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B.C. families receive visas for adopted Japanese children after legal uncertainty

Five British Columbia families who are adopting Japanese babies are expected to finally bring their children home this week after the Canadian government issued visas to the youngsters.

The families had been plunged into bureaucratic limbo after a recent directive from Japan to the United States and uncertainty over whether the guidance would affect Canadian adoptions.

But on Friday night, the families received an e-mail saying the Canadian government would provide immigrant visas to the babies.

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After reading the e-mail, Ryan Hoag “felt like the weight of the world had lifted off my shoulders,” he said on Sunday as he prepared to board a flight to Tokyo to join his wife and 12-week-old baby girl.

One of the other families was expected to return to B.C. on Sunday with the others arriving on Monday, Mr. Hoag said.

The U.S. Department of State on April 13 said that it was “reviewing Japanese law regarding the transfer of custody of child without a court order,” after Japan informed the United States that, under Japanese law, the courts must authorize intercountry adoptions. The Department of State recommended that adoption agencies not make new referrals to prospective adoptive parents in the United States.

In light of the change, the Canadian government sought a legal opinion to determine whether it would affect the process for Canadians seeking to adopt children from Japan. The B.C. government also temporarily suspended adoptions from Japan to seek clarity on the issue.

The episode was “highly irregular” and extremely trying for the five families, who left Canada many weeks ago with no hint they would face difficulties obtaining visas for their babies, said Alex Stojicevic, a lawyer who is representing the families.

“Once the families left, there’s a reasonable expectation on their part that they should be able to come back with their children, so changing the goal posts midway through the process … is one of the dangers in this adoption world,” he said.

“It’s fraught with peril, especially in something as emotionally charged as adoption and after people have already gone and bonded with these children. Can you imagine if they were told ‘no’ because of a potential problem of legality – not an actual problem, but a potential problem?”

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The uncertainty meant some of the parents were forced to stay in Tokyo far longer than expected, causing financial and emotional strain, while the Canadian government reviewed its policies. Other family members, including Mr. Hoag, had to return to Canada because of work and family commitments.

Mr. Hoag’s wife, Wiyani Prayetno, has been in Tokyo since early May and is caring for their baby girl in a hotel. Mr. Hoag was with them until a few weeks ago when he came back home to Coquitlam to care for his ailing father and deal with work obligations.

Mr. Hoag planned to return to B.C. with his wife and daughter on Tuesday. He said he was most looking forward to finally bringing his baby home as well as introducing her to her extended family.

“Part of it will be just catching up on a little bit of lost time with my wife and my daughter,” he said.

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