Canadian families hoping to adopt children from Russia say their plans are at risk after that country's highest court issued a memo that appeared to prohibit all adoptions to countries that recognize same-sex marriage.
Russia is already facing international criticism for its treatment of gay and lesbian citizens ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, which begin next month. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird sent a letter to his Russian counterpart in December raising concern about a recent law that makes it illegal for anyone to provide information about homosexual relationships to minors.
Last summer, another piece of legislation banned international adoptions to same-sex couples and single people. At least three Canadian couples say they were assured at the time that their adoptions – which were already in progress when the law was passed – would not be affected because they are in heterosexual relationships.
But a memo issued by Russia's Supreme Court in late September suggests Russian judges should interpret the law as applying to all adoptions from countries where same-sex marriage is recognized, regardless of the adoptive parents' sexual orientation.
Three Canadian families say they plan to send an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday morning asking him to raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin and request that the small number of Canadian adoptions already in their final stages be allowed to proceed.
A spokesman for Canada's Citizenship and Immigration department said the Russian government has not provided Canada with an official interpretation of its adoption law. However, Remi Lariviere confirmed that the Russian court memo does appear to apply to Canadian adoptions.
He said Ottawa has raised concerns with Russian officials and is pressing them for clarification. "We understand that prospective adoptive parents are anxious to learn about the status of their adoption cases," he wrote in an e-mail.
Sherry and Derek Wilson, whose first son was adopted from Russia in 2011, had hoped to bring a second child into their family last year. They visited with the 18-month-old girl Russian officials had offered them for adoption during the summer of 2013 and returned home believing they only needed to wait for a custody hearing in Russia for the process to be finalized.
They spent the next several weeks preparing for the child's arrival and were devastated when they found out the adoption might not go through. "Once we met her and we had pictures, we told people. We told my son. And that's heartbreaking because he thinks he's getting a baby sister," Ms. Wilson said from her Oakville, Ont., home.
In late December, the Wilsons were told their adoption would likely be turned down. The judge in charge of their case gave them until the end of January for the Canadian government to establish a bilateral adoption agreement with Russia – something Ms. Wilson says she was told could not be negotiated in such a short time.
The department of Citizenship and Immigration did not respond to questions from The Globe and Mail about whether Canada is negotiating an agreement on adoption with Russia.
Another couple, Kelly and Jeff Fox, travelled to Russia in October for a scheduled custody hearing, but had their case put on hold after another judge said he wanted more clarity on how to interpret the memo.
Kelly Duffin and Jeremy Strain met Sawyer, the two-year-old boy they planned to adopt, last summer. Ms. Duffin said Sawyer's caregivers had promised to tell the child about his new parents and show him pictures of them to help ease his transition. "We're grown-ups, and you know, we can process this if we have to," she said. "But I would never want him to think we didn't love him enough to come back."
Robin Pike, executive director of Choices Adoption and Counselling in Victoria, B.C., said she is encouraging Canada to come up with a bilateral adoption agreement with Russia. Her agency is working with an Alberta couple who are also waiting on news about whether they will be able to adopt the child they met last year.
Ms. Wilson said she and her husband respect Russia's right to set parameters on its adoption program but are hopeful that adoptions like theirs, which are near completion, won't be cancelled. "We just never thought it would happen this way," she said. "We really felt that, you know, once we got the proposal and we met and we accepted her, that we were kind of safe."