Senator Landon Pearson's "National Plan of Action: A Canada Fit for Children" Seriously Flawed
Exclusive to the Canadian Children's Rights Council, by Ron Murdock, Canadian citizen living in The Netherlands, September 27th, 2004
Bonnie is a Canadian citizen who knows who she is.
She has a true, original birth certificate to prove it. And she knows for sure who her parents were - and where they came from.
When she looks into the eyes of her parents, aunts, uncles and cousins she can see something of herself.
And she knows her family history - genealogical, and medical. Heart problems and cancer on Dad's side. More cancer on Mom's.
She herself has battled cancer. But she's fine now.
Then there's Bonnie's brother. Five years younger, he's also a bone fide Canadian citizen. But there's a difference. A shocking difference.
You see, he cannot access his own original birth certificate.
He only has one that was altered to reflect his new name and status. Nor can he know who his natural parents or grandparents were.
He hasn't a clue about his medical history.
And when he looks at his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins he sees no physical resemblance.
His only link to himself is his children.
When he looks to find his past he meets a blank wall. A wall put in place by government policy based on a totally false presumption.
What's the difference between these two family members?
Bonnie is the natural daughter of her parents. Her brother is adopted.
At his request in 1999, in his native province of Nova Scotia, the Ministry of Community Services of Nova Scotia did a search for his natural mother.
The government social worker he dealt with said the department was authorised to make only one telephone call to the 81-year-old woman they had positively identified as his natural mother.
Can you imagine it? Receiving a call, completely out of the blue, from a civil servant asking if you gave up a child for adoption in 1941 from the notorious "Ideal" Nursing Home in East Chester?
You know, the one of "Butterbox Babies" fame.
The place from where babies were sold to wealthy people from New Jersey, during the war years, sometimes for $10,000.00.
Or who, if they couldn't be sold or adopted quickly, were slowly starved to death and buried in in butter boxes in a field beside a cemetery.
The RCMP found the graves during an investigation in 1989.
How would you react to such a call?
Wouldn't you say "NO" and tell the caller never to call you again? That is what this poor woman did.
And yet that is all the Nova Scotia government thinks these cases are worth.
One phone call.
And they are not alone. Today, 22 years after the enactment of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every province in Canada retains the right of sought individuals to veto the release of personal information, denying adults who were adopted as children, like Bonnie's brother, the unconditional human right to information about their medical history and their natural parents.
Skip to September 2003. Geneva.
A Canadian delegation is there to answer questions put to them by an eighteen-member international panel of experts which is the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Leader of the delegation is Senator Landon Pearson of Ottawa, a noted champion of children's rights in Canada and daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Lester Pearson.
The Committee Members ask the Canadian delegation many questions regarding Canada's implementation of the Charter.
Bonnie's brother is also there and has lobbied the Committee Members to ask why so many provinces still have closed adoption records.
The Committee Members ask the question and state that they consider release of personal information to adopted children a "fundamental right for the mental health of the child."
The Canadian delegation, comprised mostly of civil servants, appears surprised and confused by this line of questioning. Paper flies. Officials confer.
This is in stark contrast to the slick, professional manner in which they have dealt with all the other questions put to them. They clearly were not expecting the question and were unprepared for it.
The question was put to Canada in the morning session.
Ten minutes before adjournment of the afternoon session, at the insistence of Chairman Professor Jaap Doek from Holland that the question must be addressed, Pearson delegates Lucie Marmen, Minister of International Relations from Quebec, to explain the Canadian position.
Alberta Community Services Minister Iris Evans sits on Senator Pearson's right. Alberta is about to open adoption records. But Evans is not invited to answer the question.
Quebec, Marmen announces, maintains closed adoption records. She gives a brief run down of how that works.
Dissatisfied with this response, the U.N. Committee makes written recommendations which pointedly request 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."
Diplomatic speak for "get on with it and open the records."
Skip forward to April 22, 2004.
Central player Pearson presents her "National Plan of Action - A Canada Fit for Children / Un Canada digne des enfants" in New York to another U.N. body, UNICEF
Worthy and weighty topics are discussed in the document. Promises are made.
"Recognition of Governments' Roles and Responsibilities", "Ensuring Social Inclusion", "The Mental Health of Children, " "Equality" and so on.
But wait a moment. Where's mention of giving adopted children their personal information?
You know, the information the U.N. Committee considers "a fundamental right for the mental health of the child?"
There's no mention of opening adoption records. Yet the senator received input for her document from members of the adoption community. What became of it all?
For there is only one brief reference to adopted children in her document. It states:
"Where appropriate and available, the child will be able to obtain information relating to his or her genetic background if medically necessary."
