“After six weeks in the wonderful country of Canada and after a tearful farewell to our amazing surrogate and friend, it’s time to come home to Lisbon with a new member of our family, the finest hand luggage. Canada, your sense of democracy and equality makes you shine. Thank you for allowing us to realize our dream. »

It is in these words on Twitter – photo in support – that the journalist Mark Lowen (correspondent in Europe for the BBC) and his spouse announced their return to Portugal with their new baby, born in Canada from a surrogate mother Canadian.

Why did they choose Canada? “Because we like the idea of ​​a woman wanting to do this out of altruism rather than financial gain,” Lowen replied to La Presse.

How many travel to Canada to pick up the baby conceived by a local surrogate? How many Canadians use a surrogate themselves? Impossible to know, says the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society.

Alana Cattapan, assistant professor at the Canadian Research Chair in Reproductive Policy and researcher in the field for fifteen years, managed to find 180 Canadian women who had already been surrogate mothers (including 15 Quebec women); 40% of surrogates interviewed have acted for intended parents from abroad, especially from France.

There are about a dozen agencies in Canada that match surrogates with intended parents, according to Cattapan. They then offer them a range of paid services: search for gametes (sperm and ova) and assisted reproduction clinics, legal referrals, management of the reimbursement of expenses of the surrogate woman by the intended parents, etc.

Sébastien Trotignon is one of those French people who came to Canada to find a surrogate woman. Three years apart, she carried him and her husband’s two children (from eggs from other women), he explained in a telephone interview.

Eager to share their experience, they created the website monbébéaucanada.com. They specify that it is necessary to plan on average “between 80,000 and 100,000 euros [between $117,000 and $146,000]” for a surrogacy in Canada and give names of agencies.

“That’s a hell of a lot, but it’s still more than a third less than in the United States,” reads mybabycanada.com.

“Thanks to Canada, we were able to realize this dream of starting a family”, they write on their site illustrated among other things by a kid dressed in a red sweater with the inscription “Canada”.

Mr. Trotignon and his spouse advise intended parents not to go through Quebec, “where any contract established between intended parents and a surrogate mother is considered void”, which is correct as long as the bill in question preparation will not be promulgated.

“If you want to become a surrogate, press 1,” says the message from Canadian Fertility Consulting.

In an interview, its founder and CEO, Leia Swanberg, says she was a surrogate herself, as were her two adult daughters.

Since the agency began 17 years ago, Ms. Swanberg calculates that she has contributed to the birth of 2,700 babies. Currently, her surrogate file, she says, has 350 names, who are at various stages of their journey.

She says she makes between $10,000 and $15,000 per pregnancy record.

Its income comes from the fact that two weeks after the initial contact between the parties (free of charge, assures Ms. Swanberg), they are then invited to use the various paid services of the agency.

Her clientele of intended parents includes 5% of Quebecers, she says, but she has no Quebec surrogate mother in her file. It’s because of “that stigma and that belief in Quebec that it’s illegal.”

In Canada, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits any payment to a surrogate mother. Only the reimbursement of expenses is authorized. “Intermediaries” – called “agencies” or “consulting firms” – cannot advertise or obtain compensation for connecting surrogates to intended parents.

Powder in the eyes, according to Me Dominique Goubau, associate professor of law at Laval University, specialist in the law of persons, family and children.

In the practice of law, he continues, it is known that surrogate mothers are very regularly compensated, whether by an unwritten agreement parallel to the legal agreement or by surfing on “the very ineffective federal law” authorizing the reimbursement of unspecified expenses.

Pregnancy research paints a biased picture, in his view, because researchers can only reach those who have complied with the law. Others “don’t talk to researchers,” he says.

In the study “Pregnancies for others: state of the situation in Quebec”, the Council for the status of women speaks of an “industry of the gestation of assisted procreation”.

“The situation is such that this Canadian industry is the subject of economic forecasts (Global Market Insights, 2022)”.

No doubt about it, corroborates researcher Alana Cattapan.

The law that Quebec is about to enact will recognize the agreements between surrogates and intended parents. Ms. Cattapan believes it is predictable that the French – the most numerous of the foreign intended parents in her study – will opt more for Quebec.

Just as it is likely that Quebecers, who for the moment consider it more prudent to carry out their surrogacy in another province (like Radio-Canada journalist Gérald Fillion, who recounted his journey on the airwaves of Pénélope ), are now reassured by the best legislative framework.

