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By Brian Caldwell
July 18, 2009 / Thestar.com
A company owned by federal cabinet minister Gary Goodyear and his wife rented office space to an adoption agency that collapsed this week amid concerns about suspect expenses.
Valerie Goodyear, co-owner with her husband of Constant Energy Inc., also worked for the agency – Kids Link International Adoption Agency – for several years before it went bankrupt.
The failure of the Cambridge-based organization, which operated under the name Imagine Adoption, shocked up to 450 Canadian families trying to adopt children from overseas.
Their hopes and investments – $20,000 or more in some cases – are in jeopardy as bankruptcy trustees and government officials scramble to sort out the situation.
The most pressing concern is the welfare of about 35 children at an agency transition home in Ethiopia who had already been matched with adoptive parents in Canada.
Susan Taves, a bankruptcy trustee for BDO Dunwoody in Kitchener, said there has been progress and it may soon be possible to complete many of those adoptions.
An international adoption expert hired by BDO was expected to leave for Ethiopia last night to review operations and make sure children at the home are properly cared for.
"You have to put the fire out before you can save the rest of the house – and the transition home has been the crisis this week," Taves said.
Valerie Goodyear was one of the first employees of Imagine Adoption, a non-profit Christian group licensed by the Ontario government in 2005. She went to Ethiopia several times and was described in an agency newsletter as coordinator of its African programs.
Gary Goodyear, who is minister of state for science and technology and MP for Cambridge, said in a written statement this week that his wife wasn't involved in the agency's finances and that he has "never been involved with the operations of the agency."
He did not mention Constant Energy, a real estate holding company that rented office space to the adoption agency for $3,000 a month under a three-year lease. The minister disclosed his ownership of the company, as required, to the federal ethics commissioner this year.
He declined through his spokesperson yesterday to be interviewed or answer written questions about the company's business dealings with the agency.
Imagine Adoption, which Gary Goodyear praised at a ribbon-cutting ceremony when it moved into new offices last year, was subletting the office to another business.
Susan Hayhow, executive director of Imagine Adoption, is at the transition home in Ethiopia with her common-law partner, Andrew Morrow.
Morrow is on the agency's three-member board of directors. He is also director of development for a related non-profit group called Global Reach Children's Fund. Also headed by Hayhow and located in the same offices as the adoption agency, Global launched a $4.7 million fundraising campaign last year to try to build a village in Ethiopia with a school, medical centre and other facilities. Morrow declined to comment when reached by telephone yesterday.
Hayhow and Morrow own a house in Cambridge that was recently listed for sale for almost $500,000. Land registry documents show they took out a $500,000 mortgage on it last month. In addition to high expense claims, Taves said bankruptcy officials are looking into the relationship between Imagine, Global Reach and a third non-profit group headed by Hayhow.
Among the concerns, she said, is evidence money was moving among accounts for the three organizations. The two other directors on the board of Imagine began scrutinizing its finances about a month ago because of questionable expenses including luxury vehicles.
"We've been given stacks of Visa statements and we're scanning them," Taves said.
In addition to 35 matched children in Ethiopia, 20 to 30 children at orphanages in Haiti, Brazil, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Ghana had also reached that point in the costly, lengthy adoption process.
Nine adoptions from Ghana were suspended after officials there found some children at an orphanage run by an Ontario charity had been taken from their parents