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Custom adoption process slammed
Report finds no requirements for safety checks or criminal background searches

Myles Dolphin
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 24, 2014

The author of a comprehensive sexual exploitation and human trafficking report is calling for tighter legislation around custom adoption procedures in Nunavut.

Helen Roos of Roos-Remillard Consulting Services prepared the lengthy report for the federal Department of Justice after compiling data over a period of four years.

In the 145-page document titled Service and Capacity Review For Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking in Nunavut, released last November, she criticizes the Government of Nunavut for its lack of safety initiatives within the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act.

"There are also no requirements under the custom adoption process for social workers to conduct safety checks of adoptive homes or criminal background checks of the prospective adoptive parents," she states in the report.

"Custom adoption requests remain highly fluid with few checks and balances to verify the safety of the child with any minimal criminal background checks or assessments. While adoption is always sought, there are fundamental risks in the current Nunavut Family and Child Services legislation, including the custom adoption process and procedures that do not provide for a minimum level of due diligence or oversight for child adoptees."

She states there are cases where Inuit babies, children and teens have been sold to unknown individuals under private arrangements.

Roos also makes a series of recommendations at the end of her report, asking for a review of the custom adoption processes and guidelines, as well as calling for more investigation and criminal checks of prospective adoptees as a minimum measure.

"I recognize it's a delicate topic," she told Nunavut News/North on Feb. 3.

"This is a huge vulnerability for the trafficking of children, where the government of Canada had recommended that least a minimum safeguard be put in place. It just needs to be reviewed," she said, making reference to the act.

Her comments echo similar ones made by the office of the auditor general of Canada in March 2011, when it released the results of an audit on the Children, Youth and Family Programs and Services in Nunavut.

The auditor general made recommendations to the Government of Nunavut to consider reviewing the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act to "ensure that the responsibilities are made clear with respect to the safety and best interests of the child, and ensure that the act continues to meet the need to reflect aboriginal customary law."

The department subsequently agreed with the recommendation.

"The Department of Health and Social Services will consider this recommendation and, if warranted, will advise the executive council, accordingly," it stated.

Peter Dudding, director of Children and Family Services, said while the department is happy with research being carried out on human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Nunavut, a few caveats remain.

"What we need to understand is this is a preliminary study, the first of its kind in terms of qualitative action-oriented research where the sample size is very small and the research data itself is highly anecdotal," he said,

"We know from other larger studies done in the south, with bigger samples and less qualifications that (young aboriginal teens) is a very at-risk population. We've changed our legislation so that rather than dumping these out of our system without any family support on their 19th birthday, we'll be working with them up to their 26th birthday."

The new legislation, which came into effect in January, came about from a concern about children who "don't do terribly well when dumped out of a system prematurely without any family support, to survive in the adult world."

The department looked at legislation in other provinces and jurisdictions and tailored a model to Nunavut's needs.

Regarding the auditor general's recommendations, the department brought in all of its custom adoption commissioners for a training session last year, updated their program manual and training procedures as well as made sure everyone was on the same page in terms of understanding custom adoption law.

Dudding said it's in the department's game plan to continue to improve its legislation, but it's going to be a slower process than anticipated.

"We will be looking at this in 2014 and 2015 and the reason behind that is because it's not just a matter of looking at Nunavut's Adoption Act and applying those steps to the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act," he said.

"You have to understand custom adoption comes out of thousands of years of Inuit culture and tradition and it's a much more complicated issue in terms of consultations and conversations that need to occur."

Because custom adoption commissioners are recommended to the minister of the department by the hamlet council, they are seen as highly-trusted people who can make sound choices in their communities.

As a result, criminal backgrounds checks are not often considered.

Roos said she wouldn't go as far as linking custom adoption procedures in Nunavut to human trafficking but suspicious cases need to be reported and investigated.

"To say it's directly contributing, you just can't say that," she said.

"All we can do is flag it. There is a lot more research that needs to be done and it behooves all of us to take a look at the legislation and make sure it's tightened."

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