Advocates call on P.E.I. government to open adoption records

Dozens of people gathered in downtown Charlottetown Sunday calling on the P.E.I. government to open its adoption records.

'We want people to be able to tell their stories and move forward'

Islanders gathered in Charlottetown Sunday calling on the provincial government to open its adoption records. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Dozens of people gathered in downtown Charlottetown Sunday calling on the P.E.I. government to open its adoption records.

With posters and banners in hand, Islanders crowded outside the building that used to be a shelter for single expectant mothers.

One by one, women stood behind a podium, each taking their turn to share their experiences within the province's adoption system. 

Theresa Aylward, who's been advocating for families touched by adoption for over a decade, organized the event. She said it's important to give birth mothers and adoptees a space to tell their stories and hopes by sharing her own she can give others the courage to do the same. 

'I hope that in telling my story it would give somebody else the courage to share their story,' says event organizer and advocate Theresa Aylward. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"There's moms out there who have never told their stories and never shared it with anyone and kept it inside," she said. "So we just want the secrecy taken away from it, we want the shame gone. We want people to be able to tell their stories and move forward." 

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 important for the adoptees, they have a right to know who they are they have a right to know their heritage, their family history, their family medical," Aylward said. 

"The moms have a right to know for closure. I don't know if anyone can imagine what it's like to go through life wondering if your child is alive or dead, healthy."

Records restricted

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

Mary MacDonald, born on P.E.I. to a 21-year-old mother, then sent to a foster family a week later, shared her story as well. 

Mary MacDonald was sent to a foster home a week after she was born. She says she developed serious health problems in her mid-20s, which doctors struggled to identify without her genetic history. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

She said she developed serious health problems in her mid-20s, which doctors struggled to identify without her genetic history.

"Adult adoptees have the right, the unfettered right, to access their complete health information which may be embedded going back years, maybe decades," MacDonald said.

Justin Campbell says he spent years unable to tell doctors about his medical history because he didn't have access to his records. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"At the time this was happening to me … I had a small child of my own and I was deeply concerned of whether I had passed this genetic illness to my own child," she added.

She said bearing the burden of not knowing about their past is something many adoptees carry.

Justin Campbell said he attended the event as an advocate for open records after spending years in dark about his medical history.

"Over the years going to the doctors they would ask you what is your family history, is there any illness. And all I could say is, 'I'm adopted,"' he said.

Province reviewing advisory report

The P.E.I. government recently held public consultations around adoption records, as it considers opening up those records to make it easier for adopted children and birth parents to learn each other's identities. The results haven't yet been released. 

MacDonald said those affected by adoption have waited long enough.

An advisory committee did a review of the adoption program earlier this year. The province says it has received the report, but needs more time to go over it. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"The P.E.I. government appears to be stalling on making meaningful reforms to the Adoption Act and allowing adult adoptees to have access to their records and also for mothers who experienced coerced adoption experiences to find out if their children are alive or well," MacDonald said.

"That's not too much to ask."

In a written statement to the CBC, the province said it has received the report from the advisory committee and needs more time to review it.

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With files from Kerry Campbell