Saskatoon couple's fight with the law brings change to Saskatchewan birth certificates

·3 min read
Jai Richards and Nicole White have been fighting for years to change the way parents are listed on Saskatchewan birth certificates. Now, that fight has led the province to change how parental status is determined.  (Matthew Garand/CBC - image credit)
Jai Richards and Nicole White have been fighting for years to change the way parents are listed on Saskatchewan birth certificates. Now, that fight has led the province to change how parental status is determined. (Matthew Garand/CBC - image credit)

When Jai Richards was six years old, he already knew he wanted to be a father when he grew up.

Decades later, in 2018, his daughter Alice was born. However, because she was made via a known sperm donor, Saskatchewan law did not recognize Richards as the father.

The law in Saskatchewan required a biological connection for a parent to be listed as mother or father on their child's birth certificate. This negatively affected LGBT families and those who used IVF, sperm donors or surrogacy.

Those like Richards, who used reproductive technologies, would either have to sign "other parent" on their child's birth certificate — which he refused to do — legally adopt their own child, or go to court to be recognized as a parent.

"It was really important for me to be her father, because that's who I am. I may not be biologically related, but to me that's really, in most cases, completely irrelevant," Richards said.

Nicole White
Nicole White

Richards and his wife Nicole White spent $18,000 in court for a judge to approve him as Alice's father, but the couple also wanted to fight the law.

They met with their former MLA David Forbes, who agreed to take on their cause. In November 2017, he introduced the private member Bill 607 — The All Families are Equal Act 2017.

Forbes discussed the bill further with then-Minister of Justice Don Morgan, who agreed to meet with White and Richards.

From there the bill went to Saskatchewan's Law Reform Commission, which did public outreach and "found that there were some real gaps in the parenting laws in Saskatchewan," Forbes said.

"Not only with same-sex parents, but also with parents who are using artificial reproduction technologies."

LISTEN | Jai Richards and Nicole White spoke with host Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning

The Children's Law Act, 2019 was introduced in December 2019 and got royal assent in March of 2020. One year later in March 2021 the bill — nicknamed Alice's Law after White and Richards' child — finally came into effect.

Now, parents in Saskatchewan don't have to go to court to get a declaration of their parentage, especially if a surrogate is used.

"We are probably a little bit ahead of the game compared to other provinces in allowing parents that are in total agreement about who should be the parents to just have that recorded by the director of vital statistics without having to involve a judge or a courtroom," said Kim Newsham, senior Crown counsel for the Ministry of Justice.

Matthew Garand/CBC
Matthew Garand/CBC

Another change is that the legislation no longer refers to "mother" or "father," but instead the gender-neutral "parents." Saskatchewan law also allows four-parent birth certificates.

"We don't really concern ourselves with the gender identity of who those intended parents are. If those parents brought about the creation of a child and they intend to parent the child, they're the parents. So, absolutely, that would benefit lesbian, queer couples," Newsham said.

"We know how important that is to everybody, to have their family, to have their situation reflected in legislation, and reflected in policy. So we think we're on the right path."

Matthew Garand/CBC
Matthew Garand/CBC

The process to change the law began when White was three months pregnant and ended when Alice was three years old. For the young family, it was worth the fight.

"It's a long journey to change laws, and we're happy to take on that burden to pave the way for others and leave a lasting legacy that will support Saskatchewan families for years to come," White said.

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