If Canada is a destination of choice, according to legal researchers Karen Busby and Pamela White who published a study on this subject in 2018, it is because several countries (India, Thailand, Nepal, etc.) have closed their borders to foreign countries, parentage is quickly established in some provinces, Canadian citizenship is granted to children born to Canadian surrogate mothers, and the Canadian dollar is weak against other currencies.

Of the approximately 180 surrogates who have agreed to speak to her — and who generally report having had a positive experience — Ms. Cattapan asked what they thought was important to say. Some said that “their agency was terrible”, “that they felt pressure to sign the deal”. But others strongly recommended the use of agencies, which they found very useful.

Several surrogates also said they were encouraged by their agency to submit as many invoices as possible. Ms. Cattapan talks about buying humidifiers, yoga classes, spa visits, and more.

In “Pregnancies for Others: State of the Situation in Quebec”, the Conseil du statut de la femme cites Stefanie Carsley’s 2020 doctoral thesis which interviewed 26 lawyers from across Canada. According to one, the agencies “operate in a strange […] artificial zone […] where they say, ‘we don’t get paid to arrange pregnancies for others because we’re not allowed to, but we are going to be paid for all these other peripheral services that we are going to provide”. But everyone knows that the only reason people turn to an agency is to plan their pregnancy for someone else.”

Frenchman Sébastien Trotignon, who had done his homework and read the legal texts, said in a telephone interview that he was very aware of this gray area. “The wording in the contracts, it’s such that it suits the agencies. »

But the priority for him, he says, has always been that the gesture of the surrogate is purely altruistic and that in no way is she exploited. And in this sense, he finds it normal that a large number of expenses are reimbursed to surrogate mothers, commensurate with the great gift of self they make, he says.

Quebec Bill 12 – studied in parliamentary committee these days – aims to better protect the rights of surrogate mothers and children resulting from a pregnancy plan for others. But the task is herculean and should only be seen as “an attempt to frame complex issues”.

This is explained by Me Dominique Goubau, associate professor of law at Laval University, specialist in the law of persons, the family and children.

The good news, he says, is that the surrogacy contract will have to be in writing (and, incidentally, in front of a notary). “It’s a good thing, then there will be no dispute about the reality of the intentions. »

The bill covers very broadly. It is proposed that surrogate mothers must be 21 years of age or older. That the consent of the surrogate mother to renounce all filiation with the child can only be given between the 7th and 30th day following childbirth. That if the gametes of a third party have been used, neither the donor nor the child can subsequently claim a filial relationship.

What is planned when the surrogate is abroad? The bill provides that “the parental project must first be authorized by the minister responsible for social services”.

What if a gamete-derived person needs to know the donor’s health history for genetic reasons? When a physician is of the opinion that the health of his patient justifies it, he may obtain the medical information, but only on condition that the donor authorizes it.

The surrogate mother would be entitled to a maximum of 18 weeks of benefits after the birth; a father in a surrogacy would be entitled to 5 weeks of paternity benefits and 32 weeks of shareable parental benefits.

Isabel Côté, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Procreation for Others and Family Ties, thinks it is an excellent thing that Quebec regulates surrogacy and that filiation is established in the interest of the child. This is much better than what is happening now, she says, which is “courts that assess situations on a piecemeal basis.”

Ms. Côté regrets, however, that the Quebec bill does not contain a guideline regarding the intermediaries that are the agencies.

Any surrogacy project carried out abroad by Quebecers must have received prior approval from the Minister of Social Services, as Quebec wants to ensure that the project is carried out according to ethical principles. But since surrogate mothers can be found in several countries, how will Quebec be able to monitor the whole thing? she asks. “Studying surrogacy practices in different jurisdictions – practices that change a lot over time – is a full-time job,” Cattapan observes.

Without formally commenting on the bill in its study, the Council for the Status of Women raises “crucial issues that must be considered”. Tighter supervision of agencies, the surrogacy industry, the solicitation of women and societal costs are among his greatest concerns. The Council points out that “the Canadian government’s tax credit may also raise questions, insofar as it covers part of the costs of the intended parents who purchase gametes, which are often obtained from banks in the United States by the through which the donors receive payment”. Surrogacy also entails “societal costs due in particular to fertility treatments which are the subject of a certain public coverage. The situation is of particular concern, as intended parents from other parts of the world are looking to Canada to find a surrogate mother precisely because of the social measures in place there.”