Surrogacy is when a woman enters into an agreement with intended parents to carry a child that she will not be a parent to. This can be done either with the surrogate’s DNA or an implanted embryo. One, both, or neither of the intended parents may contribute reproductive assistance to the creation of the child. Surrogacy is highly regulated in Canada. Unlike in other countries, such as the United States, surrogates in Canada cannot be paid or compensated to be a surrogate. The Assisted Human Reproduction Act (“AHRA”) governs surrogacy and it sets out among other things, strict rules for how surrogates can be reimbursed for expenses.

Assisted human reproduction in Canada is considered altruistic and cannot be done for profit. Because surrogacy is an altruistic endeavour, surrogates also must not suffer any loss; thus the ways they may be reimbursed for specific expenses are set out in the AHRA and in the applicable Regulations. This includes documented travel expenses, medical expenses, groceries, any loss suffered to income as a result of the pregnancy so long as a medical practitioner has signed off on the loss, and other related expenses (with receipts). Additional compensation by the intended parents to any party involved with the surrogacy (the surrogate, any agency assisting with finding a surrogate, other donors etc.) can result in penalties under the AHRA. Speaking to a lawyer who specializes in fertility law to understand how intended parents can thank their surrogates is highly recommended.

While surrogacy is regulated at the federal level, especially in regards to compensating surrogates, it is also governed by the BC Family Law Act (“FLA”). The FLA defines “assisted human reproduction” as a means a method of conceiving a child other than by sexual intercourse. Reproduction through sexual intercourse would not qualify to be a surrogacy in BC, but would rather require that the intended parents enter into an adoption agreement with the birth mother.

BC has a fairly comprehensive statutory approach to surrogacy and covers that a donor (surrogate, egg, sperm, or the like) is not automatically considered a “parent” based solely on the donation (s. 24 FLA). BC law requires that intended parents and surrogates go through a two-step process: a surrogacy agreement prior to conception, and written consent of the surrogate after the birth (s. 29 FLA). Note that if a surrogacy agreement/ arrangement is not entered into prior to the conception, then the birth mother will be considered the child’s parent under s. 27 of the FLA.

The requirements for a surrogacy agreement are set out in s. 29 of the FLA which must include that

  • it must be in writing,
  • be made before the child is conceived through assisted reproduction, and
  • confirm that the birth mother will not be a parent of the child (FLA s. 29(2)).
  • Upon the birth of a child born as a result of assisted reproduction, it must be confirmed that no party to the agreement withdrew prior to the conception, and
  • the surrogate must give written consent to surrender the child to the intended parents (FLA s. 29(3)).
  • To be a surrogate, a woman must be at least 21 years of age (AHRA s. 6(4)).

Additionally, though not required, it is recommended for the safety of the surrogate that only women who have previously given birth become a surrogate. When considering surrogacy, either as a surrogate or intended parents, it is important to have a comprehensive agreement to set out the expectations of all parties. Because it is not required in BC to get a court order declaring parentage, and intended parents can be parents to the child born through surrogacy so long as there is a valid agreement, ensuring their is a written agreement between the intended parents and the surrogate is crucial. Consulting a lawyer prior to the conception of a child and prior to entering into such an agreement is strongly advised. Failure to do so could result in confusion and eventually having to attend Court to get a declaration of parentage, among other possible issues. Having a child should be a joyous time for intended parents and surrogates alike, and ensuring to have all parties’ rights and obligations clearly set out in the beginning will make for the best experience as parents embark on their parenting journey.

In Canada, it is legal to record a party without their knowledge as long as one of the parties being recorded (which includes the person doing the recording) consents (Criminal Code s. 184(2)). However, simply because something is legal does not mean it will be admissible in court. This is especially so when it comes to secret recordings in family law cases.

A recent case in Ontario, Van Ruyven v Van Ruyven, 2021 ONSC 5963, dealt with two parties who put into evidence secret recordings they had taken of the other. The judge decided that the recordings could not be considered as evidence, and that such conduct was to be discouraged by the courts. This case has been cited by courts in BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, as well as Ontario, as judges caution family law litigants from engaging in the questionable activity of secretly recording one’s ex; or worse, one’s child.

Family proceedings can be extremely acrimonious. As such, some parents record the other parent or their child, in an often misguided attempt to collect evidence that the recording party thinks will amount to a “smoking gun”. However, this can often backfire and the recordings may cast doubt on the ability of the recording parent to put the needs of their child in front of their own desire to “win”. This was particularly so in K.M. v J.R., 2022 ONSC 111, where both parents secretly recorded each other, and the judge stated that parents need to be strongly discouraged from engaging in such behaviour.

The judge in that case, who had reviewed the recordings, stated in regards to the content of those recordings that

“[t]he adults were so busy arguing and screaming at each other that they didn’t seem to hear the boy say something that should have been obvious. “I’m scared.” (para 203(f)). The judge went on to say “the manner in which the recording was created raises serious questions about parental insight and sensitivity” (para 208 (e)).

In a similar situation, suspiciously obtained evidence was considered in a recent BC case: Steiner v Mazzotta, 2022 BCSC 827, where, in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a parent snuck onto the other parent’s property and took pictures of the parent who was with the child not wearing a mask in contravention of a previous order. The judge in Steiner admitted the picture as evidence, but stated: “Although the respondent’s poor conduct yielded evidentiary material that I could not properly exclude or ignore, such behaviour is not to be encouraged” (para 11(c)).

Note that whether or not secret recordings will be accepted by the court is up to the discretion of the judge, and that the creation and the attempted use of such recordings may backfire.