BY WILLIAM MACINTOSH
WHEN then-immigration minister Diane Finley announced in 2007 the start of changes to the Citizenship Act allowing children adopted abroad by Canadian citizens to obtain citizenship, the new law reduced the differences in treatment between children adopted abroad and children born abroad to a Canadian parent.
Applicants would have to prove the adoptions were legal and genuine, and were not entered into mainly for acquiring status in Canada – a challenge Kulwinder Kaur faced when she applied for citizenship as an adoptee several years ago.
Ms. Kaur’s maternal aunt (massi) and her husband purportedly adopted her in 2002 in Punjab when she was 13 years old. Her aunt in Canada had two sons. She and her husband wanted a daughter. They discussed their desire with her sister and brother-in-law, who agreed to give Kulwinder Kaur up for adoption.
Indian adoption law sets rules as to who may be adopted and who may adopt. Unlike Canada, where all provinces require court approval for adoption, the law in India allows people to carry out their own adoption. The main formality is a giving and taking ceremony, when the child is physically handed over to the adopting parents by the natural parents.
The aunt and uncle thought they had gone through all the formalities necessary to adopt Kulwinder Kaur. A giving and taking ceremony was performed. Notice of the adoption was published in a newspaper. To provide written proof of their action, the aunt and uncle, together with the natural parents, registered a deed of adoption with a court in India.
Unfortunately for Kulwinder Kaur, her new parents took no action to bring her to Canada until 2010. She remained in India, though the new parents appointed a guardian to be responsible for her, while they provided support from Canada.
When Kulwinder was 21 years old, she applied for Canadian citizenship based on the new rules that came into effect in 2007. In 2012 a citizenship officer at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi interviewed her, along with the guardian and her natural parents. She failed to prove to the officer that a giving and taking ceremony was performed, and that her adoption was genuine.
Her only remedy was to apply for judicial review of the decision. That review was held before the Federal Court in Vancouver last month. Justice Michael Phelan, who heard the review, rendered his decision within a week, upholding the officer’s refusal.
A judicial review is a limited form of appeal. Justice Phelan could only consider the evidence that was considered by the citizenship officer. He could only overturn the decision if he found the officer’s conclusions were unreasonable. Based on the evidence before the officer, Justice Phelan decided the decision was reasonable.
When interviewed by the officer in New Delhi, neither Kulwinder Kaur nor the others gave clear evidence that a ceremony took place. The officer was not satisfied about explanations for the lack of visits by the adopting parents and communication with Kulwinder Kaur, and why it took eight years before taking action to have her come to Canada.
The law holds that an applicant must prove they qualify for citizenship. An officer making a decision is not required to find a way for someone to qualify. An uninformed applicant is at a disadvantage, not knowing what evidence is important to show an officer, especially when it deals with legal issues like a giving and taking ceremony. For example, it is the usual practice in Punjab, when registering a deed of adoption, to have all the parties present, including the child being adopted who will be physically given and taken before the court registrar.
Had Kulwinder Kaur been aware of the importance of this, she or one of the other persons could have told the officer. What is unfair is that the officer probably did not ask about it, though the officer should have been aware of the practice. The immigration board in Canada has upheld the Indian court practice as proof of a giving and taking ceremony for over 15 years.
While Kulwinder Kaur may have proven that she was properly given and taken, the lengthy delay in joining her adoptive parents raised serious questions about the adoption’s genuineness.
Getting good advice before starting on such an important matter can help avoid disappointment later on. As shown in this case, an inadequately prepared application cannot be cleared up after the decision is made.
William Macintosh is an immigration and citizenship lawyer who began practising in 1984. You can reach him for advice at 778-714-8787.