To The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor,
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Leia Swanberg and I’m the luckiest individual working in the Canadian fertility industry as I’m the only one who has ever been formally investigated, charged and plead guilty to regulatory offenses under the under the Assisted Reproduction Act.
You may ask yourself: how I can possibly consider myself lucky for having faced up to ten years in jail and up to $500,000 in fines? How can I feel grateful for having the RCMP storm into my agency, Canadian Fertility Consulting, and hold a gun to my head during questioning? How can I feel blessed to have my reputation smeared by accusations of participating in a baby selling ring? I consider myself lucky because these experiences provided me with first hand insight into the fear that intended parents in Canada carry in their hearts throughout their surrogacy experiences – a fear that they too will face criminal charges because they want to create a family of their own through alternative reproduction strategies.
After a thorough investigation, it was proven that I had no connection to any such baby selling ring and I pleaded guilty to two regulatory offences under the AHRA. However, if I had not gone through that arrest and ensuing court case, I would never had been able to create my lobbying organization, Fertility Advisors. It was only by going through those legal proceedings that I was able to see just how confusing and outdated the current legislation surrounding assisted reproduction really is. After my hearing, I made it my mission to gain clarity in the industry and advocate for better regulations that would serve in the best interests of all Canadians.
In order to do so, I reached out to Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who decided to put forward a private members bill to decriminalize surrogacy. I brought together the best minds within the Canadian fertility world: doctors, lawyers, patients, infertile people, and most importantly, surrogates and egg donors, who over the last 14 years of pending legislation, have never been given the opportunity to share their stories. Finally, they were able to sit in front of government and speak to what their needs were; to share their opinion of what made sense in terms of reimbursements of expenses, future legislation, and eventual decriminalization.
Working with Anthony has been a wonderful experience. It’s been an honour to attend hill days, meet with MPs and senators, and share the stories of fertility professionals and patients, especially from those who were too afraid to attend these events themselves. We invited over 250 intended parents to these events, and only 3 felt safe enough to attend. It saddens me that even with the protection of their lawyers and the support of the fertility community, these intended parents are still afraid to be heard.
My hope in participating in last year’s round table discussions was to garner the support of the industry and finally put sensible regulations in place. But as an industry, and as individuals, we are terrified that the government has not been able to hear our pleas, as the current regulatory framework that was established over 14 years ago is horribly outdated. It saddens me to hear from many Health Care officials that their hands are tied, as they are forced to work within this obsolete framework. In the 14 years since this legislation was put in place, there have been great advances in reproductive medicine, but due to this inability to reopen legislation, we fear it will no longer be relevant to those accessing assisted reproductive services today.
What saddens me further, is that as the new Health Minister of Canada, you have not been open to meeting with the fertility community or hearing from the people who are most affected by this antiquated criminal code. We, as a community, want to create an open dialog in order to discuss the risks Canadians are taking with their health and the health of their children whenever they feel forced to travel to foreign jurisdictions to have their babies. These parents are too afraid to have their surrogate children in Canada as they are terrified by this unclear legislation that is still within the criminal code. Parents today still face up to ten years in jail or a $500, 000 fine if they are found guilty of paying their surrogates or gamete donors. Please help these vulnerable Canadians by taking this out of the criminal code.
We believe in the safety of Canadians perusing these alternative family building procedures. As infertility affects 1 in 6 heteronormative Canadians and the entire LGBTQ community, we ask that you strongly consider turning Anthony’s private members bill into a platform issue of the Liberal government. Whether it be an infertile couple, a cancer patient, or same sex male or female couple, we believe that individuals need to feel safe perusing alternative family building options in Canada. While you may not see them, because they are invisible and afraid to come forward on their own, they exist, and their rights need to be protected.
While you are busy with the legalization of marijuana and dealing with the Fentanyl crisis, Health Minster, please allow us the opportunity to self-regulate as an industry. Please take this one piece of health regulation out of the criminal code so people can have a conversation about establishing the proper regulatory framework that needs to be in place.
Fertility Advisor’s goal is that Canadians feel safe accessing the services of an egg donor or a gestational carrier without the risk of facing jail time and astronomical fines. We are not driven by self-interest to push forward some commercial model, but from a place of genuine goodwill to protect the health of these Canadians and their children. We wish to cooperate with the government of Canada to achieve our goal of decriminalization.
Please help us reach that goal, Health Minister.