Canadian fight to bring Ugandan kids home

By ANDREW HANON, QMI Agency

Denise and Franklin Guillaume hold adopted children Alex and Olivia in Uganda in 2009. The Edmonton couple are battling the federal government to bring the kids to Canada.

EDMONTON – Franklin and Denise Guillaume just want to bring their children home, but the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya won’t let them.

They join a growing number of Canadians trying to adopt Ugandan orphans who are being denied visas for the kids because the Canadian government doesn’t want to interfere in what it considers another country’s domestic problems.

The Edmonton couple has been trying for nine months to get permanent-resident visas for Alex and Olivia, toddlers abandoned at birth and living in an overcrowded orphanage in Jinja, Uganda.

They’ve been approved for adoption by Alberta Children’s Services and the Ugandan courts have declared the Guillaumes the children’s legal guardians, but the high commission refuses to issue visas, thus barring their entry to Canada.

“It’s cruel,” says Denise, fighting back tears of frustration. “When we go back to Uganda, we’ll have to meet them all over again and they’ll have to bond with us a second time.”

So far they’ve spent $30,000 trying to bring their kids home, and if they end up taking the Canadian government to court, it’s going to get a lot more expensive.

Meanwhile, Alex and Olivia continue to languish in the orphanage.

“The woman running the orphanage says she’s running out of room,” said Denise. “Two of the kids there are ours. They belong with us.”

The Guillaumes, who have two biological children, Anika, 6, and Rhys, 4, began the adoption process in early 2009.

They travelled to Uganda in October and spent eight weeks applying for guardianship and getting to know the children.

The court order specifies they can take their children overseas to live, but Franklin says when he travelled to Nairobi to get their visas to bring them to Canada, he was turned down.

Turns out, the Ugandan government and courts can’t agree on allowing guardianship to foreigners. The government in Kampala says guardianship should only be granted to people who’ve lived at least three years in Uganda — or if the child is sick.

Meanwhile, a Lethbridge-area family is mulling taking the feds to court over Ottawa’s refusal to accept Ugandan court rulings.

But if that takes too long, says James Schalk of Coaldale, they’ll simply move to Uganda for three years.

“They’re my kids, no different from my kids here in Canada, and I’ll do anything for them,” he said. “If we have to, we’ll pack up and leave. We’re prepared to sell everything and move there to be with our kids.”

Schalk and his wife Cheremi are also trying to adopt two orphans, aged three and four, and are in the same boat as the Guillaumes. He knows of another four families struggling to get kids out of Uganda.

“We’re not trying to smear the government, but we want our kids home,” he said. “We have a legal opinion saying they have no right to deny our kids visas, so that’s the avenue we’re looking at.”

Edmonton Sherwood Park Tory MP Tim Uppal called it a “delicate issue.”

“Adoptions from Uganda are very complex,” he said. “There is a difference of opinion between the courts and their legislative bodies on what constitutes legal guardianship. ”

The Ugandan government and its courts have to settle the dispute themselves before Canada can issue visas in these cases, he said.

But Schalk says other countries accept Ugandan court rulings and give adoptive families visas to bring kids home.

“It seems like there is someone opposed to adoptions, and they’re stalling us in the process,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s hurting our children.”

andrew.hanon@sunmedia.ca