Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be in the House today to speak about this important issue, Motion M-386.
The challenges that face adoptive parents are not often discussed. This means their struggles often go unnoticed and uncorrected by this country's legislative bodies.
This motion, though it does not offer any solutions to these struggles, does draw attention to the situation adoptive parents find themselves in and as a result, allows for more discussion on what measures are in place and which measures are lacking.
The motion tabled by the hon. member for Essex calls for:
--the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be instructed to examine current federal support measures that are available to adoptive parents and their adopted children, recognizing and respecting provincial and territorial jurisdictions in this regard and, following completion of its study, report back to the House with its findings.
Though the motion's ultimate goal can be achieved through other means, it does not detract us from its purpose, to take stock of what resources are currently available for adoptive parents and find out where there is a lack of support.
Let us now look at some of the challenges facing adoptive parent families.
This past summer was devastating for many adoptive families across Canada, and my riding of Sudbury was no exception.
When Imagine Adoption made its bankruptcy announcement on July 14, over 500 families were thrown into limbo. Imagine Adoption is a federal adoption agency registered with the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services and a registered non-profit agency.
When the bankruptcy was announced, Imagine Adoption closed its doors and its accounts were frozen, leaving hundreds of families financially and emotionally devastated. The adoption agency is now only a closed website that redirects families to the bankruptcy trustee's website where parents can read about the group's restructuring plans.
Constituents of mine, who I met numerous times, were in the middle of adopting a child from Ethiopia when the news hit of Imagine's bankruptcy. With no adoption agency to turn to, the two of them were left to navigate the highly complex bureaucratic channels in Ontario and with the High Commission in Nairobi to find out where their paperwork was, what stage the visas were at, and what representative was dealing with their file in Ethiopia.
In this person's own words, “This turn of events has left those of us with files in waiting full of dread that our files will be pulled and our spot in the queue lost; this is to say nothing of the absolute fear being experienced by those families who have actually been matched with their child”.
This couple are not the only constituents who have contacted me on this issue. I have heard from numerous families that were also concerned.
These Sudburians understand that adoptive parents face tough challenges, not to mention a remarkably complex approval process and uncertainty levels when dealing with adoption cases overseas.
This is why we need to look into what resources are available for these parents. Moreover, this is why we need to take action now to help those who are still in limbo, still waiting for their families to be complete.
The challenges facing adoptive parents are not news to New Democrats. Rather, we have been listening, listening to the biggest concerns raised by adoptive parents and doing what we can to make their lives better.
I would like to touch on the good work that two of my colleagues are doing on this issue, the first initiative from my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster and the second from my caucus member from Trinity—Spadina.
In January of this year, my caucus member from Burnaby—New Westminster introduced Bill C-413, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code (extension of benefit period for adoptive parents).
If passed, this bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code to ensure that an adoptive parent is entitled to the same number of weeks of leave as the biological mother of a newborn child.
Under the current employment insurance program, adoptive parents are given 35 weeks of paid leave and a further 15 weeks of unpaid leave afterwards. Only birth mothers are able to take an additional 15 weeks of maternity leave.
This inequality between birth parents and adoptive parents received national attention in January of 2008, when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal by an adoptive mother from British Columbia, Patti Tomasson, who was fighting for the same maternity leave benefits as birth mothers. Ms. Tomasson applied for maternity leave after she adopted her two daughters, Sarah, who is now eight, and Hannah, who is now four.
The Supreme Court was upholding an August 2007 decision by the Federal Court of Appeal that ruled Ms. Tomasson did not qualify for maternity benefits because she did not undergo the psychological experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of Canada was upholding antiquated laws, laws that need to be reviewed and revised in order to be fair to both birth and adoptive parents.
Adoptive parents like Ms.Tomasson need the extra leave to bond with their children. Recent studies of adoptive parents have shown that many would have liked to have the extra 15 weeks in order to help them better support their children.
As another parent, Heather Rowe, said:
The emotional time is as important as the physical," she says. "In fact, mothers who haven't given birth maybe need more time to envelop the child. As soon as you find out you've been approved you fall in love, but because you don't have the physical presence of the baby inside you, you don't start the physical bonding until you are actually holding the baby.
In fact, adoption professionals and researchers around the world identify a few of the issues as: post-adoption depression for the adoptive parents as a result of the adoption process; attachment and bonding from parent to child and child to parent; health issues or developmental issues; large barriers and cultural adjustment, as well as onerous adoption processes; and in the case of international adoption, issues of trauma, abuse, neglect or multiple foster care placements which make it difficult for the parents to build an immediate trust relationship with the child.
The bill introduced by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster would take these challenges into account by installing parity between adoptive and biological parents in this regard. The Adoption Council of Canada, a federally incorporated, charitable body, calls for the same measures to be taken.
Another worthy initiative that my caucus has put forward is Bill C-397, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (persons born abroad). As of April 17, the date Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act from the 39th Parliament came into effect, the children and grandchildren of Canadian expatriate and adoptive families have had their citizenship downgraded, or worse, stripped away.
Families who were recently able to pass on their Canadian citizenship for their born-abroad children have had such rights stripped away. Changes in citizenship and immigration law that were meant to restore citizenship to lost Canadians have instead created a new generation of lost Canadians.
The bill introduced by my caucus member for Trinity—Spadina would restore equality among all Canadians no matter where they were born and ensure the citizenship status of children and grandchildren of expatriated Canadians and adoptive families is not downgraded or outright stripped away. It would also treat citizenship in a manner that reflects and promotes Canada's economic, social, intellectual and humanitarian engagement with the world, and these initiatives are just a start.
I thank the hon. member for Essex for initiating this important conversation once again. I hope that in doing so, others begin to recognize the importance of updating our current laws to make life fairer for adoptive parents and their families.