June 7, 2009
Veil around adoption lifts in Ontario
Published Saturday June 6th, 2009
By NICOLE BAUTE
The Canadian Press
Secrecy gone: Paul O' donnell wants to meet his birth mother. The
secrecy that has shrouded the adoption process lifted in Ontario on
June 1, providing adult adoptees and birth parents with access to
adoption orders and birth registrations.
O'Donnell, 45, was adopted as an infant and raised by a gregarious
couple. Although he loved them dearly, the differences between them
were stark: he was a serious, introverted math whiz; his parents were
the most popular couple on the block.
"My father was a salesman. I couldn't sell if my life depended on it.
I don't have that kind of personality," O'Donnell laughs nervously, a
Nor were his adopted parents bookish like Paul, who, despite his age,
looks a bit like a university student in his thick, brown glasses and
blue backpack. His adoptive mother, Donna O'Donnell, wonders why her
son talks to her at all, "because I don't really know all he's talking
Though he has had a great life, Paul always felt like an outsider. He
hopes that is about to change.
The secrecy that has shrouded the adoption process lifted in Ontario
on June 1, providing adult adoptees and birth parents with access to
adoption orders and birth registrations.
In Ontario, 250,000 children have been adopted since the government
started keeping records in 1921. For Paul, that means he could finally
learn his mother's name and can begin to track her down.
The Toronto computer programmer has been clinging to information he
got in 2005, when, at age 42, he went to the Catholic Children's Aid
to ask about his birth family.
When the envelope came, he was too nervous to open it himself. While a
friend read all 10 pages aloud, Paul sat shaking, almost dizzy, and an
image of his birth mother began to take shape in his mind.
She was short, five-foot-one, with a medium build, dark blond hair,
blue eyes, and "lovely teeth.-Birth mother," as she was called
throughout, was from Eastern Canada, of good health and average
intelligence. She couldn't afford to go to school past Grade 10 and
moved to Ontario, where she worked as a clerk-typist in a hardware
store until she had Paul, at age 19.
She was not married and Paul's father denied paternity. She later had
two more sons - Paul's half-brothers. She was of Scottish and Irish
descent; his father was Italian.
For Paul, these were meaningful details, but it is the description of
his mother's personality that he dwells on. She had a quiet, withdrawn
manner and did not make friends easily.
His grandmother stayed at home; his grandfather, laid up with an
arthritic foot, was an intelligent man and an avid reader. Much like
"When I read that thing about my grandfather reading a lot, that
really clicked," Paul says. "What did he read? What was he interested
He went home and read the document at least 20 times, and typed it up
on his computer.
"I'm a different person since having gotten that piece of paper," Paul
says. "The day I got it, or the day after, I remember looking at
myself in the mirror, when I was brushing my teeth in the morning, and
I liked what I saw more than I did the day before. And I'm not even
sure I can articulate exactly why."
But now, he wants the rest of the story.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Community and Social Services
didn't know how long it will take for application forms requesting
adoption orders and birth registrations to be processed. Adoptees like
Paul expect a backlog: a few months, a year, perhaps even longer.
He is fortunate to have his non-identifying information, and a piece
of paper with his birth name on it, William Thomas MacDonald, which
was given to his adoptive parents by the Catholic Children's Aid in
1963. But even with his mother's first name, she will be difficult to
It is also possible she saw one of the ads the government spent $6.8
million on to warn adoptees and birth mothers they could soon be
identified, and urged them to file a disclosure veto if they wanted to
protect their identity.
The veto option was added last year, after Toronto human rights lawyer
Clayton Ruby managed to have the previous legislation struck down on
the grounds that it did not protect those who wanted to remain
As of May 1, only 2,483 people had applied for the disclosure veto. If
the disclosure veto is not filed before the other party applies for
adoption information, the information will be released.
Joy Cheskes, an elementary teacher from Stratford, Ont., has already
applied for a veto. She was adopted as an infant and raised in a small
southwestern Ontario town by the only family she is interested in
Cheskes was part of the Constitutional challenge that struck down the
legislation in 2007 and made way for the disclosure veto.
"I have lived almost 45 years of my life deciding that I want to keep
that part closed," she says. "My life and everything that's happened
to me makes up who I am and I don't welcome that kind of intrusion
unless I decide that that's OK. And at this point in my life, that's
Other adoptees have spent years looking for their birth parents,
wondering whether anyone else on this planet has their crooked pinky
finger or curly red hair or aptitude for complex algebra. Some worry
about inheriting genetic diseases.
"Adoptees often feel like aliens," says Karen Lynn, who gave a son up
for adoption in 1963 and now works with three adoption support and
advocacy groups. "They're not really sure they were born on this
Lynn reunited with her son in 1999.
As adoptees and birth parents fill out their applications, the
disclosure veto will be on many minds. As Monica Byrne, registrar of
the Ottawa Parent Finders group, says: "Everyone's scared that they're
going to be the one that's had their information blocked."
Paul, who says he has great adopted parents, says his mission is not a
search for parents. "I already have parents. It's really more about
learning where I came from."
Donna, a bubbly 70-year-old who refers to her son as "my Paul,"
believes he has a right to know his birth mother.