British Columbia

Call for clear parenthood laws after lesbian couple says they were hounded by sperm donor’s family

Andrew Barr/National Post

A potential test case on the rights of sperm donors and recipients in a new age of unconventional parenthood was supposed to have ended for good last year.

That’s when the donor suddenly dropped a lawsuit against the lesbian parents of his biological son, and agreed to stay clear of the boy, now aged four, after a single, limited visit.

These people seemed to be stopping at nothing to get close to my child, and that’s a really scary thing

But the two women say now they were essentially hounded out of a northern Ontario town after the case wrapped up. They claim the donor’s parents followed them and drove repeatedly past their isolated home, while other residents subjected them to angry criticism.

Fearing the boy would be harassed when he started school, they relocated to British Columbia and have since moved to another part of Ontario.

Andrew Barr/National Post

“It was just an all-around awful situation,” said one of the boy’s mothers. “These people seemed to be stopping at nothing to get close to my child, and that’s a really scary thing … It’s a Pandora’s box. Once they say, ‘Hi, I’m your grandmother’ or ‘I’m your father,’ you can’t undo that.”

Their treatment underlines the need for clear laws on the issue, something most provinces lack, said Michelle Flowerday, the couple’s lawyer.

Legislation must make it explicit biological ties in such situations “do not constitute a claim to parenthood,” she said.

A court-ordered publication ban prohibits revealing the names of any of the parties.

The sperm donor’s parents tell a different story. If they ever came in contact with the family after the April 2013 settlement, it was purely by chance, said the man’s father, noting they live in Cochrane, a town of just 5,300 people.

He scoffed at the suggestion he and his wife ever trailed the couple and their son.

The donor’s father did say they abandoned the lawsuit for financial reasons, and were disappointed they could have no access to the boy.

“We won’t see him, I guess, unless maybe he comes back 20 years from now, or something,” he said Monday.

“We didn’t have much of a say, even if we are grandparents. We would have liked to see him once in a while, even if it was just maybe once or twice a year or something.”

Growing numbers of children are being born in Canada as a result of in-vitro fertilization and other forms of assisted reproduction, often to same-sex couples. When donations are obtained anonymously from sperm banks, and in the few provinces with laws that directly address the issue, parenthood is generally uncontested.

In situations where couples and single people make arrangements with sperm donors they know, however — especially in provinces like Ontario that lack such legislation — the rights of the various parties remain largely unresolved.

In the Cochrane case, the donor’s sperm was used for insemination done at home. The man signed a contract saying he would play no part in the child’s life.

Later, he had a change of heart and sued to get access to the child, saying he had been unfairly pressured by one of the women, a former high-school classmate.

The donor’s father said the woman “took advantage” of his son, whom he said is easily influenced.

A trial, with interest groups intervening, had already been scheduled when the case was unexpectedly settled. As part of the agreement, the sperm donor and his parents were allowed a one-hour meeting with the boy, but could not mention their relationship to him.

After that meeting, though, the couple say they saw the donor’s parents drive repeatedly past their rural home, 13 kilometres outside Cochrane, though there would be no other reason for them to be there. They also followed them while they were driving through the community.

Others also made life difficult, said the mother. One time, a woman approached them in a supermarket, knelt down and put her face inches from the boy’s head, staring at him and not saying a word, she said.

“It got to be so absurd,” she said. “I was constantly looking over my shoulder, constantly scanning the crowd at the store, at a mall, at an event … I was at my wit’s end and there was nothing I could do about it.”

She said they contacted police, but were told authorities could do nothing unless someone trespassed on their property.

National Post

• Email: tblackwell@nationalpost.com