N.W.T. judge overturns custom adoption after father files lawsuit

A controversial former teacher in Inuvik has successfully had a custom adoption decision overturned by an N.W.T. judge.

Custom Adoptions Act gives Indigenous groups legal authority to use less formal methods of adoption

Former Inuvik teacher Hugues Latour has successfully had a custom adoption decision overturned by an N.W.T. judge. (Chantal Dubuc/Yellowknife)

A controversial former teacher in Inuvik has successfully challenged a custom adoption decision. 

Hugues Latour challenged the custom adoption of a child he had with a former high school student in Inuvik. She was 18 at the time. He was 36.

In his lawsuit, Latour said he was not notified the child was being adopted out to the mother's aunt.

The adoption was done four years ago. The mother said it happened shortly after she was hospitalized after being diagnosed with depression.

The N.W.T.'s Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act came into effect in 1995. It gave Indigenous groups the legal authority to use less formal, traditional methods of adoption.

In June, an N.W.T. Supreme Court judge quashed the custom adoption order and ordered the territorial government to restore the child's original birth information.

​In Nunavut earlier this summer, a judge quashed a custom adoption order after the biological mother of the child objected to it. Nunavut's law reform commission, as well as the auditor general, have expressed serious concerns about the way custom adoption is working in Nunavut.

Government takes 'hands off' approach

The N.W.T. government didn't want any involvement in the case.

In an affidavit, a Health and Social Services official said custom adoption commissioners are not required to record, register or explain their decisions, adding the commissioners set the rules for custom adoptions, but are not required to put the rules in writing.

"If the department receives a complaint regarding a custom adoption, we advise them to hire a lawyer," wrote Bethan Williams-Simpson, manager of child and family services for the health department. "The department would not get involved in such a dispute."

Under the Custom Adoption Act, Aboriginal groups nominate commissioners based on their knowledge of local adoption traditions.

The commissioners are required to review an administrative procedures handbook developed by the department prior to confirming interest in becoming a custom adoption commissioner. Once that's done, and they agree to serve as commissioners, they are appointed by the minister of Health and Social Services for a three-year term.

People who get a custom adoption can apply to get a certificate of adoption, but are not required to do so.

"I have no knowledge of [the adoption commissioner's] approach to custom adoption and cannot provide the court with any evidence regarding this particular adoption," said Williams-Simpson in her affidavit.

Sides to argue terms of father's access to child

The mother of the child says she did not contact Latour about custom adopting the child to her aunt because she was "finally feeling happy again and did not want to engage with Latour's hostility."

"Whether or not my aunt or the commissioner had a duty to consult Mr. Latour, I do not know. I believed the commissioner has the experience on the issue as she would know what the local custom is."

Latour had his teaching licence revoked because of an inappropriate relationship he had with at least one female student at the Inuvik high school where he was teaching..

He was later charged with a number of crimes. But all of the charges were either stayed or dropped.

He now lives in Quebec.

The case is back in court in Yellowknife this week, as both sides debate the terms of Latour's access to the child.