Special to Globe and Mail Update, Friday, Jun. 05
Fundamentally, as an adopted person, I believe I have a right to know
the names of my birth parents. I don't have a right to speak with them
or meet them, but I definitely have a right to know the name I was
given at birth and the names of my birth parents.
This same right has been recognized as essential by the United Nations
in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada ratified it in
1992 and it is used by provincial and federal courts to help interpret
legislation and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Unfortunately, Ontario government law and regulations continue to
block adopted citizens from enjoying this right. The province's new
Adoption Information Disclosure Act will not recognize it, since it
includes a disclosure veto that will prevent some of the several
hundred thousand people affected from learning valuable information
about their adoptions and backgrounds.
The enactment of Bill 183 was intended to address the wishes of adult
adoptees and birth parents by making available for the first time a
crucial piece of information - an adoption order with no information
omitted. The vast majority of them are ecstatic that they can now
apply for these orders, which will reveal the names of the other
party. For an adult adoptee, knowing a birth parent's full name can
greatly facilitate the search for a reunion, if desired by both
parties, or for useful medical information.
We now recognize just how valuable knowing one's health and genetic
history can be in averting or treating inherited diseases. In the
past, adult adoptees waited too long for this information - at times
during the past decade, there was a seven-year waiting list for
limited help from the government-operated Adoption Disclosure
Registry. As recently as 2005, as many as 60,000 adult adoptees or
birth parents were waiting for information or for a search to begin.
It's no wonder that the registry was the subject of frequent
investigations and criticism by the Ombudsman of Ontario.
The new act is undoubtedly popular. An avalanche of Ontarians are
applying for its many new services. In mid-morning on Monday, June 1 -
the day it came into effect - a worker with Service Ontario told me
with surprise that by noon, he expected the call volume to have
surpassed the already heavy daily volume of calls, which had become
the norm in the months since the beginning of the advertising campaign
announcing the new services.
But while we can expect a plethora of happy reunion stories, a few
thousand other adoptees can expect to have their rights go
unrecognized - how disappointing, and how avoidable.
For decades, many groups representing adult adoptees and birth parents
were supportive of and advocated strongly for most of the measures
found in the new act. When the legislation was finally passed, it put
Ontario near the forefront of international law, joining the ranks of
Australia, England and Scotland, plus U.S. states such as Alabama,
Tennessee and Oregon.
Until ... it didn't. A few adoptees and birth parents banded together
and applied to the courts to have the act quashed, or at least greatly
These detractors did not accept that the easily invoked contact veto
provision, already in the act, was a sufficient deterrent to unwanted
contact. The contact veto can be invoked by an adult adoptee or birth
parent to indicate desire not to be contacted by the other party, and
included a hefty $50,000 fine for anyone found to have ignored it.
Surprisingly, the dissenters won their case. Our government did not
appeal the verdict, instead introducing significant amendments with
far-reaching negative effects.
The worst of these is the inclusion of the disclosure veto, which
hardly promotes a balance of interests. The person who applies for it
has their wish respected. The other party is left with no recourse.
Clearly, the regressive veto concept does not recognize that all
adults have a right to know their original birth names and those of
their biological parents. Ontarians craving justice on this issue
await Act 2.
Philip Burge is a social worker and an associate professor of
psychiatry at Queen's University in Kingston.
And a response to this trenchant article:
London, Ont. — From Tuesday's Globe and Mail, Tuesday, Jun. 09, 2009
Thank you, Philip Burge, for being a voice of honesty in a sea of
hysteria, myths and illusions (Adult Adoptees Have A Right To Know
More - online, June 8). Ontario's new adoption law does not go far
enough. It has created a two-tier system with the disclosure veto.
Closed adoption treats those adopted like the property of the
government and the chattel of those who adopted them. It is an
archaic, secretive system long overdue for change.
The veto should be removed, and all adoptees should have access to
their own files. What right do children's aid societies have to block
access to the very people to whom the files pertain? Secrets and lies
seem to be at the very heart of adoption.