Province considers opening up P.E.I. adoption records

The province is reviewing its adoption legislation and access to open adoption records.

Public engagement expected to begin in January

A new petition calls on the P.E.I. government to remove barriers for birth parents and adoptees who wish to obtain adoption records. (Getty Images)

The P.E.I. government will be consulting with Islanders about whether to open up adoption records.

"We were hearing from many people all over P.E.I. about the issue and how personal it is to them and how sensitive this issue is to them, so we listened and we took action," said P.E.I. Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy.

The public consultation is expected to start in early January and is part of a review of the P.E.I.'s adoption program now underway.

Though details haven't been determined, consultation could include online surveys, written letters, private meetings, and group meetings, Mundy said.

'It's their right'

Advocates, such as Theresa Aylward, have been fighting for more open records on P.E.I. for the past 15 years, working with families touched by adoption.

The P.E.I. mother, who relinquished a child more than three decades ago, has been lobbying the P.E.I. government to give adoptees and birth parents unfettered access to birth records.

"It's their right," Aylward said. "These are adults, they're not children. These are mothers that never asked to be kept in the dark. For a lot of them, they've lived through shame and guilt. They need closure."

Balance of rights and privacy

The province said the Adoption Act protects and balances the rights and privacy of all parties to an adoption, including the birth parents, the children and the adoptive parents.  

Mundy said a reassessment began after the province heard from advocates wanting access to sealed birth records.

"We have been reaching out to provinces all across Canada to look at what's working for them, what doesn't work for them, what we might be able to glean," Mundy said.

Tina Mundy, P.E.I.'s minister of family and human services, says the province wants to ensure all voices are heard on the issue of opening adoption records (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and P.EI. remain the only provinces to have closed adoption records.

Birth records in New Brunswick will be unsealed beginning in April, 2018.

Under P.E.I.'s Adoption Act, adoption records can only be disclosed if both parties agree.

'Right of all individuals'

The provincial government offers post-adoption services for adoptees over the age of 18 and birth parents who want to look into obtaining non-identifying information. It may include the physical descriptions of the birth parents, their age and education level, interests, medical histories and circumstances at the time of the adoption. 

Search registers run by the provincial government also assist adult adoptees and birth families with a search process and/or a potential reunion. 

Therera Aylward, an advocate for open adoption records, says many mothers and adoptees are seeking closure. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Valerie Andrews, executive director of Origins Canada, a non-profit federal organization supporting mothers and adopted children, said she looks forward to more transparency for those involved with adoption.

"Opening records doesn't mean a relationship," Andrews said. "Opening records simply means that you obtain the name of your mother or your son or daughter and it's always up to individuals as to whether they wish to have contact with any other person. That remains the right of all individuals."

Theresa Aylward says it can often take years to search for birth parents without birth records or even even non-identifying information. (Fruity Monkey/Flickr)

Mundy said all information submitted through the public consultation will be kept confidential.

"This is a very sensitive and very personal matter to so many, so we have to ensure that we take our time with this and we make sure that all voices are heard on both sides of the issue," she said.

"We will probably take from January to April to make sure all voices around the table are heard. We will come back in maybe late May with some recommendations in hopes that if legislative changes are needed we can work on them over the summer and be ready for the fall session."