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From the Adoption Council of Canada

Canada Denies Children's Birthrights: U.N. Report

Ever since Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it's been obligated to report regularly on its progress in implementing children's rights. The reports go to the United Nation's Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Geneva, which monitors how well countries are doing under the Convention.

After considering Canada's second report, and input from other organizations, CRC concluded on Oct. 3, 2003 that Canada was not sufficiently guaranteeing adopted children's right to know their parents.

CRC said it was concerned that some provinces don't recognize the right of adopted children to know, as far as possible, their biological parents. This denies a child "the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents" (Article 7, Convention on the Rights of the Child).

CRC recommended that Canada "consider amending its legislation to ensure that information about the date and place of birth of adopted children and their biological parents are preserved and made available to these children."

A single report brought this story to the attention of Canadian media: the Oct. 13, 2003 dispatch by Murray Brewster of Canadian Press. It began, "Provincial governments throughout most of Canada could be doing a lot more to help adopted children find their birth parents, says the draft report of a UN committee." Many media outlets published this story on Oct. 13 and 14, under headlines such as "Canada not doing enough to open up adoption records says UN report" and "N.S. worst in Canada for denying access, lobbyist says".

The part of Mr. Brewster's report which brought the issue home to Nova Scotians was his interview with Ron Murdock, a Canadian living in Holland who made a submission to CRC. Mr. Murdock said Nova Scotia tops the list when it comes to keeping records closed. (He was adopted from the Ideal Maternity Home in Chester, N.S. and has been trying for 27 years to find his biological parents.)

Mr. Murdock's submission argued that Canada was violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child by allowing provinces to continue their restrictive practices. "How can you sign the United Nations charter on the rights of children and have sealed adoption records?" he asked. "The charter clearly states that a child has the right to know who it is and from whence it comes."

The other provinces that restrict access to adoption records are Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.

The Brewster report quoted Karen Lynn of the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers. In supporting Mr. Murdock's submission, she stressed the importance of adopted children knowing what genetic diseases they may have acquired from their birth mother. "If you have a group of people who can access knowledge about their inherited diseases and another that can't, it amounts to discrimination," she said.

Nova Scotia had a chance to open up adoption records in the fall of 1999. But in the face of objections, the government withdrew its bill giving more access to adoption information.

"The bill was shot to pieces in the house," said Mike Slayter of Parent Finders Nova Scotia. "I suspect it will take a court to order the province to open adoption records now."

Nova Scotia's minister of community services has come down on the side of preserving confidentiality. "The understanding that was in place when the birth parents gave up the child for adoption was that their identities would be protected," said David Morse. "This is a really sensitive area."

Speaking on Oct. 14 at Province House (Halifax Herald, Oct. 15, 2003) the minister said, "We do expect that someday there will be open adoption records. We've already taken steps at recognizing that adoptions that are being made today may be opened up at some time in the future." He said adoptees can access medical information without finding out the identity of their birth parents.

As things stand today in Nova Scotia, under the Adoption Information Act of Jan. 1, 1997 adoptees and birth parents can be reunited only if one of them approaches the government, which would inquire to see if the other wants contact. Mr. Morse said there are no plans to rewrite the legislation in the near future, although provincial officials will study the U.N. report.

One of the overall goals of the Adoption Council of Canada is to achieve open access to adoption records in all provinces and territories in Canada. Two recent letters from ACC urged improved legislation on adoption disclosure in Alberta and Ontario:

-- On May 15, 2003 ACC wrote to Alberta's Minister of Children's Services to try to get a provision removed from Bill 24 which would deny some adopted adults knowledge of their adoption.

-- On Aug. 18, 2003 ACC wrote to the Standing Committee on Justice and Social Policy in Ontario, supporting Bill 16 and the position of the Coalition for Open Adoption Records and Parent Finders, Inc.


Source: Adoption Council of Canada, www.adoption.ca