Judicial review allowed. The Director did not receive the minimum notice of the custom adoption application of a Métis child. The decision of the Commissioner must be quashed and the certificate for adoption vacated.
The Applicant, the British Columbia Director of Child, Family and Community Services [“Director”] has applied for a judicial review of the decision of the Respondent, Custom Adoption Commissioner Mary Beauchamp [“Commissioner”]. She issued a Custom Adoption Certificate [“Certificate”] that recognizes the adoption of a Métis child by the Respondents [“Foster Parents”] in accordance with Aboriginal customary law.
In 2013, a Métis child was apprehended the day after her birth by child protection authorities in British Columbia. She was placed in foster care of the pursuant to a family care home agreement they entered into with the Director. The Director was granted legal custody of the child through a continuing care order [“CCO”] dated July 6, 2015 by the BC Provincial Court. The Director has removed the child from the former Foster Parents care and placed her in an Ontario home to be with her biological siblings.
The Foster Parents submitted a petition to the court to adopt the child which was dismissed. A second petition was submitted asking for the same relief, but it was dismissed on the grounds of res judicata. Another petition was subsequently submitted, among various relief was adoption of the child, but also a reference to Aboriginal customary adoption. Again, the petition was dismissed as an abuse of process. The Foster Parents then submitted a fourth petition [“Petition #4”] but this submission was fundamentally different than the previous petitions. It stated that the child had already went through an Aboriginal customary adoption. It was dismissed as an abuse of process, but is now under appeal at the British Columbia Court of Appeal. That court presently has its decision on hold as it awaits the decision of this judicial review.
One of the Foster Parents is Métis and is a member of the British Columbia Métis Federation. Sometime after their former foster child was removed from their care, they moved to the Northwest Territories. They then met with the Commissioner who subsequently issued the Certificate recognizing that the child was adopted in accordance with Aboriginal customary law in 2013.
The Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act [“Act”] was enacted to recognize Aboriginal custom adoptions. The Act provides a process for individuals who have adopted a child in accordance with Aboriginal customary law to apply for a certificate recognizing the adoption. The certificate does not create an adoption but recognizes that an adoption has already taken place (Bruha v Bruha, 2009 NWTSC 44 [“Bruha”]). Custom adoption commissioners are appointed by the Minister on the basis that they already have knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal customary law in the community or region in which they reside. A custom adoption commissioner is simply recognizing that a custom adoption has taken place, however, the importance of the decision and the impact from it is significant. Once a commissioner is satisfied that the information required is complete and in order, a certificate is issued that a custom Aboriginal adoption has taken place. It is then filed with the court as a court order which permits the adoptive parent(s) to obtain a new birth certificate for the child. There is no appeal process provided under the Act. The decision of the custom adoption commissioner is final, subject only to judicial review (Bruha).
While the Act is intentionally vague about the process to be followed in recognizing an Aboriginal customary adoption, it does contemplate some form of notice. Given the implications of the decision of a custom adoption commissioner and the legitimate expectations of interested parties, the duty of procedural fairness requires, at a minimum, that interested parties receive notice of the application.
Custom adoption is a concept that has evolved over time and has adjusted to changing social conditions. There has been an evolution regarding who is involved in the process, who can adopt Aboriginal children, and how this process occurs (Kalaserk v Strickland, 1999 CanLII 6799 (NWTSC)). While the position of Director is created by the Child, Family and Community Service Act, she is the sole legal guardian as the CCO is still in place. The Director was an interested person and clearly entitled to notice of the application before the Commissioner. To allow the Certificate to stand would violate the principles of judicial economy, consistency, finality and the integrity of the administration of justice. If the Certificate was allowed to continue it would result in an abuse of process and therefore must be vacated.