Adoption families rally support in wake of agency bankruptcy

Date: 2009-07-26

Mining group donation provides hope

By Robin Summerfield

A Toronto-based mining company has donated $100,000 US to care for 43 Ethiopian children whose adoptions to Canadians were jeopardized following the bankruptcy of an Ontario-based agency.

The money will keep the Addis Ababa orphanage afloat until those children come to Canada to live with their new families, authorities said.

That bit of good news came as 40 adopting parents met Saturday in Calgary during an emotional meeting to get answers and plead with an Alberta official to help complete their adoptions with Imagine Adoption, which was placed into bankruptcy July 13.

"We cannot be pushing through paperwork faster than normal because then it could appear that we might be kidnapping children that should be staying in Ethiopia," Anne Scully, who oversees all domestic and international adoptions for Alberta Children and Youth Services, told the crowd.

Scully said the province is working closely with the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services as well as Citizenship and Immigration Canada to get answers and move adoptions forward as efficiently and quickly as possible.

"Iwishwehadbetteranswers, more answers," she said.

In a news release, bankruptcy trustee BDO Dunwoody also promised--if all regulations had been followed--to manage all 400 outstanding Canadian adoptions regardless of their state of completion.

"It's really about being effective. These (parents) have a serious problem and they need to advocate," said Michael Greene, an immigration lawyer offering advice at the meeting.

He said the government, the bankruptcy trustee and other agencies clearly want to help their families and that's in their favour.

"I think there's hope for them," Greene said.

Of the 64 Alberta families who were clients of the agency, six had been matched with overseas children. Of that total, five adoptions have been finalized through the courts. Those families must now wait for passports or visas to be issued by the High Commission in Nairobi.

The two-and-a-half-hour meeting was emotional, heated and tearful at times.

"I still have more questions than answers and it still feels like Ontario knows everything and Alberta is doing nothing," said Shawn Bertin, who, with his wife Dolores, hoped to adopt an Ethiopian child.

"I would like them to do more for the families but I just don't know what that 'more' is," Bertin, 37, said.

Meanwhile, Dolores took some comfort in connecting with the other local families who've also been affected.

"We've been feeling isolated. It's good to know we're not alone," she said.

Other families were just happy to have Scully addressing their concerns in person.

"We still have a little bit of hope and we'll continue on until someone tells us not to," said 35-year-old Alison Bruha, who was expecting to be matched with a baby boy from Ethiopia imminently when the agency went into bankruptcy.

"The bottom line is we want our families completed," added Tammy Vlieg, 36, who started the process with her husband to adopt an Ethiopian infant or two siblings 20 months ago.

The couple are also in the midst of finalizing the domestic adoption of their five-month-old daughter Josina, who they received two days after she was born.

"If I didn't have my daughter, I would be a basket case," Vlieg said.

At Saturday's meeting, the Calgary families added their names to a master list to be managed by adopting parent Tammy Campbell, who launched a blog and forum for parents at unitedfamiliesofimagine. blogspot.comto share information and news. Calgary parents expressed hope that the formation of the local group would give them a stronger voice in the proceedings, like Families of Imagine Adoption, an increasingly vocal advocacy group formed by Ontario families.

On July 28, that group will present Deb Matthews, Ontario's minister of children and youth services, with their plan to create a non-profit trust where each of the 400 Canadian families affected could voluntarily put in $1,000, creating a $400,000 "war chest."

They want the Ontario government to match the money so the trust can buy the agency out of bankruptcy and have enough money to manage operations.

That plan comes to light the same week Waterloo Regional Police launched a fraud investigation into Kids Link International, which operated as Imagine Adoption.

The agency has a nearly $400,000 operating shortfall and an additional $800,000 expected claim by families, according to documents.

The three-member board, which convened once a year, met with Waterloo police last week to issue a complaint and provide financial documentation to authorities. Police also received a handful of complaints from parents.

Meanwhile, more information has come to light about the motivation behind the$100,000 US donation to keep the Ethiopian orphanage afloat.

When contacted Saturday in Toronto, Yamana Gold Inc.'s CEO Peter Marrone said his company made the $100,000 donation after its vice-president of communications Jodi Peake, who adopted an Ethiopian boy last year, told him of the bankruptcy and plight of the children in the Addis Ababa orphanage.

"My immediate reaction was the protection of the children, that the children were taken care of," Marrone said.

rsummerfield@theherald. canwest.com

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