it wasn’t a…it wasn’t a situation where a sole custodian, it was…it was a shared custody situation.

David Morrison: Yeah…yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: And all of a sudden, yeah, they’re gone. So when…when this happens it’s…it’s…it’s a very legal issue and our Canadian courts may rule that they may award custody to the left-behind parent in order that the children come back. But our Canadian court orders don’t really speak…

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: …to foreign courts, particularly those in the Middle East where custody disputes are adjudicated by Sharia law.

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: So our court orders don’t speak to each other. So this is one of the challenges that many left-behind parents face. So they’ll have to go overseas or hire a lawyer to represent them and ask the court for permission to return back to Canada with their kids.

David Morrison: Ask the court in the…in the Middle East, in...

Giuseppe Basile: Their foreign country.

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: And this becomes even more complicated for dual nationals. Like you were saying, you know, often they won’t recognize a Canadian nationality and they won’t even recognize our court orders. So once they’re in, I’ll say Lebanon, because we do have a large volume of cases in Lebanon. There are so many Lebanese Canadians. You know once they go to Lebanon, they’re Lebanese nationals. They’re in their country and so...and that’s how the courts might view it. So it’s a very lengthy process and becomes very complicated.

David Morrison: Legalistically.

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah, and very complicated for these parents who are left behind who don’t have any contact with their kids.

David Morrison: There are a number of prevention regimes or prevention mechanisms. I can think of the stricture that all parents face frankly when they’re travelling alone with their children that they need the permission of the other parent. That is something that is happens I think especially for divorced parents. People carry their court orders with them proving that they have custody and so on. There’s also the Hague Convention that…maybe you can explain exactly how it works, but my understanding is that if a country has signed up to the Hague Convention, they have agreed either to enforce another country’s court order or at least to cooperate in child custody disputes. How does it happen that with these kinds of protections Canadian children end up kind of in—excuse me—in limbo abroad? I mean why, I guess you know when…when I leave try to leave the country with my children, I always get asked do I have permission from the other parent. So do those things break down or how?

Giuseppe Basile: For us in Canada because we have no exit controls. It’s…there’s no formal authority to check that the permission is in place.

David Morrison: It’s…it’s the entrance.

Giuseppe Basile: We only check out upon entrance that’s right.

David Morrison: I see, okay…okay.

Giuseppe Basile: So when you come back to Canada, you’ll face you’ll likely face a lot of questions if you’re travelling with with…with children and without the other parent.

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: But upon exit, you know, it might be a keen check-in agent who might notice something is off that might check it or you know the…the parent that isn’t travelling might have suspicions that something is going on and the police have already been contacted and there might...

David Morrison: Might be a flag.

Giuseppe Basile: …might be a flag at the airport, but there’s no formal list that exists that says, you know, certain children can’t travel because they don’t have the permission from their parents.

David Morrison: Right…right.

Giuseppe Basile: So they get taken overseas and not understanding what’s happening. And usually under false pretenses. You know, it’s “I’m going on vacation with my father” and then they find out that they are all of a sudden registered in a foreign school with foreign children speaking a new language.

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: And, you know, they don’t understand.

David Morrison: Right…right.

Giuseppe Basile: So this is…this is what they face.

David Morrison: And how does the Hague Convention work?

Giuseppe Basile: So the Hague Convention is used to help determine habitual place of residence. So with countries that recognize…we see that they recognize each other. So, for example, Canada recognizes a country like France or say Great Britain under the Hague Convention. So if the children are taken, the left-behind parent files an application here in Canada through a central authority within the province. That application gets sent to the other country. And it says something…says, hey, these children are in Canada. We would like to raise this to your attention and determine place of habitual residence. So it’ll go to court in that country and the judge will determine whether the habitual place of residence is Canada or in the current place.

David Morrison: Right…right.

Giuseppe Basile: So in countries that aren’t Hague signatories, they don’t look…they don’t necessarily always consider habitual place of residence.

David Morrison: I see.

