A Winnipeg mother wanted on a Canada-wide arrest warrant was handcuffed in a city park Friday in a public takedown involving about 12 police officers. Sandra Giesbrecht remains in police custody. Her children, Josh, 9, and Montana, 11, are safe.

The mother and children were holding hands when they were surrounded by police about 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

The arrest was described to the Free Press by a couple who saw it happen as they took groceries into their home, which is adjacent to Bruce Park, south of Portage Avenue near the intersection of of Douglas Park Road.

“Police came running from the north and the south in the park, some in uniform and some in plainclothes,” said the man who asked that his named not be used. “There were about 12 police officers altogether who came out of marked cars and unmarked cars. When they went to handcuff her, she was holding the children’s hands, both of them on one side of her.”

The man’s wife got closer to the scene and saw a beige van with a dent in its front bumper. She said a police officer told her Giesbrecht had been in the van and hit a police car that was trying to block her from fleeing. She said the officer also told her there was a wig on the front seat.

The arrest was confirmed by police on Twitter about 6 p.m. Friday.

The ordeal began on June 20, when the children were taken from a residence on Lumsden Avenue.

Police issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Giesbrecht on Wednesday and appealed for public help.

The police intervention came on the heels of a nasty, prolonged family court battle.

Court documents reviewed by the Free Press paint a troubling picture of how the children were caught in the middle of an ugly dispute between their parents, who married in 2005.

This included 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 2 1/2 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.”

As part of the court ruling, the mother was also banned from having any unauthorized contact with her children or her estranged husband.

On Thursday, Det. Sgt. Shaunna Neufeld spoke at a news briefing and, through the media, asked Sandra Giesbrecht to get in touch with her about the missing children.

Neufeld said investigators believed the children are safe and that Giesbrecht loves them.

“I want to help you. I’m a mother too, Sandra, of three children, and I know the unconditional love that you have for your children,” Neufeld said during the briefing.

“I know in your heart you want to do the right thing and resolve things quickly. Right now, things aren’t good and there is a need to create some answers and move forward and resolve this.”