The Quebec government is proposing changes to the province's adoption laws that it says will lift the "total secrecy" of the process and allow consenting children and parents greater access to information.

Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée introduced the series of amendments as Bill 113 in the National Assembly Thursday.

The changes mainly affect Quebec's Civil Code and the Youth Protection Act.

The new rules would:

  • Allow adopted children to maintain "meaningful" connections with their birth parents.
  • Recognize Aboriginal customary adoption.
  • Bring international adoptions into compliance with Quebec's Civil Code.
  • Improve access to information.

Modern laws for modern society

Vallée said the changes are meant to "modernize" and bring greater openness to Quebec's adoption rules, adding that the amendments reflect society's changing values and standards.

Under the proposed changes, "pre-existing bonds of filiation" would be recognized if there is proof that it is in the interest of a child to maintain "meaningful identification" with his or her birth parent.

However, no rights or obligations would exist between the birth parents and the child.

Aboriginal customary adoption

Vallée heralded the inclusion of Aboriginal customary adoption as a first for Quebec.

"This is a historic step to see the Civil Code amended to recognize Aboriginal customary adoption," she said.

Bill 113 recognizes Aboriginal customary adoptions when "carried out according to a custom that is in harmony with the principles of the interests of the child, the protection of the child's rights and the consent of the persons concerned."

The new rules governing customary adoptions would also allow rights and obligations to exist between the adopted child and his or her family of origin, in accordance with custom.

Bella Moses Petawabano, who chairs the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, said the Cree Nation in Quebec has been trying to get customary adoption recognized since at least the 1980s.

"Customary adoption is an integral part of Cree culture and identity," she said.

"This is a bill the Cree Nation can proudly support," she said, pointing to the numerous Quebec First Nations' organizations that collaborated on the legislation.

Access to information

Vallée said the days when social values mandated that adoptions be handled in "total secrecy" are over.

The new rules would allow an adopted child and his or her birth parents to learn about each other's identity and medical records and establish contact unless either party has requested that their identity not be disclosed.

The identification of minors would not be disclosed "until the minor reaches full age, unless he or she decides otherwise," the bill reads.

Bill 113 would also allow for agreements between the adoptive family and the birth family, to permit them to exchange information about the child and "interpersonal relationships."

For adoptions that took place before the introduction of Bill 113, requested vetoes will remain in place, and birth parents who don't want their identity disclosed but haven't registered a veto will be given time to do so.

Vetoes would expire one year after the death of the person who requested it, Vallée said.

Adoptions outside Quebec

Bill 113 would also clarify rules for the adoption of children from outside Quebec.

Under the new rules, residents of Quebec who wish to adopt a child living outside the province must comply with the rules of Quebec's Civil Code.

'Indian time' remark criticized

Quebec's Native Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley faced criticism during the unveiling of Bill 113 for drawing a parallel between the eight years it took the Liberals to finally recognize Aboriginal customary adoptions in law and "Indian time."

The stereotype drew a smiling rebuke from Petawabano in her remarks. 

Flashing a look back at Kelley, Petawabano said the "true meaning of Indian time is getting things done before the expected time. 

"That is the true meaning and I don't know who changed it along the way," she said. 

Kelley, who's worked on First Nations issues since first being elected in the 1990s, said the reference was meant as a joke and he didn't see it as offensive.

"The joke was about government time," he said. "And my point was that sometimes it takes a while for governments to get things done."

But Viviane Michel, president of the Quebec Native Women group, said the remark was inappropriate.

"[Kelley] is very familiar with First Nations. He knows them well. Maybe he could correct certain language so as not to accentuate prejudices that people have towards First Nations," she said.