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Advocacy News - Maritime mothers plan childbirth in exile

April 20, 2021

Maritime mothers plan childbirth in exile
Nova Scotian fights for wife's recognition as parent

By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell

"My wife and I are having a baby - a very joyous event, until what I have discovered recently," began an appeal we received this week in an email from Nova Scotia. "I was very encouraged and pleased with the Ontario Court of Appeal D's 3 parents: ABC's of family law updated - Children of same-sex marriage can have third parent.regarding the recent decision in favour of two mother and one father being recognized. I honestly never dreamt that my wife could not be recognized as the other mother - or co-parent of our child at birth."

The woman who wrote the email wishes to remain anonymous for the moment, but despite being 7 months along, she and her wife have discovered they still face roadblocks and inequality in their efforts to form a family with children born to them through assisted reproduction.

The arrival of same-sex marriage does not mean that gay and lesbian couples are free from discrimination.

"We live in Nova Scotia," the woman wrote of her wife, "I only found out last week that she would need to adopt our baby to have any legal rights. I find this offensive and highly discriminatory. After a little research it appears all maritime provinces are the same - Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI. Quebec and Ontario however are not - those two provinces recognize another parent when a child is conceived through assisted means - no adoption is necessary. "

Facing the expenses of bringing a first child into the world, this couple already carries a burden that every parent recognizes, so hiring a lawyer is out of the question for now. Vulnerable families like this one have been further disadvantaged in securing their rights by Stephen Harper's cancellation of the Court Challenges program.

The expecting mother contacted the local MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly), and their local NDP caucus to see how they could help. But with only two more months before the arrival of their child, there is no time to lose. She began looking into the issue further.

"After more research and hearing back from some specific individuals and departments this is what I have learned," she wrote. "Regardless of the provinces I have examined, the first step is to complete the paperwork for registering/declaring the birth and then you apply for the birth certificate. If I give birth in Nova Scotia, [my wife] has to adopt the baby. She is not permitted to be named on the registration of the birth. Any person who is not the biological parent of a baby needs to adopt the baby after the birth registration so that they can be named on the birth certificate. That holds true for Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick."

It didn't seem right to our writer. With gay marriage legal, surely these other obstacles should be removed? So she contacted her local government office responsible for such things.

"I have spoken to the Registrar of Nova Scotia Vital Statistics who contends the Act is not discriminatory since it only applies to biological parents - regardless of same-sex or opposite sex unions (or assisted procreation means utilized). She did not give me any options to proceed other than consulting a lawyer (and trust me, I asked)."

Unwilling to accept the response from Vital Statistics, she continued her quest for answers and action, beginning with her local member of the legislature.

"I have heard from Carolyn Bolivar-Getson's office and have been referred to the Minister responsible for Vital Statistics (under Service Nova Scotia), Jamie Muir. I have yet to contact him."

It's uncertain whether this family is included in what Mr. Muir describes as his priorities for the residents of the Truro-Bible Hill constituency: "Family, Future and Home".

"I have spoken to the local Department of Community Services (DCS) adoption specialist, the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia and a local lawyer who completes private adoptions - the cost would be $1000 inclusive, would include a 6 month probationary period and a court appearance. DCS does not complete home assessments or reference checks for private adoptions (although it used to be quite an extensive process previously)."

So the couple considered traveling to Ontario in search of a more hospitable place to birth their baby.

"If I give birth in Ontario - by virtue of assisted conception (no intercourse) she could be recorded as the other parent on the registration of birth and then correspondingly as CO-parent on the birth certificate (she would need to verify this herself by signature)," our mother-to-be's email explained.

Quebec will also recognize her wife, but with a slight difference from Ontario.

"If I give birth in Quebec - by virtue of our same-sex marriage (or civil union) and assisted procreation, [My wife] could be recorded on the declaration of birth (she is not even required to verify this in person). We will be recorded both as mothers (or in the case of two men, solely fathers) - not as co-parents."

The couple began to take a closer look at Quebec as an alternative to their initial thoughts of traveling all the way to Ontario for the long-anticipated birthday.

"If I give birth in Quebec, the birth certificate showing two mothers will be legally accepted across all sectors here in Nova Scotia - the Department of Justice contacted me and verified that. Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance (MSI) will cover all comparable costs associated with giving birth in Quebec (costs that Nova Scotia would normally cover internally). The hospital bill will fall under reciprocal billing although the doctor may bill us directly. MSI will reimburse us within two weeks of receipt submission.

"The Legal Information Society informed me that the only way to change the process here in Nova Scotia would be to either: a) Hire a lawyer to contest the Nova Scotia Vital Statistics Act as discriminatory based on the Charter of Rights and freedoms, or b) Hope that a member of parliament takes it directly to the legislature - requiring a cabinet decision (the house does not sit until October)."

The couple realize a solution at home will be a longtime coming.

"I don't have a lot of time," the expecting mother laments.

"As it stands now, full plans are underway to travel to Quebec to give birth. If we are unable to stay in an apartment in Montreal, we may be able to stay with a nurse who lives in New Brunswick but works in a hospital just over the border in Quebec. The local hospital is willing to copy all of my medical records to take with me. I would personally love to give birth in Nova Scotia, but I can't imagine going through what I consider an offensive and discriminatory (not to mention costly) process, when I can give birth in a province where [my wife] will be fully recognized as the mother of our baby. Even if it was free to adopt here in Nova Scotia, I would still likely prefer to travel to Quebec - on principle alone."

That principle has motivated this mother to bring her story forward, anonymously for now, if only in hope of making things better for other families in the future.

"I will still be pursuing change here in our own province, although the cost of hiring a lawyer at this stage is not an option. "

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