The businesswoman targeted by the first full-scale police investigation into alleged wrongdoing in Canada’s fertility industry has been kept in the dark about the exact nature of the case, and is deeply worried about clients caught in the middle of the affair, her lawyer said Thursday. RCMP officers have given no indication why they raided B.C. and Ontario offices of Canadian Fertility Consultants (CFC), whose services include bringing together would-be parents and surrogate mothers, said Frank Addario, a prominent Toronto criminal-defence lawyer. “She is distraught by the situation and has concerns for her clients,” Mr. Addario said about the agency’s owner, Leia Picard. “We know very little at this stage … We don’t know what the investigation is going to be about.”
The search warrant RCMP obtained to enter offices in Brighton, Ont., and the accompanying information justifying it has been sealed, a police spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, a U.S. lawyer who helped trigger the FBI’s crackdown on a shocking “baby-selling” ring last year said that case had a previously unpublicized Canadian connection. One surrogate mother who was impregnated through in-vitro fertilization in Ukraine, with the resulting baby sold off for a six-figure price, was from Canada, said Andrew Vorzimer, a Los Angeles-area lawyer. “I do know there had been someone who reported this to local Canadian law enforcement,” he said. However, Mr. Vorzimer, who represents parents involved in fertility treatment, said if CFC or its owner had any connection to the baby-selling ring he did not know about it. Ms. Picard is “highly regarded” in U.S. assisted-reproduction circles, he said.
The RCMP have said little about their investigation, except that they searched CFC’s premises last Wednesday related to alleged breaches of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act and Criminal Code. Those parts of the act not struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada last year ban the purchase of human eggs, sperm and embryos and the services of a surrogate, prohibitions that also form part of the Criminal Code. No charges have ever been laid, despite evidence of an active underground trade in the basic ingredients of fertility treatment.
At her home in Brighton, about 150 kilometres east of Toronto, Ms. Picard said she would love to talk about the case but had been instructed by her lawyer not to talk to the media. Another agency that provides a similar service has said it is now helping some of CFC’s clients, who complain that they have not been able to get access to expense money required by pregnant surrogates since the raid. Mr. Addario said he is not aware of any FBI role in the investigation. Cpl. Cathie Glenn, an RCMP spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the suggestion.
Some of Mr. Vorzimer’s clients helped police in California investigate the baby-selling case, which has seen three lawyers go to jail for their role in the service. Surrogacy in both countries requires that an arrangement be made with the “intended parents” before the surrogate gets pregnant. The American lawyers essentially produced the babies first – having the IVF treatment done in Ukraine because of its laxer laws – then offered the soon-to-be-born infants for as much as $150,000.
Ms. Picard has herself acted as a surrogate and was featured in a 2006 National Post story after she gave birth to twins for a Toronto couple. The situation was unusual as the mother who commissioned the children had unexpectedly gotten pregnant herself, and gave birth at almost the same time. Ms. Picard offered a spirited defence of the fertility business. “It’s not baby-selling, and it’s not people wanting the perfect blond-haired, blue-eyed child,” she told the Post, saying she believed society still embraces a misguided view of surrogacy and reproductive technology. “It’s people not wanting anything other than to complete their family.”