P.E.I. government tables legislation to open adoption records

P.E.I.'s PC government has tabled legislation to open up the province's adoption records.

According to the legislation, adoptees could apply to receive the identities of their birth parents starting Jan. 31, 2021. Similarly on that date, birth parents could apply to receive a copy of their child's adoption record, including their adopted name.

Adoptees would have to reach the age of 18 before they could apply for the information.

P.E.I.'s Minister of Social Development and Housing Ernie Hudson hadn't yet been elected when the previous Liberal government began public consultations and committed in the fall of 2018 to opening adoption records. 

But he said "even prior to my political life I had heard comments in the public from friends, from neighbours feeling that this is something that should be available, that adoption records should be open." 

1 of 2 provinces with sealed records

P.E.I. is currently one of two provinces with closed adoption records. Nova Scotia recently launched public consultations on whether to open its records.

Similar to how records have been opened in other provinces, P.E.I.'s legislation allows birth parents and adoptees to file for a veto to keep their identities private for adoptions that took place prior to Jan. 31, 2020.

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According to the legislation, after that date all adoption records would be considered open without the possibility for either party to hide their identity.

Hudson said not allowing an option to keep some of the province's roughly 4,000 existing adoption records sealed could have opened up the province to a legal challenge.

"We want to provide that openness, that transparency of the adoption records as much as possible," said Hudson, "realizing that there has to be the opportunity for birth parents and adoptees" to have a veto on disclosure of records from adoptions that took place before the legislation came into effect.

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A veto preventing the disclosure of someone's identity would continue to be in effect until one year after their death.

In cases where an adoptee died, their adult children would be allowed to obtain the identities of their birth parents, and vice-versa with regards to the children of a birth parent who died.

Document to outline whether contact may take place

Parties would also be able to file a "contact preference" document outlining their preferences with regards to whether, how or under what conditions they are willing to be contacted.

If the other party in the adoption applies for information, they would be required to sign an undertaking, a legal document in which they agree to comply with the preferences of the other party, not to "intimidate or harass" them, and not to publish any identifying information about them.

Without signing that undertaking the party would not be able to receive the identity of their birth parent or child.

The government legislation hasn't yet been debated in P.E.I.'s minority legislature. It would require the vote of at least one opposition MLA in order to pass.

In the past, members of all three parties in the legislature have spoken in favour of opening P.E.I.'s adoption records.

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