No United Nations document includes such limited wording.
These words stem from the Senator and her advisors. A glaring omission. A shameful omission.
The National Plan of Action - A Canada Fit for Children is a flawed document which should be rejected by UNICEF and sent back to Ottawa for revision because it discriminates against adopted Canadians.
True, Pearson pays lip service to the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child:
"We affirm our obligation to promote and protect the human rights of all children. Canada is a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally embraced human rights treaty in history. In Canada, the Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the main instrument of reference, the essential basis for the achievement of children's rights.
"Canada's commitments to children are consistent with the four guiding principles of the Convention: the best interests of the child; survival and development; participation; and non-discrimination. The rights of the child, like all human rights, are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated."
She also states: "No child should be excluded on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, sexual orientation, birth or other status."
Why, then, are adopted Canadian children excluded from her Plan? Even as adults, why are they are denied their own personal, private information? Why does Senator Pearson' s National Plan of Action discriminate against adopted children?
I put this question to Senator Pearson via e-mail. She did not reply personally. Instead, I received a dismissive anonymous note from someone in her office stating that adoption law is a provincial matter and the National Plan of Action was a federal document.
Not so fast, anonymous writer.
The UN Commission on the Rights of the Child also released a document in September 2003 entitled General Comment No. (2003) General measures of implementation for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles 4, 42 and 44(6) which states:
"The Committee reiterates that in all circumstances, the State which ratified or acceded to the Convention remains responsible for ensuring the full implementation of the Convention throughout the jurisdiction."(paragraph 41)
So the federal government does have a role to play here.
Ottawa could recommend to the provinces that they open adoption records in order to comply with the UN recommendations to do so.
They stepped in over same sex marriage which is a "provincial matter."
Why won't they do the same for adoption law?
The UN Committee goes on to state:
"Further, there must be safeguards to ensure that decentralization or devolution does not lead to discrimination in the enjoyment of rights by children in different regions."
Under the present hodge-podge of Canadian provincial laws, adopted children are being discriminated against in the enjoyment of their rights.
Even provinces with so-called open records (Newfoundland, Alberta and British Columbia) provide the right to veto release of information along with the right to no contact.
Harassment laws already in place protect anyone from unwanted contact. So why incorporate the right to veto the release of information as well?
In countries where there are no vetos, informaton is released as a right of the person seeking the information. The person being sought has the equal right to deny contact if they so wish. Both have their rights addressed.
Professor Michael Grand, Professor of Psychology at Guelph University who has studied the history of adoption in Canada over the last 25 years, says:
Everyone has the right to a history. I don't think anyone has the right to a relationship. Relationships have to be voluntary and mutual.
Governments base their justification for their willful discrimination on the myth that some natural mothers were promised confidentiality and that this promise must be honored.
However, the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers, a nation wide group of mothers who, in their own words, lost their children to adoption, absolutely refute that the promise of confidentiality was on any release forms or legal documents they signed. This is confirmed by Professor Grand' s research.
They state categorically that they do not want confidentiality from their own offspring. While admitting that some may have needed protection from society at large, especially in the 40' s, 50's and 60's, they don't need protection from their childand certainly not now.
Multiple opinion polls and studies across the country have shown that the majority of Canadians favour open adoption records.
And Prof Grand states very simply:
"I cannot give you any evidence for keeping records closed."
What is missing is the political will in Ottawa to address this human rights failure once and for all and to take the humanitarian lead to ensure that adoption law is fully open in all provinces.
However, there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Before the last election Paul Martin said he wanted to change the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He promised that if he was elected he would remove the "notwithstanding" clause - a loophole in the Charter which allows government to deny people any of the rights guaranteed by the Charter.
Such as adopted people having equal rights with other Canadians to know who they are. And where they come from. And their family medical history.
"The reason for the Charter and the reason I am such a strong supporter of the Charter ... is that we have to ensure that minority rights are protected when challenged by the majority.
"And if what you're prepared to do is use the notwithstanding clause, then what you're saying essentially is minority rights can be subjected to the will of the majority.
"And I've got to tell you that is not the kind of country I believe in, nor do I think it's the kind of country that Canadians believe in."
Bravo, Mr Martin.
I will hold you to your promise.
One day, hopefully soon, maybe Bonnie's brother will have his minority rights addressed and be able to finally learn his medical history, who his birth parents were and where they came from.
Or was it all just campaign talk easily forgotten after the election?
We're watching and waiting. The politicians in Ottawa really do need to address this blatant denial of human rights once and for all.
A Canadian citizen
Jan van Eijckstraat 34/2
1077 LN Amsterdam
From Canada dial 011 31 20 664 9664