Quebec families with more than 2 parents fight for recognition

More and more families are adopting non-traditional parenting situations, but Quebec birth certificates can only include the names of two parents.

Province lags behind Ontario, B.C. when it comes to rights of non-traditional families, advocate says

Sefi Amir is parenting a baby boy with a couple of her friends. She says the trio are part of a growing number of families with more than two parents, but Quebec won't fully recognize them legally. (Submitted by Sefi Amir)

Sefi Amir was single, approaching 40 and wanted a child. So did a pair of her really good friends, a heterosexual couple who aren't able to have children themselves for medical reasons.

So, they had one as a group. Amir carried the baby, now a six-month-old boy, who she says smiles a lot, loves people and has strong legs. 

Amir and the couple live together with their baby. They spend half of the week at Amir's and the other half at the couple's place. In July, the three are moving into adjacent apartments.

"It's been amazing, weird, interesting, challenging — it's been everything," Amir said in a phone interview Friday. "It's very even. He definitely feels like all three of us are his parents."

The trio are part of a growing number of non-traditional families in Quebec, but many of their situations aren't legally recognized, says Mona Greenbaum, the director of the Quebec LGBT Family Coalition. 

"It's not just the LGBT community. It's something that's happening all over the place," said Greenbaum, who in the early 2000s fought to have both her and her female partner identified as their son's legal parents.

Now, Greenbaum says it's time for the government to acknowledge the reality of families with more than two parents.

Complex legal fight

This week, a Quebec judge called for exactly that. Superior Court Justice Gary Morrison urged provincial lawmakers to consider the possibility of multi-parent families after a complex legal fight involving a little girl and three adults living in the Laurentians.

It was unfortunate, he said, that the law forced the family to battle it out in court.

The three parents went to court after the original parents listed on a three-year-old's birth certificate — a lesbian couple — split up. 

Morrison ruled in favour of the biological father, who asked to have his name added to the certificate in place of one of the other parents, who is not the biological mother and has transitioned to become male.

The judge ordered the name of that parent removed from the document. But Morrison also said the best interests of the child would require that the law allow the recognition — on an emotional and socio-economic level — that the girl has three parents.

Person looking at camera
Mona Greenbaum, executive director of the LGBT Family Coalition, says there should be a reform of Quebec's family law to include more non-traditional parenting situations. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Greenbaum questions Morrison's decision to erase the other parent's name and rule in favour of the biological parents, when Quebec's Civil Code doesn't privilege biological parents in the first place.

"What was the advantage of adding that other parent on? I'm not sure," Greenbaum said, adding that she wonders if the fact the excluded parent is trans played a role.

She said she wished Morrison had broken the mould and allowed all three to be on the birth certificate, a move she believes would push the government to modify its laws. 

Quebec slow to change

British Columbia allows up to four parents to be listed on a birth certificate and, in 2016, Ontario followed suit.

Isabelle Marier St-Onge, a spokesperson for Quebec's justice minister, declined to comment on the ruling, citing the independence of the judiciary.

But she pointed out that a 2015 report commissioned by the province recommended maintaining the status quo of recognizing only two parents.

Robert Leckey, the dean of McGill University's Faculty of Law, agreed with Greenbaum that Quebec is behind on recognizing more than two parents. 

"There's a real kind of willingness to cling to that idea of two," Leckey said in an interview with CBC Montreal's Debra Arbec. 

"I don't think there's any indication that the government in Quebec City has an interest in taking this up."

McGill Dean of Law Robert Leckey weighs in on the ruling

5 years ago
Duration 3:09
Host Debra Arbec spoke with Leckey on the six o'clock news, Friday.

'Totally unfair'

Amir worries about what would happen if something similar were to happen in her family. She and the woman in the couple are currently listed on the birth certificate.

"If I'm to project that onto our situation, it would be heartbreaking and totally unfair," she said. "It just seems crazy that there isn't an allowance for three parents."

Amir and the couple have thought about what would happen if the pair were to split "in vague terms." The intention is to keep parenting as a group, no matter what, and to always be on good terms. 

There's also the possibility of Amir meeting someone and "there being another adult in the equation," she said. "There's lots of potential changes, challenges, things to figure out. I'm pretty confident that we'll face them together."

Aside from some weird looks from hospital staff after she gave birth, Amir says everyone around the family has embraced their situation. 

After all, she says, it takes a village.

"This kid has, you know, six grandparents and countless aunts and uncles, and all of our various friends. The community around him is strong and big, and he's really lucky to have it."

With files from The Canadian Press