Giuseppe Basile: So that’s where it gets complicated. And in countries of the Middle East, it’s…they don’t look at habitual place of residence necessarily. First, they might look at the laws under Sharia law and the responsibilities and the authorities and the guardianship laws about the parents.

David Morrison: Do you have any experience…so there’s Sharia law? There are different legal systems. There’s also mother or father. Have you run into differences in that regard overseas where one country prioritizes or treats a mother and a father, or mother differently than a father, in a custody case.

Giuseppe Basile: A little bit, yeah. I mean, I managed also cases in Europe. And so, particularly in Eastern Europe, they’ll…it’ll...they defer to the mother; in the Middle East, they defer to the father...

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: …as part of Sharia law. But at some age, the custody changes. They will…as the children get older, they might switch from mother to father, or vice versa. So it depends on the country. But yes, we tend to see that.

David Morrison: Tend to see that. Whereas in places like Canada and the United States, supposedly, it’s completely neutral.

Giuseppe Basile: Supposedly, yeah, it’s supposed to be neutral, and then, you know, I can’t speak for the courts, but they tend to look at the well-being of the child...

David Morrison: Right…right…right.

Giuseppe Basile: …and take these into consideration.

David Morrison: Talk to us a little bit about the more-challenging aspects. You’ve talked about the legal challenges. Talk to us a little bit about the challenges you personally face as you’re having to deal with the families. You know, a mother who has lost contact with her minor children often in…sometimes these are kids that are three, four, five years old.

Giuseppe Basile: It’s tough. I mean you sit at your desk, and you see, and the phone rings. You don’t always know who’s…you never really know who’s on the other side and what they’re going to say. So in cases like you’ve just described, you know, you see these parents that are left behind and…and if they can’t speak to their kids for years, you could feel that it eats at them and you could…you could you really get a sense of that. And your job isn’t necessarily to help—“How do I say this?”—you’re there to offer support where you can, and at my level, I will never feel the same thing that a left-behind parent feels. I never feel that because I can’t go through that experience…and I can’t. The sympathy you can offer is a little awkward. You’ll never know…you’ll never understand it until you’re feeling it, so you’ll see that the one left-behind parent will find another one and, you know…

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: …they’ll…they’ll find comfort in that. But for us, it’s tough, because you know what to say, but you don’t know what to say.

David Morrison: Right…right.

Giuseppe Basile: You know you can only offer…offer so much support and so much comfort, because you’re never going to understand what they’re going through.

David Morrison: Do you deal with these people only on the telephone or have you met some of them?

Giuseppe Basile: I met a few. Some of them come to Ottawa. They want to have…they want to meet. They ask for senior-level meetings. They want to meet the minister or they want to…they happen to be in Ottawa for one reason or another, and so they’d like to meet us. And so they come sit in the lobby and sit down for a few minutes, yeah, they often…but it’s mostly over the phone.

David Morrison: Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: So…which makes it a little tough, because it’s much easier to have a face-to-face conversation.

David Morrison: Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: You know and…and offer support in such a difficult situation like these situations are life-changing for people that go through this. You know it’s the worst day of their life and you’re on the phone with them and there’s only so much you can say.

David Morrison: Yeah…yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: They’ll never feel comfort until they have their kids back.

David Morrison: Yeah. And you know for. I mean this is a real privilege to…to have you talking about this. And you know what it takes, frankly, to deal directly with Canadians in distress. Our Department of Global Affairs often is…is characterized as, you know, fancy people, fancy cocktail parties around swimming pools, and so on. At least that’s been the historical caricature. Whereas, what you and your colleagues are doing is extraordinarily challenging in terms of delivering critical services directly to Canadians in obvious distress. How does it affect you? What do you know…I assume you have good days and bad days, but the emotion of this must…must wear on you.

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah, that’s a good question, because you don’t really know how it’s affecting you until something happens.

David Morrison: Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: If…that’s a good way of putting it, you know. I don’t think I think about it now, and I feel fine. I go do my job. I do what I can, and I try the best I can to offer the support, and I know my colleagues are the same. But you know you think about five years from now, if I’m not doing this job anymore, of what’s what did that do to me.

