B.C. Government Hit with Class-Action Lawsuit over Coerced Adoption Claims

December 19, 2014 8:57 pm Published by

National Post

Kathryn Blaze Carlson
March 16, 2012

The British Columbia government was on Friday hit with a class-action lawsuit accusing the province of abduction, fraud, and coercion in connection with adoptions among unmarried women from the 1940s until the early 1990s.

The lead plaintiff is today a fourth-year psychology student named Cassandra Armishaw, who became pregnant at age 17 in 1985 after being sexually assaulted in Penticton, B.C., according to the statement of claim.  When she was in labour at Vancouver’s Grace Hospital, she alleges a social worker entered the room and said “when you’re done here I’m taking that baby,” the claim says.

“She was still delivering the baby, and tried not to push,” It says.

Ms. Armishaw alleges she was not immediately allowed to see, hold, or touch her baby girl.

The lawsuit is the first in an expected series of similar class-actions planned against all the provinces Quebec westward, as well as in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.  Tony Merchant, the prominent Saskatchewan lawyer heading the actions, said he expects to file in Ontario and Quebec next week.

A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development said it would be inappropriate to comment now that a suit has been filed.

Earlier this week, Brian Cotton said the government is “not aware of any official policy that would have forced unwed mothers to give up their children for adoption in British Columbia.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

Since the National Post launched an investigation into coerced adoptions last weekend, dozens of mothers have emerged to say they were coerced or forced by social workers, medical staff, and churches into giving their child up for adoption because they were unmarried.  Three former social workers two in Alberta and one who worked in Manitoba, have come forward to corroborate some of the claims put forward by the mothers.

The Salvation Army and the United Church have said they are reviewing their maternity homes’ practices, and the Ontario NDP has urged the Dalton McGuinty government to “give serious consideration” to calls for a provincial inquiry.

Among the mothers who have told their stories to the National Post, several said they experienced coercion in British Columbia.

Sharon Pederson said she was 20-yers-old in 1964 when she was drugged and tied to her bed during labour and then shown four different babies through the nursery window at a hospital in Victoria.  She ultimately signed adoption papers at the local children’s aid society, she said, but not before social workers held a pen in her hand and threatened to call the police because she was screaming and throwing furniture in protest.

Hanne Andersen said her B.C. hospital records say “Baby for Adoption” even though the teenage single mother had planned to keep the baby.  Ms. Anderson, who became pregnant at age 15 in 1982, said nurses allowed her to hold her child just once.

Ms. Armishaw could not be reached on Friday afternoon, but her statement of claim says she feared another sexual assault in Penticton and moved to Vancouver.   There, she claims she contacted social services to see whether she could receive assistance, but she alleges she was told no assistance was available.  The claim also says a social worker testified in court that Ms. Armishaw was not able to care for herself – that Cassandra “did not eat nutritious food” and “thought other people were possessed by spirits – and that the baby should be put up for adoption.

The claim, filed to the B.C. Supreme Court on Friday morning, lists the “Province of British Columbia, as represented by the Attorney General” as the sole defendant.  “The Defendant took away the right of the Class Members to make a free choice about whether to adopt their children,” it says.

The class captures unmarried women whose babies were “taken immediately following delivery and then placed for adoption,” according to the claim, which seeks general and special damages for the lost opportunity to parent, medical treatment without consent, and mental distress.

It says unmarried mothers were excluded from the regular maternity wards, and that adoption consents were executed immediately following birth, in contravention of the ten-day waiting period before a surrender can be executed.

“I don’t think there is any question there was a policy where if a child was born outside of a marriage, that child was not to remain with the mother,” said Mr. Merchant, whose firm secured a $2-billion settlement in the 2006 Indian Residential School class action.

Mr. Merchant said the class-action suits will attempt to saddle the provinces with the responsibility for the wrongdoings of church-run organizations because they were provincially funded agents.  He said he hope the case will be certified by a judge within six months, allowing the case to proceed.


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