Itunu and Samuel Oremade say video calls with their son Andrew bring pain as well as joy.
That’s because the three-year-old keeps asking a question they are also desperate for an answer to: why can’t their family be together in Canada?
The Oremades live in Airdrie, Alta., and their adopted son is being cared for by Itunu’s 79-year-old mother in Lagos, Nigeria.
The first stage of Andrew’s adoption application was approved Dec. 7, 2018. But the second part, which would grant him Canadian citizenship and the ability to enter Canada, has been in the processing queue for 22 months with no updates to the file.
‘It’s so painful’
Between cases reported on by CBC News and others confirmed by the family, the Oremades say at least three other adoptions submitted months later than theirs to the same Canadian High Commission office in Accra, Ghana — which processes applications for West Africa — have been approved for citizenship.
“It’s so painful. We use video call to talk to him and he’s always asking questions, ‘Oh, Mom, you told me you will be coming back.’… There really is no explanation,” Itunu said. “He’s always asking … ‘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’s taking over 22 months,” Samuel said.
When the Oremades embarked on the adoption in 2016, they were prepared for it to be a long and costly process. What they weren’t prepared for, they say, was a lack of transparency.
“We decided to go through Nigeria because … we wanted someone from our background, someone from our culture,” Samuel said.
He said the couple went through all the required formal processes. The adoption was approved by the Nigerian government and Alberta Children’s Services.
The couple travelled to Nigeria; they say they were initially told by the Accra office it would be just a few months for their son’s citizenship to be processed, and they hoped to spend their first Christmas as a family together in Canada.
But months went by and Samuel had to return home for work. Itunu used up her entire parental leave and vacation before she was forced to join him — separating their new family.
During their wait, Lagos saw unrest, with gunfire exchanged during protests over police brutality not far from where the family was staying.
Alicia Backman-Beharry, a lawyer representing the family, said Andrew would tell his mother, ‘Mommy, we’ve got to lay down, because the bullets, the noise is happening again.”
Andrew also contracted malaria, landing him in the hospital around the time Nigeria was experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
‘Why can’t I come home?’
For months, the couple says, they contacted the immigration minister’s office, their local MP, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Accra office, with either no response or responses that simply indicated their son’s case is in the queue.
At times, they were emailing requests for information and stressing the urgency of their situation nearly every day.
“We’re like, really?… Nothing is happening. In July, it will be two years. This is a child. We want him to grow with our family,” Itunu said.
The Oremades say they keep questioning why other cases have been processed while theirs has not. In emails to the government, they’ve questioned if systemic racism or their country of origin played a part.
The other families are white, while the Oremades are Black.
“[This] news, though a beautiful ending for fellow Canadian families, brought Itunu and I to an even deeper state of anguish,” Samuel wrote.
“Our family has been in the queue for months ahead of these families.… What could be the explanation?”
IRCC says office has limited processing capacity
The IRCC declined an interview and said in an emailed statement that Part 2 of international adoption applications take a minimum of six to eight months and in some cases can take two years or more.
Due to the pandemic, the IRCC said there are few officers in Ghana able to process applications as employees were repatriated to Canada.
“Other than filing an application to federal court … which basically says that immigration has an obligation to act, there is very little the family can do,” said Backman-Beharry.
“[It’s] extremely frustrating and it’s heartbreaking to speak with the parents and to hear the anguish in their voice.”
Local MP questions ‘unacceptably long delays’
Banff-Airdrie MP Blake Richards said his office has been reaching out to the IRCC regularly to send the family updates on the status of their case.
“There seems to have been unacceptably long delays in the processing of this file, and this is something I have made clear directly to the Minister of Immigration,” he said in an emailed statement.
The IRCC also said that, during the pandemic, it has implemented priority processing for vulnerable people, family members seeking to reunite and those in essential services.
It did not say if the Oremades’ case was identified as a priority.
WATCH | Pandemic threatens to delay Canadian citizenship for hundreds of thousands
Backman-Beharry said the IRCC can process citizenship applications remotely due to the pandemic. The IRCC have not yet responded to a question Wednesday as to whether this case could be processed in Canada.
Backman-Beharry said she suspects, based on previous cases she’s worked on, that the Canadian High Commission may have unspecified concerns about adoptions from Nigeria.
“If the Canadian High Commission is going to have concerns … then that’s something they absolutely need to talk [with the involved agencies and authorities about] to make sure that they have their concerns completely assuaged,” she said.
“It’s disappointing as a Canadian. I would hope that if there are concerns … investigate them,” Backman-Beharry said. “It’s one of the principles of natural justice, right, to be able to respond to the case against you.”
‘What are we going to tell him again?’
Itunu has said the couple is happy to file any paperwork, address any concerns, to see their family reunited.
Canada is a signatory to the Hague Convention, an international agreement to ensure adoptions are in the best interests of children.
“Going through this process [the goal] was to have a stable home for him to grow in a family setting. The IRCC is telling us they are putting the best interests of the child in consideration … I don’t see how his interest has been protected,” Samuel said.
“If we go back to Nigeria, and his papers are not ready … and we have to return back home? What are we going to tell him again?” Itunu said.