Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia adoption record access urged in new petition

More than 600 Nova Scotians have signed a new petition asking the province to allow more access to adoption records.

Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said she has no intention of opening up records

Adoption records in Nova Scotia are staying closed, despite a proposal in New Brunswick to open records. (CBC)

More than 600 Nova Scotians have signed a new petition asking the province to allow more access to adoption records.

On the list you'll find Marilyn MacDonald's name. She says when her daughter had a life-threatening condition in hospital and doctors asked for her family medical history, she couldn't answer.

I haven't experienced anything more terrifying than that moment. And I've never experienced being so helpless.- Marilyn MacDonald

"I said, 'On my husband's side, no there's not. On my side, I don't know because I'm adopted.' At that point they didn't really know what caused her condition," MacDonald told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

"They didn't quite know what was going to happen. All they knew was that she could die from it and I haven't experienced anything more terrifying than that moment. And I've never experienced being so helpless, not being able to give any information that could help her."

MacDonald says she could have asked the Department of Community Services to look into her records, but that wasn't possible on a Friday night in the hospital.

"There is no hotline," she says.

In Nova Scotia, adoption information is filtered through the province. Applying for it can take a long time and there's no guarantee the information will be released.

MacDonald still doesn't have access to her long-form birth certificate.

Mike Slaytor, a member of the Coalition for Open Adoption Records Nova Scotia, says Nova Scotia should follow the lead of United Kingdom and other Canadian provinces where records are more open.

Loosened legislation generally allows adopted adults to see their original birth certificates with their birth parents' names. It allows birth parents to access their adult child's name after adoption.

Slayter is an adult adoptee who has spent decades lobbying for open records. He was part of a government committee on opening adoption records back in the 1990s.

Mike Slayter was part of a government committee on opening adoption records back in 1994. (CBC)

"The ministerial committee back in 1994 had recommended sweeping changes to archaic legislation that was present at the time and yet here we are 21 years later still grappling with this issue," he says. "We're left in a world of ponder. Why hasn't Nova Scotia stepped up to the plate?" 

Last month Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said she has no intention of opening up the Adoption Information Act in Nova Scotia. She cited privacy reasons.

"For as many people want that act opened there are just as many who say 'No,'" she said.

Slayter hasn't met with Bernard or the premier. He says his group has suggested mechanisms that would protect birth parents' identities.

"They could veto the release of identifying information about themselves," he said. "They could express the wish to not be contacted."

British Columbia was the first province to open its adoption records, followed by Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon.

"There hasn't been one complaint whatsoever [in B.C.]," Slayter said.

Manitoba is in the process of opening records and New Brunswick is considering it.

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