Canada’s Muslim adoption ban – The Fifth Estate

[ ♪♪♪ ] Habiba Nosheen: This story isn’t
like other stories I’ve done. We’ll try to
talk to the kids now? [together]
Yes mama. I do my best to try to keep my work and my
personal life very separate. I was reporting from
an orphanage in Pakistan seven years ago
when I learned something almost unimaginable. And essentially
the story was that a lot of people who did not
want to have girls were either killing them, or abandoning
them, or aborting them. So Edhi Foundation, the orphanage portion of
it is run by this woman. And she pulls out this photo, in
the middle of our conversation, and I’m looking at it
like, “what’s that?” And she says, “Oh that’s – it’s
a burned body of a baby girl that they found
the day before”. And, that picture has
haunted me for years. To save the
lives of babies, the orphanage put cribs like
this one all over the country. Above the cribs,
are these signs. [speaking in alternate language] The promise
she makes in return, um, to the families
who’ve left their children, is “we won’t come after you.” The point is not to
track you down and say, “shame on you for doing this.” The point is to have
these babies survive. For decades,
hundreds of Canadian parents had been adopting from Pakistan
from orphanages like this one. Sarah hoped to be
one of those parents. So I remember dad, when we were
kids and we used to come as a family every year to the CNE. Nosheen: She and her father
dream of creating the same memories with her son,
but he remains a world away in Pakistan. We’ve agreed to protect her
identity because she is just terrified
of speaking out because she thinks it can hurt her attempts
to get her son. Sarah’s journey initially
looked promising. In 2012, she received a letter
from the provincial government. She was cleared to
adopt from Pakistan. Pretty soon, there was a little
boy waiting for her there. Sarah: And they said
he packed his bag, and he went to all the staff. And said, “say goodbye to me,
my mum’s coming to take me to Canada. I’m going.” Man: He was four years. Sarah: Yeah. He was four years old. Nosheen: But that
day never came. He and dozens of other
children were left in the lurch. Sarah: I least expected
that the actual roadblock was going to come
from my own government. That thought actually
never occurred to me. All of a sudden they get
this notice and their life is essentially turned upside down. Nosheen: In July of 2013, with no warning, the Harper
government announced a ban. No more adoptions from Pakistan. This is the notice. Front and centre. It says Pakistani law allows
for guardianship of children, but does not recognize
our concept of adoption. After years of allowing
adoptions from Pakistan, why did Canada
change its policy? That’s what we really
wanted to find out. Nosheen: My colleague
Shanifa Nasser and I obtained hundreds of internal government
documents to try to make sense of the change in policy. We do get a sense that
there was some kind of a rush. Nosheen: The trail
seems to start here. Canadian officials in
Islamabad seem worried. Too many Pakistani children
were being adopted by Canadians, they say. They send an email to Ottawa. “Case load is growing
exponentially. The case load is
getting bigger, not smaller, and will continue to grow.” Nosheen: The email
sounds urgent. The official seems determined. Nasser:
“We need to stop this. We need to end this program.” Nosheen: But as we dig deeper,
something else becomes clear. Take a look at 137
where they’re talking about Sharia Law. Somehow federal officials
decided that Pakistan’s use of Sharia law, or religious law,
does not allow for adoptions. And Canadian rules say, that
if these aren’t real adoptions, then these kids
can’t come to Canada. As interesting
as this memo that was sent to the deputy minister,
and essentially what it says, “it is impossible to adopt
Pakistani children given Pakistan’s prohibition
on adoption.” Nosheen: But this
doesn’t add up. Is it true that Pakistani
laws prohibit adoption? We call the
Pakistani High Commission. My name
is Shanifa Nasser. I’m calling from CBC News. Nosheen: And are connected
with the press secretary. Over Phone:
The Government of Pakistan has not banned
adoption at all. And we do not have any
restrictions as such. Adoption is allowed. Ah, Momma. That’s right! Nosheen: Full disclosure,
there’s another reason I know Pakistan
allows adoptions. This is Sophie, my daughter, who’s turned 22 months
today, actually. Sophie was found in one of
the cribs that this woman, who I had met had placed,
um, around the country. She was about two
weeks old when we got her. She was small. She was tiny. Sophie was one
of the hundreds of babies abandoned every
year in Pakistan. That’s all we know
about Sophie, is that she came
from one of these cribs. Nosheen: As part of my
adoption, I had to go to this Pakistani court. I recorded the process with my
phone in case Sophie wants to know how we became
mother and child. There was no ambiguity. No confusion. Thank you, your honour. Everything about
the process indicated that adoptions were allowed. I adopted under
American law because at that point I was living
and working in the U.S. If I had been living
in Canada at the time, my adoption would not
have been possible. For Sarah, though, it’s six years counting and
