A 22-year-old Romanian woman is suing a well-off couple and the Canadian and Ontario governments over a botched 1991 adoption.
"They stole my childhood," said Alexandra Austin, who is now a single mother living in Bucharest. "They stole my future. They stole my life."
Austin was nine years old when heart surgeon Joseph Austin and his wife Silvana Marisa Di Giacomo convinced her mother to let them adopt the girl and take her to Canada, her lawsuit claims.
The couple, who at the time lived in Ancaster, Ont., already had four sons but wanted a daughter.
All the paperwork was done and the Austins were legally her parents when they decided to send her back to Romania five months later, the suit says.
That was two days after they adopted a baby girl, Austin said at a news conference in Toronto Tuesday.
When she arrived back in Romania, Austin says, she was denied access to schooling and health care because she was no longer considered a citizen of that country. The Canadian government didn't consider her a citizen either, though, so she was stateless.
Her widowed mother had seven other children and couldn't pay for private education. To this day, Austin has only a Grade 3 education.
"I lost not one or two years; I lost 14 years," she said.
The lawsuit says the Canadian and Ontario governments should never have allowed the original adoption, since Alexandra was being well taken care of in Romania despite her family's poverty.
It also names the airline that transported Austin back to Romania, saying it should not have accepted the distressed nine-year-old as a passenger travelling alone.
Joseph Austin now works at a hospital in Washington state, and is divorced from Di Giacomo, who lives somewhere in Italy.
His office said he had no comment to make on the lawsuit, which has been filed in Ontario Superior Court.
A Passionate Eye documentary about the adoption case, called Return to Sender, aired on CBC Monday night and will be rebroadcast on CBC Newsworld Wednesday night.