Canadians separated from adoptive son in Nigeria say the government has not taken any action in 22 months
Itunu and Samuel Oremade say video calling their son Andrew brings both pain and joy.
That’s because the three-year-old keeps asking a question that he really wants an answer to: Why can’t his family be together in Canada?
The Oremades live in Airdrie, Alta. Her adoptive son is cared for by Itunu’s 79-year-old mother in Lagos, Nigeria.
The first phase of Andrew’s citizenship application was approved on December 7, 2018. However, the second part, which would grant him Canadian citizenship and entry to Canada, has been in the processing queue for 22 months with no updates to the file.
“It’s so painful”
Between cases reported by CBC News and other cases confirmed by the family, the Oremades say at least three more adoptions filed months later than theirs at the same Canadian High Commission office in Accra, Ghana, are the requests edited for West Africa, approved citizenship.
“It’s so painful. We use a video call to speak to him and he keeps asking, ‘Oh, mom, you told me you were coming back.’ … There really is no explanation, “said Itunu. “He always asks … ‘Why can’t I come over?'”
“You don’t know how to explain to a three-year-old. Well, his application is being processed. It will take over 22 months,” said Samuel.
When the Oremades started adopting in 2016, they were prepared that it would be a long and costly process. What they weren’t prepared for was a lack of transparency.
“We chose Nigeria because … we wanted someone from our background, someone from our culture,” said Samuel.
He said the couple had gone through all of the required formal processes. The adoption was approved by the Nigerian government and Alberta Children’s Services.
The couple traveled to Nigeria; They said they originally learned from the Accra office that it would only take a few months to process their son’s citizenship and they were hoping to have their first Christmas as a family in Canada.
But months passed and Samuel had to return home to work. Itunu used up all of her parental leave and vacation before she was forced to join him – and separate her new family.
While they were waiting, Lagos experienced civil unrest, with gunshots exchanged during protests against police brutality not far from the family’s whereabouts.
Alicia Backman-Beharry, a lawyer who represents the family, said Andrew would tell his mother, “Mom, we have to lie down because the bullets, the noise is happening again.”
Andrew also contracted malaria and ended up hospitalizing him when there was a surge in COVID-19 cases in Nigeria.
“Why can’t I come home?”
The couple reportedly reached out to the Immigration Secretary’s office, his local MP, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Accra office for months with no response or responses merely indicating that their son’s case was in the queue stand
Sometimes they would send requests for information by email, stressing the urgency of their situation almost every day.
“We are really like that? … Nothing happens. In July it will be two years. This is a child. We want it to grow with our family,” said Itunu.
The Oremades say they keep wondering why other cases have been handled while theirs have not. In emails to the government, they asked whether systemic racism or their country of origin played a role.
The other families are white while the Oremades are black.
“”[This] News, though a fine ending for other Canadian families, drove Itunu and me into an even deeper state of fear, “wrote Samuel.
“Our family has been standing in line for months in front of these families. … What could be the explanation?”
According to the IRCC, the office has limited processing capacity
The IRCC declined to be interviewed, saying in a statement emailed that Part 2 of international adoption applications takes a minimum of six to eight months, and in some cases can last two years or more.
Due to the pandemic, the IRCC stated that there are few officials in Ghana who can process applications as employees have been returned to Canada.
“Aside from filing a petition in federal court … basically saying that immigration has a duty to act, there is very little the family can do,” said Backman-Beharry.
“”[It’s] extremely frustrating and heartbreaking to speak to the parents and hear the fear in their voice. “
Local MPs question “unacceptably long delays”
Banff-Airdrie MP Blake Richards said his office had reached out to the IRCC regularly to provide the family with information on the status of their case.
“There seem to have been unacceptably long delays in processing these files and I made this clear to the immigration minister directly,” he said in a statement emailed to him.
The IRCC also said it implemented priority processing for the most vulnerable, family members seeking reunification, and those in essential services during the pandemic.
It was not stated whether the Oremades case was identified as a priority.
CLOCK | The pandemic threatens to delay Canadian citizenship by hundreds of thousands
Backman-Beharry said the IRCC could remotely process citizenship applications due to the pandemic. The IRCC has not yet responded to a question on Wednesday whether this case could be handled in Canada.
Backman-Beharry said she suspects, based on previous cases she has worked on, the Canadian High Commission may have unspecified concerns about adoptions from Nigeria.
“If the Canadian High Commission is going to have any concerns … this is something they absolutely need to talk about [with the involved agencies and authorities about] to make sure their concerns are fully addressed, “she said.
“As a Canadian, it’s disappointing. I would hope that if there is any concern … investigate,” Backman-Beharry said. “It is one of the principles of natural justice to be able to respond to the case against you.”
“What are we going to tell him again?”
Itunu said the couple are happy to submit all papers, address concerns, and see his family reunification.
Canada is a signatory to the Hague Convention, an international agreement to ensure that adoptions are in the best interests of children.
“Go through this process [the goal] should have a stable home for him to grow in a family environment. The IRCC tells us that they are considering the best interests of the child … I don’t see how their interests have been protected, “said Samuel.
“When we go back to Nigeria and his papers aren’t ready … and we have to go back home? What are we going to tell him again?” Itunu said.