The Manitoba government is proposing sweeping changes to its adoption laws that would make birth and adoption records more accessible for people trying to learn more about their background.

Janice Knight, Adoption/Post Adoption Registry co-ordinator with the province, said she looks forward to more transparency for those involved with adoption moving forward.

"We're moving into openness for all the new adoptions after 2015," said Knight.

On Wednesday, the province tabled proposed amendments to its Adoption Act and Vital Statistics Act that would make records dating all the way back to 1925 more accessible for:

  • Manitoba-born adoptees who were adopted in or outside the province.
  • Adult adoptees born outside Manitoba but adopted in the province.
  • The registered birth parents of adoptees born in Manitoba or those who were born elsewhere but adopted in the province.

Minister of Family Services Kerri Irvin-Ross said available adoption records can mean everything for those trying to figure out where they've come from.

“It is referred to as the holy grail,” said Irvin-Ross. “They feel that this is where the answers are held for them: about their past and about their future.”

69-year-old Penny Treflin was adopted in her early teens. She said the adoption law changes should have come sooner. 

Under the pre-1999 system, parents who gave up their children for adoption were in effect promised privacy.​

The bill would also allow parents and adult adoptees with existing records to file an order against releasing delicate identification details.

While the identities of adoptive parents would not be made available to birth parents under the new legislation, new adoptive parents would be allowed to provide preferred contact information, which would include expressing the desire to not be contacted.

The amendments would give birth parents and adult adoptees the power to request birth records and details surrounding adoptions, all free of charge."They've held this carrot in front of us for so long that if my mom is in fact still alive, she's either just this side of 90, or already over it," said Treflin. "I guess my hope is that maybe mom is still alive, maybe I can find out a little bit, maybe there are siblings?"

The province had passed a law in 1999 to release identifying information about adoptees and their parents unless one of them specifically requested anonymity.

But the law was not retroactive, so people adopted prior to March 15, 1999, have had a tougher time finding information.

Irvin-Ross acknowledge there were challenges for some adjusting to the 1999 law.

"We know that some jurisdictions ran into some complications as they opened up the adoptions act and we wanted to make sure that we avoided that," said Irvin-Ross.

The province announced in 2009 that it was looking at making available adoption records as far back as 1925 to bring Manitoba in line with other provinces such as British Columbia. 

Roy Kading, who runs an adoptees rights group in Winnipeg, says thousands of people have been trying to find out about their birth families.

"They're very, very frustrated," Kading said Tuesday. "They've been ... looking for people for years and can't get any information. By the time they do, too bad, the person they're looking for has passed away." 

'We're moving into openness for all the new adoptions after 2015' - Janice Knight, Adoption/Post Adoption Registry Co-ordinator

Kading said his non-profit group, Links Post-Legal Adoption Support, has helped reunite about 1,500 people over the years.

Just this week, the group helped two half-sisters find each other.

"One registered with us recently, and the half-sister had registered with us 10 years ago."

One hurdle for the government has been concern for privacy. Under the pre-1999 system, parents who gave up their children for adoption were in effect promised privacy. Any identifying information was kept secret unless they specifically opted for it to be shared.

It's been the other way around since 1999. Information has been made available unless there has been a specific request for privacy, formally called a disclosure veto.

With files from The Canadian Press