Montreal

Despite new adoption rules, Quebec families still searching for answers

As of June 16, adoptees have the right to learn the names of their biological parents, unless their parents expressly asked the government to withhold that information.

Adoptees in the province now have access to their parents' names — but only under certain conditions

Claire Oligny is still waiting for the results of a DNA test to find out who her biological family is. (Submitted by Claire Oligny)

Claire Oligny was 13 years old when her mother told her she was adopted. Now 78, she still spends her days scouring the internet, trying to find out if she has brothers and sisters.

"But my mother, the one who adopted me, she never wanted to talk about it," said Oligny, who now lives in a seniors' complex on Montreal's South Shore.

Lacking details about her biological family, Oligny has spent over 30 years searching for more information.

Quebec has had a reputation of secrecy around adoption records in the past. Last year, the province opened the door a crack by allowing adoptees to learn the names of their birth parents once they had died.

That's how Oligny got the name of her birth mother, who died in 2017. She laments the fact that she was never able to meet her while she was still alive.

As of June 16, the Quebec government has now opened that legislation a little further. The new regulations give adoptees the right to learn their birth name and the names of their biological parents, unless their parents expressly asked the government to withhold that information before the new regulation took effect.

"We've been fighting for this for years," said Lise Émond, a spokesperson for the Mouvement Retrouvailles, a Quebec non-profit that helps adoptees search for their biological parents.

Émond, who was adopted herself, said around 33,000 people have requested information from their adoption records, and the province is months behind schedule in processing those requests.

Quebec Justice Minister Sonia Lebel did not respond to a request for comment. 

Lise Émond says they’ve been fighting for changes to adoption regulations for years. (Laura Marchand/CBC )

The Quebec agency that oversees adoption records in the province said they can't give an estimate for how long it will take for the requests to be processed.

"Each request is processed as swiftly as possible, making sure the information given to the person is exact," the agency, Info-adoption, said in a statement.

"I just want to tell people to be patient, but they will take your demand," said Émond recently on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

'Probably a long shot'

Laval resident Gilles Boudreau, 63, filed a request to find out his mother's name, the second the new rule came in.

"I was raised by parents that were great. They were very supportive of me. It was a great environment. But I always felt that I was different from them, that there was not a biological connection," Boudreau said.

Boudreau has a pressing reason to want to know more about that biology. His son suffered from severe respiratory issues when he was younger, and spent a lot of time in the hospital.

Boudreau felt helpless when doctors asked him for his medical history. He thinks knowing more about his genetic background would have sped up the diagnosis.

He first began looking for information about his biological mother in the 1980s. Shortly thereafter, he hit a roadblock: a case worker informed him that his mother had likely used a false name on his birth certificate.

Now that Boudreau's decided to give it another shot, he fears he might encounter another dead end.

"If they give me a little more [information], maybe I'll be able to do the search myself," Boudreau said.

"It's probably a long shot at this point."

Still searching for family

Claire Oligny and her husband Karl Hebel are eager to find out if their online sleuthing has paid off. (Submitted by Claire Oligny)

Last month, Oligny was given a name, the approximate age of her mother when she gave birth and the year that she died.

Oligny says there is more than one person out there with the same name as her mother, so she is waiting for the results of a DNA test to find out more.

In her online sleuthing, Oligny found someone with the same name as her mother, who died the same year. When she found her, she had a strong feeling that she was her mother.

If that's the case, it means she has four sisters she hasn't even met yet.

"She looks like me anyway," she said. "But you never know."

About the Author

Franca G. Mignacca is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from CBC Daybreak's Laura Marchand

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