Rejected adoptee launches $7M suit (Canadian couple send 9 yr old girl back to Romania)

Date: 2005-02-16
Source: Toronto Star

Romanian-born girl sent home after 5 months Faced poverty, deprivation as a stateless person.

Romanian-born Alexandra Austin, who was adopted by an Ontario couple but sent back five months later to poverty and deprivation, has launched a $7 million lawsuit against her adoptive parents, the Canadian and Ontario governments and Swiss International Air Lines.

The suit, filed by Toronto lawyer Jeffrey Wilson, is also a landmark human rights case that aims to eradicate inequalities in the federal Citizenship Act that allow foreign-born adopted children to fall through the international cracks, becoming stateless if their new parents fail to apply for Canadian citizenship.

"Internationally this will be a landmark case," says Wilson. "It forces us to look at the issue of `What do we, the international community, owe to an adopted child?'"

Austin, a slight, fragile-looking woman of 22, has been in a permanent identity crisis since she was returned abruptly to Romania in 1991, alone, at the age of 9. With neither Romanian nor Canadian citizenship, she lost entitlement to education, health care and the use of her original name.

The civil suit, filed in the Ontario Superior Court, charges her adoptive parents with negligence, "reckless infliction of nervous shock, mental distress and abandonment of a child." It is based on the income and benefits that Austin would lose over a lifetime as a result of the failed adoption, Wilson said. The total sum could exceed $7 million.

"Nobody should ever do this to a child," Austin told reporters yesterday . "I've lost my childhood and my identity."

Fourteen years ago, Austin was adopted by Ontario surgical resident Joseph John Austin and his wife Silvana di Giacomo. The couple is now divorced: he is a prominent doctor in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle; she is a resident of Rome.

But after five months in the Austins' Ancaster home, Alexandra was driven to the airport and put on a plane for return to Bucharest. Shortly afterward, the Austins adopted a Romanian baby girl.

Alexandra was welcome in neither world. In the Bucharest airport she waited for two hours, alone, until she was met by Stephan Tinculesco, the Romanian "middleman" who had helped to facilitate the adoption. He returned her to her mother. But the Romanian government refused to repatriate her, as her original documents had been changed to reflect her new status as an adoptee. She was issued with a Romanian passport, but listed as a Canadian citizen.

Canada had accepted her as a landed immigrant when the adoption was approved. But as she left the country before her adoptive parents filed a citizenship application, she never became Canadian.

Years of desperation followed, as Austin was denied the right to use her original surname, and her mother had no parental rights or benefits. Austin was denied medical care or education, leaving her with only Grade 3 educational level.

"I do some house cleaning," she said. "That is all I can do."

The Romanian authorities have also refused to grant Austin's daughter citizenship, and the child has no right to state education or health services.

Joseph Austin refused to comment on the case, and cannot be extradited when it comes to trial if he chooses not to appear in court.

The lawsuit charges the federal government with violating Alexandra Austin's rights and causing her harm by failing to grant her citizenship — urging that the law be changed so that future adoptees are automatically made citizens. It asks that Austin now be awarded citizenship.

The suit also claims that the Ontario government failed in its responsibility to evaluate the adoptive parents and to follow up the adoption once Austin was in the province,

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