Manitoba government looking into adoption concerns

March 20, 2009 / CBC news

Recent CBC reports about a Winnipeg woman's experience adopting a baby from Kazakhstan have prompted Manitoba's government to investigate how other provinces regulate the industry.

Claudia Ash-Ponce, spokesperson for the Manitoba Child Protection Branch, told CBC News she wants to hold a conference call with her counterparts at the federal and provincial levels.

Manitoba's government will also review complaints about high fees and other problems with the adoption process that were identified in the CBC reports, said Ash-Ponce.

"Because of the concerns raised through the media, we will be responding by having a pan-Canadian discussion," she said. "Canada can actually call for a moratorium on adoptions from certain countries if there are concerns."

The experiences of Lindsay Drummond, a 28-year-old special-education teacher from Winnipeg who adopted a baby girl from Kazakhstan, were documented in a series that was featured on CBC TV, radio and online.

Drummond left Winnipeg for Kazakhstan in October 2008, armed with cash and high hopes of returning with a baby girl. She went alone, equipped with a video camera CBC had lent her to record her journey. The experience turned out to be more than she bargained for.

The former Soviet republic is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and Drummond encountered many frustrating delays and moments of despair. After four months and $45,000, she was finally united with a baby girl, but getting her to Canada proved to be another challenge.

"There's absolutely no reason why these fees should be $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 to get this child out of a government-run orphanage," Drummond said.

Her trip was organized by the Winnipeg agency UAS Eastern European Adoptions, whose fees average $30,000 to $35,000. A consular official with the Kazakh embassy in Ottawa told CBC News those fees were, "crazy" and "fantastically high."

But UAS said the money pays for translators in Kazakhstan, medical bills to have the child examined and legal costs, among other things.

"You're pretty safe once you're there," said agency spokesperson Kris Condon. "[You go] from one secured area to another. Our staff meet the families at the airport immediately upon their arrival."

The agency also advises clients to bring part of the fees to Kazakhstan in cash in order to pay the Kazakh co-ordinators arranged through UAS.

Lindsay took $22,000, stuffed into extra pockets she sewed inside her pants. She was required to pay several additional fees for a whole host of reasons, including questionable "gifts" requested by the Kazakh orphanage.

The provincial government regulates Manitoba's international adoptions but has no control over fees paid outside of Canada.

Other adoption agencies told CBC News that Kazakhstan's adoption program is too expensive and unpredictable. China's program, by contrast, is much cheaper — and potential parents get to see the child before they travel to the country.

"The picture of the child and the medical information on the child — [prospective parents] get to see it before they travel," said Sharon Riches of Adoption Options Manitoba Inc., a non-profit organization that provides information, education, counseling and related services on all aspects of adoption to birthmothers, adoptive couples and the public.

Drummond's experience was quite the opposite.

"You show up, maybe you see a child, maybe you see a sick child, maybe you see a healthy child, maybe there are no children at all by the time you get there," she said.

She is now formally complaining to government and hopes her story will make international adoptions better for others.

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