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Adoptive parents put children before money

Sira Cotter, 2, sucks on her thumb while in her mother's arms in a line to register for a meeting. Sira and her twin, Kate, were adopted by Donna and David Cotter a little over a year ago from Ethiopia.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Some arrived clutching pictures of the babies they thought would be theirs by now. Others came with manila envelopes under their arms, full of papers detailing the thousands of dollars they had paid in the hopes of completing their families.

It was a creditors meeting like no other, as families and business owners packed a conference room in Kitchener to discuss what would happen to the remains of Imagine Adoption, an agency facing about $3-million in claims after it went bankrupt this month.

In the end, the nearly 200 creditors unanimously agreed to put their financial problems aside in order to help couples like Jesse and Jeanette Martin, who are desperate to adopt twin girls from Ghana.

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"We have photos of them and you can't look at them and say 'it's too much bother'," said Mr. Martin, referring to the eight-month-old babies, Destiny and Grace.

"We can't walk away."

The creditors voted yesterday to forgo their financial claims and instead try to resurrect the agency and complete hundreds of pending adoptions. That would mean developing a plan to bring the organization back under a new group of directors, and seeking the approval of the province, which licenses adoption agencies.

The Waterloo Regional Police launched a fraud probe into Imagine Adoption this month after two members of its board of directors contacted authorities over concerns about the organization's bookkeeping.

Director Alan Brown said a review of the agency's finances earlier this year revealed a string of unusual expenses, such as a $3,000 horse and a $2,700 saddle, a $13,000 weeklong hotel stay in New York, two trips to Disney World and renovations to the Cambridge home of executive director Susan Hayhow, which was recently mortgaged for $500,000 at a rate of prime plus 7 per cent.

The organization has just $500,000 in cash left, along with approximately $150,000 in receivables and office equipment.

BDO Dunwoody bankruptcy trustee Susan Taves said some creditors have offered to waive their claims to ease the burden on the agency.

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Valerie Goodyear, wife of Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear, was an employee of Imagine Adoption and also heads the company, Constant Energy, that was leasing office space to Imagine. She said she doesn't intend to collect the rent or salary owed to her by the agency.

"Constant Energy would hope that a larger portion of the monies owed would be received by the families as a result," Ms. Goodyear wrote in an e-mail message.

"For the same reason, I am not pursuing the claim as an employee of Imagine Adoption."

Mr. Goodyear, Canada's Science and Technology Minister, has said he had no involvement with the agency or Constant Energy, as dictated by conflict of interest legislation. The agency's board said that Valerie Goodyear wasn't involved with its finances in her role as co-ordinator of the African adoption program.

The meltdown of the Cambridge, Ont., adoption agency affected more than 400 families from coast to coast, including Jason Humeniuk, who flew to Ontario from Vancouver to attend the meeting.

"It's so easy to get caught up in the blame and the anger," Mr. Humeniuk said. "You could focus on that, but that's not why you get involved in adoption. There's a greater purpose."

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Imagine's executive director, Ms. Hayhow, and her partner, Andrew Morrow, went to Ethiopia shortly after the bankruptcy to assist with the operations of a transition home that cares for dozens of children who have been matched with Canadian parents.

BDO Dunwoody's Ms. Taves said she has been in regular contact with Ms. Hayhow since the agency shut down, and that Ms. Hayhow recently returned to Canada but did not attend the meeting. BDO Dunwoody has assumed control of the operations of the Ethiopian transition home and says the children there are being well cared for.

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