Nunavut government commits to regulate custom adoptions
Currently, no safeguards prevent convicted child abusers from custom adopting
Nunavut’s minister of family services has committed to work on changing the law governing custom adoptions in the territory.
This would end the ability that known child abusers have right now to adopt children in Nunavut.
Elisapee Sheutiapik offered the commitment in the legislature on Friday, Feb. 22, after Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main asked her during question period if there are currently any requirements in place to protect children custom-adopted by convicted or known abusers.
“For adoptions under the Adoption Act there are safeguards and protections in place, such as criminal record checks and home assessments, to ensure that children are being adopted into a safe environment,” said Main.
“My understanding is also that under custom adoption, there is no requirement for these safeguards and protections.”
Little oversight for custom adoptions
When he asked Sheutiapik to confirm this, she said that there are three types of adoption processes under the Adoption Act and that in the case of private adoptions, they do require criminal record checks.
Main pressed on, clarifying that he had asked about the custom adoptions process.
He quoted from a Family Services report that says the department has no direct involvement in the custom adoption process, but is responsible for the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act.
This includes appointing, training and paying adoption commissioners.
“Is it currently possible for a convicted child abuser to adopt a child in Nunavut, yes or no?” said Main.
Sheutiapik replied that it is not possible through the Adoption Act, but through the Custom Adoption Recognition Act, it is possible.
She added that parents are responsible for custom adoptions.
“So I would hope the parents themselves are not allowing adoptions to take place knowing that they are abusers,” said Sheutiapik.
To that, Main told the minister that using the word “hope” does not suggest there is a lot of oversight or monitoring of the issue.
Child abuse not Inuit custom: Main
Additionally, he read from another page from the department’s report that said custom adoption commissioners can refuse to process a custom adoption if they do not feel the legislation or Inuit tradition is being followed.
Allowing a child abuser to adopt is not tradition, said Main, as he referenced past quotes from Rankin Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie, who has spoken out on the topic.
“Will the minister take a position on this issue … will the minister commit to telling these Aboriginal custom commissioners that this is not Aboriginal customary law?” asked Main.
Sheutiapik replied that social workers will not make much of a difference. Instead, she said the wording of the Custom Adoption Recognition Act needs to change.
“But I’m certainly committed because I don’t support child abuse,” said Sheutiapik.
“So I certainly commit to working on that.”
In 2017, a Nunavut judge warned that the law governing custom Inuit adoptions needed a makeover, saying the issue was “of upmost importance to our children.”