Ontario Adoption Reform History
Parent Finders, Kawartha
Sandi Jowett

1921 - First Adoption Act in Ontario: no mention of sealed records

1927 -
Secrecy in adoption is introduced in new Adoption Act, apparently copying a similar Act in England of 1926, basing adoption law on opinion and social mores of the time. Adopted person’s birth certificates are legally falsified. Other European countries base adoption law on honesty and truth for all parties.

1970’s - Emerging social movements on civil rights for adopted persons. Voluntary Disclosure Register created in Ontario in 1978, not perceived to work well.

1974 -
Parent Finders was founded in Vancouver, British Columbia, followed soon after by groups in other provinces, including Ontario. This movement was largely made up of adoptees, but also included a number of biological parents. One purpose of the organization was to advocate for change. Joan Vanstone, founder and National Director stated, “Nothing would change until adoptees got up on their hind legs and worked for change”.

1978 - Canada’s first passive disclosure registry. Birth parent and adopted adults were permitted to register their willingness to reunite, subject to a veto held by the adoptive parents, regardless of the age of the adoptee. No searches were done and sibling matches were not recognized by the provincial authorities.

1980 - The old “Child Welfare Act” was being revised under Frank Drea. Government attempted to cut off access to “non-identifying” information. Bill 77 (Child and Family Services Act) included more rather that less restrictive regulations, and prevented Children’s Aid Societies from giving out even non-identifying information.

1984 - The adoption community rallied and then P.C. Minister of Community & Social Services, Dr. Robert Elgie, commissioned another study. Dr. Ralph Garber, dean of the faculty of social work at the University of Toronto received a plethora of submissions, overwhelmingly in support of openess. In late 1985 he tabled his report to then Liberal Minister of Community & Social Services, John Sweeney.

1985 - Protest against new restrictions in Ontario; Ministry of Community and Social Services commissions the report "Disclosure of Adoption Information" under Special Commissioner Professor Ralph Garber. Garber concludes that: "facts surrounding a person's adoption belong to that person regardless where the information is stored; revealing those facts has not been shown to cause harm; and reunification of a right to parent a child at a earlier time does not limit reconsidering a relationship with that child later on." (pp. 26-27) Other countries begin to restore rights to adoptees and birth parents of access of information, with public satisfaction.

1985 -
Ralph Garber recommended that records be made available, on request, to adult adoptees. Although this recommendation was not followed, the requirement of consent of adoptive parents to disclosure of information was eliminated and officials at the Adoption Register were empowered to conduct a search for biological relatives at the request of the adoptee.

1986 - The liberal government enacted some of Dr. Garber's recommendations: adoptive parent veto power was rescinded, “non-identifying” information was defined and access codified, siblings were recognized, and the provincial registrar was empowered to conduct searches for a birth relative on behalf of adopted persons. Unfortunately, the government of that day also saw fit to include mandatory counselling provisions around reunion in the new law.

1987 -
Freedom of Information Act in Ontario exempts adoption information from the rights given to all other citizens, without consultation with those persons or groups so denied. According to the Child and Family Services Act, Part VII, the Register is renamed the Adoption Disclosure Registry. [Its expansion] cost even more, and clients are frustrated and treated as children.

1992-1993 - Closed, limited Ministry consultations with selected adoption clients, social workers; principles of the Garber Report are not discussed.

1993 -
More public protests. Adoption Reform Coalition of Ontario recommends the unqualified right to access identifying information for all adults affected by adoption law, consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1994 -
Adoptees may obtain a copy of their Adoption Order.

1994 -
Tony Martin (NDP) presented a private member’s bill in the House (Bill 158) which would address the rights of the adopted by granting us access to our birth certificates, just like any other person born in Ontario. The bill passed 2nd reading by a vote of 49-3, and we sent for assessment to the Standing Committee on Social Development. This bill comes as a direct result of the briefs (2) which were submitted to the Minister by various groups around the province as well as the letters and phone calls they received.

Ontario's Adoption Disclosure Bill (158) suffered a fatal setback as it was brought to third reading on Dec. 8th. Six M.P.P.’s managed to filibuster, or delay reading, of the Bill so that it could not be brought to a vote on this last day of the fall session.

The adoption reform effort has suffered acts of political sabotage in the past, but this instance of it has been particularly galling because it involved such a small number of opponents, and because Bill 158 had such general support in all three parties. Specifically, it had the unanimous support of the Standing Committee on Social Development, which carefully vetted the Bill before recommending it for third and final reading.

Had Bill 158 come to a vote it undoubtlty would have passed and Ontario, like B.C. would have given adoptees and their families access to their birth certificates.

1998 - Bill 88 was introduced in the ontario Legislature on December 2, 1998 by Marilyn Churley. This bill is essentially the same as Bill #158. Ammendments recommended by the Last Standing Comittee in 1994 have been included in this new bill.

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Over the past 20 years progress has been made. For many of us there have been times that were discouraging and painfully slow. Would we have fared better had we given the Legislature an ‘all or nothing’ ultimatum?

Adoptees born after 1970 do not have birth surnames on their adoption orders. Their searches are as difficult as those of birth families. Bill 88 would give them their original birth certificates. Even adoptees who have been reunited with all members of their birth families still do not have access to original birth certificates. Birth certificates give the mother’s name and location at time of the birth. With this info many searches could be completed.

Bill 88 may not be all that we want. As of June 1998, 34,293 adoptees are langishing on the ADR registry, with years to go. As I have said, many only have a serial number where the birth surname should be.

Parent Finders and Canadopt will continue to fight for the members of the triad. Shall we deny adoptees the right to their original birth certificates because Bill 88 does not address all the issues? I don’t think so.

I do not like no contact clauses. BC presently has a no contact clause and Parent Finders is lobbying to do away with it. But I still see BC as being way ahead of Ontario in adoption reform. If we get original birth certificates for all adoptees we can go on to deal with other issues.