David Morrison: Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: You know, and so...

David Morrison: And you…and you’ve been doing it for four years?

Giuseppe Basile: Four years, right. You know, sometimes you walk the floor and then you see some people who have you their doors closed and you know there’s a…they’re working on a tough case, and I think some of these worst calls…I think of what these child abduction cases are: difficult. But some we deal with a lot of death cases and, you know, when you have to call a family member to tell them that their brother or sister or someone passed away abroad, that’s hard.

David Morrison: Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: And so those are long days and it’s difficult to manage.

David Morrison: What kind of training did you receive to do to do this kind of work?

Giuseppe Basile: You know, it’s…you have to have an understanding of our network. I think that’s really important: understand our missions abroad and the different things that we can do overseas. You know, who can our mission speak to and how we talk and how we approach things. That’s one: understanding the mission, but I think a lot of it is you just have to have compassion and caring for people. And you know the people that I work with and we’re all…we all have the same level of compassion. We kind of understand that people go through difficult things and we know you’re keen to offer support and help, but in terms of formal training on how to help people when they’re on the phone and in clear distress it’s…it’s very much on the job in practice.

David Morrison: Sure.

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah.

David Morrison: How do you and your colleagues support each other?

Giuseppe Basile: You know what we…we actually laugh a lot you know we…we eat lunch together all the time and, you know, it’s a bit of a mental break.

David Morrison: Sure.

Giuseppe Basile: Because, you know, before lunch, you do three, four hours of work. It’s heavy, but then, you know, we sit together at lunch and, you know, you poke fun at each other. We don’t really talk much about the case, you know, when you exchange notes on…”Oh, I’m in this difficult situation with a case.” “What did you do in that case?” “Oh, right.” And, you know, we compare notes, but, you know, you have to sometimes really…it’s like a switch: you have to turn it off.

David Morrison: Right.

Giuseppe Basile: And so when we do, we generally just laugh.

David Morrison: Sounds like you have some good qualities. We talked a little bit beforehand. You also personally go to the gym. I know your…your fitness instructor and your…your non-GAC life. We had a brief riff about the after-work dilemma: should I go to the gym, should I go for drinks? Should I try to do both? It is…it sounds like especially for you and your colleagues, you really do need some kind of non-work way to…to wind down.

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah.

David Morrison: After…after the intense stuff you do.

Giuseppe Basile: Yeah, you have to have to find a way that works for you. Some people don’t actually…I don’t…I don’t even like the gym. I hate going, but I know I have to go three times a week. I have my…I teach my cycling class, so I do that a few times, but some people, you know, they want to read or they want to just go for a walk or they want to socialize—whatever you do. But you have to find something that works for you that helps you to turn it off. But for me, I like to go work out.

David Morrison: What is…what is…what does your dad think of what you do?

Giuseppe Basile: I don’t know. Well, I think they’re proud. You know, they kind of…it’s very foreign to them. They…they don’t…this whole diplomacy thing is not something that is on their radar. But they’re proud. You know, they…sometimes at family gatherings like my BlackBerry rings, and you know.

David Morrison: Yeah.

Giuseppe Basile: There’s an important case going there, like, okay, okay. Or at the cottage, the family always gathers at the cottage, so I know if I have a case and we’re on the boat, I bring my BlackBerry with me and it starts ringing so, but they’re...

David Morrison: They know you’re doing something.

Giuseppe Basile: …they know I’m doing something. I don’t…I can’t…I can’t really share everything or anything, but yeah, I like to think they’re proud.

David Morrison: Well like I…I will get in touch with them and tell them to listen to this podcast and I can…I can guarantee you that they’ll be proud of you. So and…and we are because you’re doing…you and your colleagues actually are doing extraordinary work on behalf of the department. but really. on behalf of Canadians.

Giuseppe Basile: Thank you.

David Morrison: So Giuseppe, Joseph, Giuseppe. thank you for what you do every day. Thank you to your colleagues, and keep doing it.

Giuseppe Basile: Thanks very much for this opportunity to talk about it. Thank you.

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