The leader of a national organization dedicated to open adoption records says she is concerned individuals seeking information about adopted children or birth parents could face possible jail time under new provisions in P.E.I.’s Adoption Act.
Valerie Andrews, executive director of Origins Canada, said she was disappointed to see that the new legislation will allow birth parents or adoptees to refuse disclosure of information about themselves from adoption records.
The legislation would also allow individuals to file a contact preference, prohibiting contact from adoptees or birth parents.
But Andrews said she was most concerned about the inclusion of a possible jail sentence of six months for individuals who contravened the contact preference provision.
“Most disappointing was the fact that those separated by adoption are criminalized by using jailtime," Andrews said in an interview.
"We don't need separate laws for those separated by adoption."
Andrews said most provinces have allowed a veto and no-contact provisions. But she said the possibility of jail time was “unique”.
“This goes beyond the pale,” Andrews said.
Andrews said many individuals often find out information about their birth parents or adopted children through sites like 23andMe. She said it is unclear if these people could be fined or even face jailtime.
Adoption legislation for Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia allows for both fines or a jail sentence for individuals who violate no contact provisions. Ontario and Manitoba’s legislation only include penalties of a fine.
Adoption Act: What changed?
- Adoption records will be open by default as of Jan. 31, 2021
- Adoptees and/or birth parents can file a veto or contact preference between January 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021
- Adoption records for adoptions that take place after January 2020 are open by default
P.E.I.’s new legislation allows for either a maximum fine of $5,000 or a maximum jail sentence of six months if individuals violate an undertaking, a legal agreement for obtaining adoption records for which a contact preference has been filed.
Last week, P.E.I. MLAs passed the amendments, allowing adoption records to be opened, upon request, to birth parents or adoptees starting Jan. 31, 2021.
The amendments passed with a vote of 18 in favour. But the entire Liberal caucus and one Green MLA, Ole Hammarlund, voted against the changes.
Liberal interim leader Sonny Gallant told The Guardian his caucus received emails from a number of Islanders who were not happy about the veto provision on disclosures.
“There was some discontent over the pace of the legislation,” Gallant said.
"We felt these people were telling us there wasn't enough collaboration, they didn't feel they had enough input.”
Hammarlund told The Guardian he voted against the changes due in part to the email campaign.
“I just wanted to express to the people sitting in the gallery that at least they were being heard and I think that makes a difference," Hammarlund told The Guardian.
Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker supported the changes to the act.
“All bills that are dealing with competing interests, competing rights, have to find a balance,” Bevan-Baker said.
“I think this bill found that appropriate balance between the right to access information and the right for people, should they desire, to retain that information as private.”
Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson told MLAs a legal challenge in Ontario to that province’s opening of its adoption act, played a role in the decision to include a disclosure veto provision.