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The Canadian Council of Birthmothers addresses some special issues related to adoption

The myth of confidentiality and violations of civil rights brought out into the open

TORONTO (Ontario) May 29, 2000 This statement is being released in support of the planned introduction of legislation in Ontario, to be presented to the legislature of the province of Ontario by Marilyn Churley, MPP Broadview-Greenwood. When passed into law this bill will enable legislation in Ontario to open up adoption records for adult adoptees and birthrelatives. The Canadian Council of Birthmothers is taking this opportunity to address several issues related to the closed adoption records system which have brought untold harm to birthmothers and their children.

The promise of confidentiality myth

Legislators in many provinces and territories in Canada have repeatedly resisted passing legislation which would open up adoption records for adult adoptees and birthrelatives. Such new laws would enable people separated by adoption to propose contact with their lost loved ones and heal from the terrible wounds caused in the secrecy of the adoption process. Many adoptees need updated medical information and to complete the puzzle of their origins to resolve their identities as adults. Progressive adoptive parents recognize that their children deserve all of this. Birthmothers, who have suffered in silence for years, need the healing that the opportunity of reunion with their offspring brings. Birthfathers, birthsiblings and others in increasing numbers are also calling out for reunion and the elimination of the repressive adoption disclosure laws of this land which still remain intact and defended by the lawmakers of many Canadian jurisdictions, despite the fact that sister provinces and many other parts of the world have understood and moved appropriately into the millenium. Letters to governments protesting this injustice are frequently responded to with unfounded claims by legislators or their representatives, who usually have no personal experience or understanding of such matters, that birthmothers were promised confidentiality. We of the Canadian Council of Birthmothers wish to make it clear that WE WERE NEVER PROMISED CONFIDENTIALITY AND IN MOST CASES, NEVER REQUESTED CONFIDENTIALITY. While there are undoubtedly some birthmothers who needed the veil of secrecy to hide the shame they were made to feel about their situations, their numbers are insignificant when compared to the vast majority of birthmothers seeking release from the systemic life sentence of total secrecy and deception surrounding the identities of their children imposed on them under the guise of draconian adoption disclosure legislation.

There were no legal documents signed by birthparents that convey confidentiality. Birthmothers were not promised confidentiality contractually nor did we seek it. Any talk of confidentiality centered around protecting the identities of those adopting our children in order to ensure that we would not interfere later on with the reconstructed family, i.e. the adoptive family. Often our children or their adoptive parents had information about us. In fact many adoptees upon finding their birthparents report that their adoptive parents had the names of their birthmother from day one. Furthermore, most adoption orders prior to 1970 contained the birthnames of our children whose surnames were our surnames at the time. These few examples should suffice to demonstrate that confidentiality in adoption was never intended for birthmothers, as our identities were so thinly veiled that they would be easy to uncover with nothing more than the information readily available to the adoptive parents as a matter of course.

Violation of the civil rights of adoptees

The current Child and Family Services Act of Ontario violates the civil rights of adopted adults. All other adults in Canada have the right to unaltered copies of the original records of their births, listing their biological parents. Creating a separate class of citizens to whom a fundamental right is being denied is discriminatory. Non-adoptees who are brought up by parents and guardians who are not their biological kin have access to their true records. Adopted adults should have the same rights as all other citizens.

Violation of the civil rights of birthmothers

Providing homes for children without legitimate families from 1927 up until now has become government practice. Birthmothers who sought help from social services have been manipulated into releasing their babies to adoption under the guise of helping unwed mothers and providing homes for unwanted children, most of whom were very loved and wanted by their birthmothers. At the same time it has reinforced the current narrow-minded concept of morality of what constitutes a legitimate family. The experiences of birthmothers in the period from the early post-war years all the way into the 80ís are so startlingly similar that they testify to an organized policy on the part of lawmakers and their institutions to coerce an entire subset of society, i.e. unwed mothers, into releasing their babies to adoption. Often underage, birthmothers were subtly or not so subtly indoctrinated into believing that they were incapable of raising their own children and that their babies would be better off with strangers. If that argument did not carry enough weight, their love for their babies was used as a weapon against them in a challenge to prove that they loved their babies enough to release them to a normal life as part of a normal family. They were intimidated into making this forever-binding, life altering and most traumatic decision without any counselling, psychological or legal, with little or no knowledge of their rights, without legal representation and with the single-minded purpose of getting them to sign over their babies in order to satisfy the demand for adoptable infants. Many birthmothers endured mental, emotional and sometimes physical abuse from the authorities in the coercion stage of relinquishment. No support of any kind and no viable option other than adoption was presented to the birthmothers, thereby withholding from them the information that would allow them to weigh alternatives and make an informed decision.

Birthmothers were discriminated against, in their search for social services, on the basis of marital status. Married women seeking help from social services in dealing with a pregnancy that they could not afford were not routinely pressured into putting their child up for adoption. They were directed to all available programs designed to help families with insufficient resources. Although unwed mothers who kept their children were perhaps not necessarily denied financial assistance if they knew that such assistance was available, few if any were informed by their social workers that resources existed that could assist them in making plans to keep their babies.

Every effort was made, including violating the civil rights of birthmothers both before and after relinquishment, to separate them from their children. Birthmothers were either kept ignorant or lied to with respect to their legal rights after relinquishment. Many were not told that they had a given amount of time to revoke consent (which was crucially important, given the coercion under which so many of those decisions to relinquish were made). Others who were aware of that right and contacted their social workers in order to revoke consent were often told that it was too late, that their child had already been placed with the adoptive family (an outright lie in some instances, as the child was still in foster care) and that removing him or her from that environment would be too traumatic.

Adoptees can and do die because of missing medical information

The medical problems which result from the lack of familial medical history is tragic. Closed records mean that adoptees have no idea if there are any fatal or debilitating diseases programmed in their genetic lineage. Cancer, bi-polar disorder, diabetes, alcoholism, congenital heart disease - potentially hundreds of diseases can be inherited by adoptees and their offspring without their being aware of, and armed for, this possibility. In consequence, many adoptees and their descendants have died because they lack this protection which non-adopted persons have. Even worse, adoptees who were never told that they were adopted unknowingly report to their doctors the medical histories of their adoptive families (rather than their birth families), a situation which creates false diagnoses and ineffective treatment.

Adoptees can and do die because of closed records.

Canadian Council of Birthmothers

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