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International Adoptions in Canada: Legal Perspective


Over the past few decades, views on adoption, local and international legislation, and the nature of procedure have all changed. At the beginning of the 21st century, many developed countries such as the United States of America and Canada saw a growing tendency of intercountry adoption as opposed to domestic adoption. Such a global trend had its underlying causes, be it a genuine humanitarian effort or the desire to spare the hassle of domestic adoption. However, after a quick rise in the number of intercountry adoption cases, by the mid-2010s, the statistics showed a significant decline. This essay seeks to examine the issue of international adoptions in Canada from ethical and legal standpoints and provide the legal background for the phenomenon.

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Canadian Legislation Regarding Adoption

On their official website, the Government of Canada states clearly that when a Canadian resident or citizen wishes to proceed with intercountry adoption, the laws of a child’s country take precedence over the Canadian legislation. The laws of the country of interest determine whether the procedure takes place in Canada or outside Canada, and as the Government informs on their respective page, the majority of intercountry adoptions are negotiated abroad (Government of Canada, “Immigration Process – Intercountry Adoption”).

Furthermore, an individual or a couple need not only comply with foreign adoption guidelines but also with the laws of their province or territory. Lastly, intercountry cannot and should not be used as a means to gain a permanent resident status for the adoptee. Parents and the child need to build a genuine, authentic relationship, and the adoption should be in the child’s best interests.

On top of foreign and local law enforcement, in each case of adoption, guidelines provided by the Hague convention should be taken into account. The framework of the Hague Convention aims at protecting children from premature, illegal, and ill-prepared adoption (Government of Canada, “What is the Hague Convention?”). As of now, 82 countries, among which is Canada, have entered the Hague convention treaty to battle child abduction and retention (HHCH).

Adopting a child from a convention country is not vastly different from adopting a child from a non-convention country. However, since convention countries are obliged only to allow accredited entities to facilitate the process, children enjoy greater protection. In case of adoption is recognized as illegal or violating a child’s rights and liberties, he or she should be returned to their native country.

Intercountry Adoption: Ethical Perspective

Intercountry adoption is a complex issue that should not only be examined from a legal standpoint but should also be given a moral perspective. First, cultural dynamics need to be taken into account, and namely, the history of relations between the parents’ and the child’s countries of origin. It is abundantly easy to conclude that the majority of nationalities adopting children are from the Northern Hemisphere and from wealthy, white-majority countries such as the United States of America and Canada.

At the same time, most children who are eligible for adoption are born in developing countries which usually on top of weak economies, also go through a crisis of some sort – war, famine, or natural disasters. It is easy to see how this striking contrast has the potential of introducing a certain power dynamic, and namely, letting the wealthier countries exploit the poorer countries and deny children access to their culture. On the other hand, even with the described cultural dynamic in place, intercountry adoption might be in a child’s best interests and provide him or her with more opportunities for a better life.

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Another issue that needs to be investigated is the commoditization of children. Even though adoption services are designated to be not-for-profit, the adoption process still involves payments such as fees. It is argued that some adoption entities overcharge desperate families, taking advantage of their situation. All points are taken into account, one may contend that such organizations seeking profit create a marketplace for adoptive parents where children are seen as a product. It is understandable how such a point of view may appear too radical. However, if one pays attention to the most “on-demand” characteristics in children – healthy infants (and in some cases, girls are preferable), the fact that adoption agencies are trying to meet customers’ needs may become more obvious.

Admittedly, intercountry adoption has many legal and ethical implications, and effective legislation should combat illegal child retention and help untangle the moral debuckles of this phenomenon. In recent years, the Canadian government has attempted to address the issue even though the new legislation generated controversy. In the 2000s, Canada saw a sharp rise in intercountry adoptions from African countries such as Sierra-Leone, Ethiopia, and South Africa (Hayley). According to experts, the dynamic was bound only to escalate and lead to even greater numbers of adoption cases.

Nevertheless, in 2012, Canada prohibited intercountry adoption from some countries such as Guatemala, Cambodia, and Nepal (Paul-Carson). In her piece, Paul-Carson provides a seemingly clear rationale for the said prohibition. The author reasons that the Canadian government is unable to determine if a child is truly available for adoption. For instance, it is not possible to ensure that he or she is related to the people who claim to be the biological parents.

Moreover, when preparing an orphan for adoption, the Canadian legal entities cannot establish whether the parents have deceased. On the other hand, one may see how this legislation may be harmful to both children and their adoptive families. There have been occasions when a child already came into contact with potential parents, and the latter were preparing legal documents. The ban was sudden and disrupted the otherwise normal process of adoption. Such an occurrence had grave emotional and psychological implications for each party involved.


A well-documented decrease in the number of intercountry adoptions may be attributed to such factors as improved adoption standards set in place by international human rights organizations, increased costs, and some countries closing their doors for potential adoptive parents. In the case of Canada, the picture looks similar to that in many other countries: couples look for new destinations due to new obstacles and difficulties and wait for years to become parents.

The Canadian government makes an effort both to examine the eligibility of adoptive parents and foreign children and help to eliminate the causes of abduction and retention. A family seeking to adopt a child needs to comply with the federal law, their province’s or territory’s legislation, and the guidelines of the Hague convention. In recent years, Canada banned adoption from some countries – a decision that can be both justified and criticized.

Works Cited

Government of Canada. “What is the Hague Convention?” Government of Canada. 2018. Web.

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Government of Canada. “Immigration Process – Intercountry Adoption: Who Can Apply.” Government of Canada. 2018. Web.

HHCH. “HHCH Members.” HHCH, n.d. Web.

Mick, Hayley. “International Adoption 2008. The Next China?” The Globe and Mail.

Paul-Carson, Patricia. “Moratoriums Protect the Child.” The Globe and Mail. 2012. Web.

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