Erin and John Nymann from Cambridge, Ont., love their six-year-old daughter, Favour.
But because of months of government inaction and a bureaucratic process immigration lawyers call “redundant,” the couple was forced to return their daughter to the Nigerian orphanage where they adopted her nearly four months ago. Now the Nymanns are back in Canada, without their daughter, desperately pleading for someone to help them bring their little girl home.
“I don’t know who it’s harder on, us or her,” John said, wiping tears from his eyes.
“She became our daughter and we love her,” he said. “It’s tough as a father to have a little child slip out of your fingers and there’s nothing you can do for her … because of the slow bureaucratic process.”
He and his wife applied to adopt a child in late-2015. After waiting for nearly three years – and working through multiple rounds of home visits and government approvals – the couple was notified by Nigerian officials in June that they were matched with a young girl whose mother died just a few months before they started the adoption process.
The couple also received a letter from Ontario officials approving the adoption.
They then travelled to Nigeria to meet Favour and finalize the adoption process.
“I couldn’t believe we were finally there,” Erin said, describing their first meeting with Favour at the orphanage. “She was a little shy, but all of a sudden … something just clicked.”
“She was hugging us and John was throwing her up in the air. We had this instant bond with her. It was just like she was meant to be in our family,” she said.
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After a few days of supervised visits, John and Erin were given permission to take Favour from the orphanage. And on July 12 – in a courtroom in Lagos, Nigeria – the adoption was legally recognized.
The couple then submitted the necessary paperwork to the Canadian High Commission in Accra, Ghana, which processes adoption claims from Nigeria.
Thinking everything was OK, John returned to Canada to get their four other children so they could travel to Africa and get to know each other as a family.
But after six weeks with no news from the High Commission, and with illnesses Erin had contracted worsening, John began to worry.
“Erin eventually got quite ill. She contracted malaria and typhoid and became very sick,” he said.
John says he tried informing Canadian officials of his wife’s condition, asking them if there was anything they could do to help speed up the process, but he says he never heard anything back.
Concerned, he flew to Ghana in mid-September where he met with immigration officials who told him nothing had been done on their file since the time it was received.
He then got an email from the High Commission requesting additional documents, which he says he provided right away.
It’s at this point that the process broke down, John said. Rather than provide a clear indication of how long things might take, the government told him that their application had not yet been processed and that there was no real timeframe for when things would be completed.
“I was very upset,” he said.
Application could take years
John returned from Ghana after two days to find that Erin’s health had become even worse. She was hospitalized and eventually had no choice but to return to Canada with two of their children at the end of September.
John then stayed in Nigeria with Favour and the couple’s two other children, eventually moving the family to Ghana so they could be closer to the High Commission, he says.
A month later, on Oct. 15, he received another email from a Canadian official saying nothing had been done on their file. This was more than two and a half months after it was submitted.
“I’m afraid I don’t have very good news,” the official said. “The response from the visa office in Accra was that your application was in the queue and they couldn’t pull your file out of the queue as there are other cases similar to yours that have been waiting longer.”
John says he felt devastated.
And with no end in sight for the government’s approval of their application, and with him needing to return to work, John says he was forced to make the difficult decision at the end of October to leave Favour at the orphanage where they first met her — more than three months after the adoption was finalized.
“I strove to find ways to bring her to Canada,” he said.
“But as the days and weeks went on I came to the conclusion that I could do nothing but return her to the orphanage.”
WATCH: Canadian government ‘red tape’ holding up B.C. family’s adoption of Nigerian toddler
As difficult as this decision was, John and Erin say it was the only option they had.
“We’ve exhausted our financial resources and we just couldn’t bring her home, at least not yet,” John said, tearfully.
“Our line of credit was maxing out, we were paying bills in Canada and in Africa. Our financial resources basically dried up,” he said.
After returning to Canada with his two other children, John and Erin received a letter from the office of Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, trying to explain why the process was taking so long.
Dated Oct. 26, the letter said that “even under ideal circumstances” the process of adopting a child from another country can take “at least six to eight months.” This includes the time needed for the adoption itself — which the Nymanns had already finished — and the time Immigration Canada takes to approve the child travelling to Canada.
The letter also said that depending on the child’s country of origin, “it is not unusual for the process to last for two years or even longer.”
According to immigration lawyer Adrienne Smith, the length of time it takes for Immigration Canada to issue travel permits and grant citizenship to adopted children is a problem, especially in cases like the Nymanns’ where both the governments of Ontario and Nigeria have already approved the adoption.
“It’s almost like a redundant process of assessing the best interest of the child,” Smith said.
“Every single week and month that goes by, where the child has been kept from their Canadian parents is detrimental,” she said. “It’s actually the opposite of being in the best interest of the child.”
While Immigration Canada has a responsibility to ensure adoptions are completed properly — and that children haven’t been taken illegally — Smith says it’s the province that has the final say on whether an adoption should proceed.
She also says issuing the required travel documents and visas shouldn’t be such a complicated process when no other legal authorities have raised any concerns.
Ultimately, Smith thinks there should be some kind of mechanism where families like the Nymanns can travel back to Canada with their adopted child and complete all the necessary paperwork from home. She says this would resolve the problem of Canadian adoptive parents having to wait for months — even years — to bring their children home.
Despite receiving authorization to discuss the details of the Nymann’s case, Hussen’s office declined multiple requests for an interview — even after being told of allegations that government officials refused to offer the Nymann’s help when Erin was suffering from malaria.
Meanwhile, Immigration Canada told Global News it understands that parents like the Nymanns are eager to bring their adopted children home, but insists inter-country adoption is a complicated process and that the “best interest” of the child must always be considered.
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The government says the Nymann’s case has been forwarded to their “Risk Assessment Unit for further verification” and did not provide a timeline on when this would be completed.
The government also says the Nymanns were “advised in advance” not to travel to Africa because processing times for adoption cases can vary.
The couple denies this outright, however, saying the only time Immigration Canada ever discussed possible delays in processing their claim was after the necessary paperwork was submitted.
And even if they had received such advice, John says they couldn’t apply to bring Favour to Canada until the adoption was complete, which required them to go to Nigeria in person. So there’s no way they could avoid travelling to Africa before submitting their claim to the High Commission, he says.
Global News asked for a copy of the correspondence in which Immigration Canada says it “advised” the family not to travel, but the government could not provide a copy of this correspondence upon request.
“She’s a six-year-old little girl who now has a mom and a dad, three brothers and a sister and an enormous amount of friends that are just waiting to meet her,” John said.
“And we can’t bring her here for months? Years? I just don’t understand.”