Ryan Hoag, his wife, Wiyani Prayetno, and their infant daughter in Tokyo. (Ryan Hoag handout/The Canadian Press)

Five B.C. families stuck in Japan as Canada refuses visas for adopted babies

Lawyer points to change in American policy around adoptions from Japan

Ryan Hoag spent his first Father’s Day separated from his wife and baby daughter by more than 7,500 kilometres and reams of red tape.

Hoag’s family is stuck in Toyko unable to return to their home in Coquitlam because the federal government won’t issue a visa for the newly adopted infant.

They are one of five families unable to get visas after travelling from B.C. to Japan this spring to pick up their adopted children.

Vancouver lawyer Alex Stojicevic represents the group and said Tuesday that the issue appears to be a change in American policy around adoptions from Japan, which led the Canadian government to seek an opinion from the Japan’s justice ministry.

All of the families followed a process that has been in place for at least a decade, which includes getting a letter from the provincial government saying there are no objections to the adoption, Stojicevic said.

One family used the same process to successfully adopt another child from Japan a few years ago, he said.

“When they left (Canada), they thought all the legalities had been met. And they had been. As far as we’re concerned, they still have been,” Stojicevic said.

“We’re sitting here in limbo wondering, what’s the problem?”

READ MORE: B.C. children adoption rates lagging, despite increased funding, watchdog says

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a statement that the federal government is seeking clarification from the Japanese government to ensure adoptions respect Japanese laws.

The statement said that while the matter is being investigated, the department “cannot finalize the processing of cases where the adoption will be completed in Canada and where the transfer of custody is not confirmed by a court order.”

“Our hearts go out to the prospective parents, who have travelled to Japan to adopt children,” the statement said. “We understand and sympathize with their very difficult situation, however (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) must respect its obligations under international and Canadian laws which is in the best interests of the children involved.”

For Hoag, the visa process has been “a tragedy.”

“Lost in all this bureaucracy is the complete hardship that five Canadian families are enduring,” he said.

Hoag and his wife, Wiyani Prayetno, went to Japan in early May to meet their baby girl.

It was one of his most deeply rewarding moments, he said.

“I took her into my arms, my wife took her into her arms, we hugged each other and we felt like a complete family unit.”

They quickly sent the baby’s information off to the Canadian embassy and expected to have a visa within a couple of weeks. Then they received an email saying that visas had been suspended for Canadians adopting kids from Japan.

By early June, Hoag had to return to Canada for work.

“To leave your wife and baby in a country where they have no friends or family to support them was a pretty brutal outcome,” he said.

He speaks with his wife every day and gets updates about how his baby is growing, but Hoag said it’s not the same as being with his daughter and seeing her “beautiful dimple.”

“You’re missing out on the real experiences in life that, at the end of your day, you look back and those were the moments that made everything good. I want to stop missing these moments, for sure.”

The delays have also created unexpected financial stress, on top of an already costly adoption process, Hoag said.

They’re missing work, paying for indefinite hotel stays and have had to buy baby items that they already own in B.C.

“Families are scraping by, they’re taking out lines of credit with their banks,” Hoag said.

With no resolution in sight, many of the families are also concerned about their 90-day tourist visas running out, he added.

Hoag just wants his family to be reunited soon.

“Not only have we followed all of the laws, but I really think that the government has a moral and ethical responsibility to take care of its citizens in a time of need,” he said. “And this is a situation that has been brought on the families by the government’s delay.”

All five of the families followed a lawful process and the federal government owes them a duty of care, said Stojicevic.

“It would be monumentally unfair if the visas for these children were refused on the grounds of the goal posts being shifted on them mid process, which is what we’re talking about here.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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