Nine months after receiving her daughter’s official adoption papers from Lagos State in Nigeria, Andrea Eaton of Tillsonburg, Ont., is still waiting to bring her daughter, Maya, home.
It’s not an unfamiliar story — Canada has a track record of delaying entry to adopted Nigerian children. It’s a problem advocates say is inexcusable and contravenes Canada’s international and domestic commitments to children.
“I’ve missed — we both have — family events, Christmas, my parents have my dogs, my house is vacant,” said Eaton who now lives in Accra, Ghana with Maya.
Getting Maya home is one thing, but fixing how this doesn’t work for kids and families is really important to me. This is systemic. It’s not just Maya’s case.– Andrea Eaton, Maya’s mother
“We came here to be closer to the High Commission of Canada,” said Eaton, 53. “Thinking that if we have the ability to speak with somebody there, they would be able to meet her, that it might help move things along and get us home quicker.”
The commission received Eaton’s application for Maya’s Canadian citizenship on October 17, 2022.
No one at the High Commission has responded to Eaton’s repeated requests for information; inquiries she made both by email and in person the five times she visited the commission and was turned around by a security guard. “There’s no way to access or contact a soul. Consular services declined every inquiry saying, ‘that’s immigration,'” said Eaton.
Representatives with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) have only told Eaton Maya’s application is on file and is being processed. CBC News reached out IRCC and has yet to receive a response.
Watch Maya grow from being a baby to a toddler while waiting for Canadian citizenship:
Dreams of being a mother
In June 2020, just days before her 50th birthday, Eaton began the process of adopting a Nigerian child through the Toronto agency, Family By Adoption. Eaton had always wanted to have children, but after her first marriage ended in divorce and her second husband died from cancer, she decided to do it alone.
It took two years for the Toronto agency and the Morgan Hill Children’s Foundation in Nigeria to match Maya with Eaton. In that time, Eaton had gathered the $45,000 to cover the cost of the adoption — and in June 2022, she flew to Lagos to meet 17-month old Maya, who’d been living in a state-run orphanage after her birth mother abandoned her.
“It was super emotional,” said Eaton. “She was so little and she was so cute. It was surreal.”
On Aug. 4, 2022, Maya’s adoption was official. Waiting for the official paperwork took time and Eaton was only able to apply for Maya’s Canadian citizenship in October.
“Canadian parents then have the impossible choice of remaining in Nigeria with their child and waiting for…Citizenship from IRCC (which can and does take years),” said Calgary immigration lawyer, Alicia Backman-Beharry, who has worked with four other Canadian families to bring home their adopted children from Nigeria. “Or they go to a third country and wait, or they leave their child in the care of an orphanage in Lagos under a guardianship and care order and return to Canada to wait.”
Case was supposed to be expedited
Eaton wanted to stay with Maya.
“Maya suffered a burn in the care of the orphanage when she was four months old,” said Eaton. “She has severe scarring and she has a deformity in her left foot that prevents her from being properly fitted for shoes.”
Maya needs corrective surgery, said Eaton.
It’s why Eaton applied to have Maya’s case expedited. IRCC officials confirmed that qualification is on the application, but that’s all she knows, said Eaton.
Eaton has also applied for a visitor’s visa for Maya — no word on that front either, she said.
Is Canada breaking the rules?
“Canada has a very bad habit of using bureaucratic inertia to exile legally adopted, racialized babies, and forces parents like Andrea into heartlessly impossible situations,” said Matthew Behrens of the Rural Refugee Rights Network.
“We’ve seen time and again how the government violates both its domestic and international commitments to children, especially when the kids are not white.”
Canada is a signatory to the Hague Conventions on Intercountry adoption, said Backman-Beharry. “Canada is arguably in breach of its obligation under Article 18 of the Hague Convention to take all necessary steps to enable the child to enter and reside permanently in the receiving State once an adoption has been completed,” she said.
Plus, Canada’s own Citizenship Act, makes the same commitment, said Backman-Berry.
Canada is not living up to those commitments, she said. “Bringing an adopted child from Lagos State home to Canada is fraught with bureaucratic redundancy and inexcusable delay,” she said.
An expensive wait
“I’m legally bound to Maya. I am her legal parent,” said Eaton. “She will, regardless of whatever delay IRCC continues to propagate, be a Canadian citizen. I’m fully willing to abide by the terms and requirements of a visitor visa for her, and I can’t get one.”
Even though Eaton works remotely for an American company in customer support and Maya is in preschool now, Eaton’s cost of living has tripled now that she’s living abroad.
“I’ve exhausted my life savings doing this. Staying here’s very expensive,” she said. “She’s definitely been worth this journey, but it’s been a challenge for sure.”
Eaton can’t help but wonder what her life in Canada will look like and what the pair has already missing out on. “I waited a long time to become a mom. I’m trying to do everything I can to introduce her to what life will be like for us at home.”
“I want her to learn how to skate on the lake in town and play with my dogs.”
“Getting Maya home is one thing, but fixing how this doesn’t work for kids and families is really important to me. This is systemic. It’s not just Maya’s case.”