her son remains in a Pakistani orphanage while she
fights to bring him here. When we return, we track down
the minister of immigration. [horn honks] Nosheen: Nusrat Munshi was
living and working in Pakistan when she adopted
her daughter Aleeza. She was only two
days old when I got her. Do you want to see pictures? Nosheen: Sure! Nusrat Munshi: So that was
the day that I got her. Nosheen: Nusrat
is a Canadian citizen. She wants her daughter
to be one as well. But Canada has said no. What was the
reason they gave? Munshi: It does
not create a permanent parent-child relationship. Nosheen: In other words, Canada won’t
recognize her adoption. Munshi: You know, I think it
was just instantaneous that we formed that bond. Happiness is being with you! Nosheen: Aleeza
is six years old now. She and Nusrat have built a
life together here in Karachi. That’s not an option
for them in Canada. Munshi: It’s important for me
that she has that right to be able to live
in Canada with me. Nosheen: It started
as a ban in Pakistan. But we uncover that it
reaches far beyond there. Nosheen: This email clearly
states they were not just focused on Pakistan. In our email exchanges
with Canada’s immigration department, we’re
told adoptions from any Muslim country can be stopped
because Canada says, Sharia Law doesn’t allow it. Immigration lawyer Haidah
Amirzadeh has seen the effects of the ban first hand. Haidah Amirzadeh:
It’s a really, really, really difficult situation
for most of my clients. Nosheen: Her clients
trying to adopt from other Muslim countries are
also being blocked. So she’s taking her fight
straight to Canada’s immigration minister. Okay. Finally. Nosheen: What do you say to the
minister in these documents that you think is going to
make him change his mind? I think to show him how
discriminatory it is, this law is, for people living
in a Muslim majority countries. And to show them
actually what they’re, how they’re
interpreting is incorrect. I’m just trying to make sense of
why is the Canadian Government in the business of
interpreting Sharia Law? I would say it was
politically motivated. By who?
For what purpose? By the previous government. And what do they want? To prevent people from Muslim
majority country to be adopted or to come to Canada. That’s a pretty big
accusation you’re making. I’m not accusing
any specific person. I’m, when I’m reading it, when
I see the way things happen, I don’t come to any
other conclusion than that. Nosheen: Five years
since the ban, Canadian families still
find themselves in limbo. Pakistan says they’re the
legal parents of a child. Canada says they’re not. So, we ask the minister of
immigration for an interview to explain, but Ahmed
Hussen refuses to talk. We just found out the minister
is going to be in Toronto at an event and we’re going to
go see if we can talk to him. Alright. We’re here. At this Liberal Party
fundraiser, Minister Hussen
and the Prime Minister are about to speak
on immigration. While TV crews set up, I ask the
coordinator for two minutes of Hussen’s time. It’s not about today. We’ve been trying
for two months. He’s a public official. It’s important. So far, nothing. [audience cheering] And the evening begins. Good evening everyone. Thank you all for
being here tonight. It’s a wonderful opportunity
to recognize first of all our extraordinary MP
and your Minister, Ahmed Hussen. [cheers and applause] We recognize the tremendous
friendship between Canada and Pakistan,
as exemplified. Nosheen: As we wait
for a chance to ask some questions,
a twist of irony. Hussen sits across
posters of icons, Terry Fox, and the man
who founded the orphanage where our story started. The welcoming nature of
Canadians allows us to lead all immigration around the world. Nosheen: As the talk
comes to an end… I just want to thank
everyone who participated. Nosheen: ..I try
one more time. May I ask a question? Thank you very much. Merci tout le monde. Nosheen: And with that, I’m escorted to the back, while
they sweep him off the stage. No time today, so I follow
up with a letter seeking clarification. The very next day,
a surprising turn. I’ve got this email. It’s from the ministry: “we have
asked the department to initiate a review of this policy,”
and it goes on to say, “to determine a path forward
to regularize adoptions from Pakistan.” I think they’re saying they’re
looking to overturn this ban. Wow. Nosheen: It’s a possibility
for opening the door again to adoptions
from Pakistan. And maybe some hope
for Canadian parents. For Sarah, it may
seem a step closer. But the clock
is still ticking. She’s already missed out
on the first six years of her son’s life. Sarah: It’s hard being
here without him. It’s hard enjoying all the
things that I enjoyed as a child. That I think he would enjoy. And not being able to
share that with him. And not being able to enjoy
it as three generations would together. As a family. Nosheen: The orphanage
in Pakistan has given her an ultimatum: bring your child to Canada, or give him up. Sarah: I never dreamt that I
would be still here having this conversation with you in 2018,
while my son is 6 years old, still in the orphanage,
and it’s my own government that has prevented us
from being together. [ ♪♪♪ ]

Stephen Childs

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