P.E.I. opens adoption records a little further — but only for some

·6 min read
Lisa Lamarche says her search for 'concrete evidence of my past' was being stymied by the fact that she was born in Prince Edward Island but her adoption was finalized in Ontario.  (Submitted by Lisa Lamarche - image credit)
Lisa Lamarche says her search for 'concrete evidence of my past' was being stymied by the fact that she was born in Prince Edward Island but her adoption was finalized in Ontario. (Submitted by Lisa Lamarche - image credit)

Lisa Lamarche got an unexpected call from P.E.I.'s post-adoption services office last week, just before her 45th birthday.

The caller informed her that the document she'd been denied just a few weeks before — her original birth registration, showing the name she was born with and the name of her birth mother — would now be provided.

"They stated that they are now happy to give me my information," said Lamarche. "I'm not sure if something happened on their end to get that process going. They didn't really give me an explanation."

A week later, she received the document in the mail, showing she was born in Charlottetown as Shannon Melissa Jean Sewuster.

Lamarche, who lives in Timmins, was adopted while an infant by a couple in Ontario. She was able to track down her birth mother on her own so was pretty sure she already knew what was going to be in her adoption file.

But obtaining a copy was important as part of her journey to connect with her P.E.I. roots, and with the person she was before adoption.

Needed to know

Without having performed a DNA test, Lamarche said she was never completely certain the woman she had found online, and hopes to meet on P.E.I. this fall, was really her birth mother.

Lisa Lamarche has been communicating with a woman she was almost sure was her P.E.I. birth mother, but the document she received recently has given her certainty.
Lisa Lamarche has been communicating with a woman she was almost sure was her P.E.I. birth mother, but the document she received recently has given her certainty.(Submitted by Lisa Lamarche)

"You just want to be sure before you kind of let yourself be vulnerable to be open to all these new feelings that are happening," Lamarche said.

"So I kind of let myself be a little guarded… Now that I know for positive, it just makes things a little bit more real."

Lamarche had previously found herself in a bureaucratic limbo which some other adoptees and birth parents are familiar with, especially when their adoptions crossed a provincial or national boundary.

The province of Ontario told Lamarche she needed to apply to Prince Edward Island for information about her birth because that's where she was born. P.E.I. told her Ontario had to provide the information, because that's where Lamarche's adoption was finalized.

New process in place

Now the P.E.I. government, which began the process of unsealing its adoption records in 2019, says it will provide identifying information to other adoptees who find themselves in the same circumstances.

"Individuals who were born in P.E.I. but adopted outside of P.E.I. now have a process to access their birth registration information if requested," the province told CBC via email.

The province said it had made a "small change" to the way it deals with those requests, but one that will be "instrumental for individuals looking for additional information regarding their birth."

The province said the change would affect nine applications for information from adoption records so far.

But it said the same change isn't being implemented for P.E.I. birth parents trying to track down a child who was adopted outside the province.

Searching for a brother

Irene MacAulay believes the majority of Island children who've been adopted over the decades likely ended going off-Island. Many ended up in the United States.

MacAulay is, together with her mother, searching for her older brother, who like Lamarche was born in P.E.I. and adopted in Ontario.

Irene MacAulay had been hoping the legislation to open up P.E.I.'s adoption records would help her family find closure. She and her mother are seeking information about her brother.
Irene MacAulay had been hoping the legislation to open up P.E.I.'s adoption records would help her family find closure. She and her mother are seeking information about her brother. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

But they now find themselves stuck in the same bureaucratic limbo Lamarche has just emerged from, stuck between two provinces, neither providing the information they're in search of.

MacAulay said the change the province is announcing is "great for all the others who are adoptees, but as far as the birth parents go, the legislation just doesn't allow them to access their records. There's no wiggle room there. It's pretty disappointing."

MacAulay said she believes P.E.I.'s legislation was designed to prevent birth parents from obtaining information when the adoption took place outside the province.

"It's extremely unfair. We can't see a reason for it," she said. "Which just leaves us to invent conspiracy theories, you know? There's no real reason that they can't give us this piece of paper that's sitting in their records."

Response from P.E.I., Ontario officials

A spokesperson for P.E.I.'s Department of Social Development and Housing contacted CBC News and said the information the MacAulays are looking for — from the birth registration of an adoptee — is not available to birth parents in any jurisdiction in Canada.

Furthermore, the province said the document which would be available to a birth parent if the adoption took place in P.E.I. — it's called the adoption order — isn't available in this case because the adoption was in Ontario and P.E.I. does not have a copy of the order.

However, the MacAulays received an email from the office of the registrar general in Ontario saying P.E.I. would have been provided with a copy of the adoption order, and "release of those records are subject to their legislation."

Ontario could not provide a copy of the adoption order, the email stated, because Ontario does not have a copy of the birth registration and thus does "not know who the biological parents are, which means we are unable to confirm the person applying is named on the birth record."

P.E.I. can't supply full numbers

Prince Edward Island officials say six families who've applied for information from adoption records so far are in the same situation as the MacAulays.

Irene MacAulay, shown with her sister as a child, knows their brother was given up for adoption by an off-Island family.
Irene MacAulay, shown with her sister as a child, knows their brother was given up for adoption by an off-Island family. (Submitted by Irene MacAulay)

But they couldn't say how many more could end up there once they begin searching for information — because the province couldn't say how many P.E.I. children were adopted in another jurisdiction.

MacAulay said P.E.I.'s Adoption Act needs to change to make it possible for birth parents to obtain information in these situations.

We're hoping that he's looking for us, because we want to meet him. We want to know him. - Irene MacAulay

In the meantime, she said her family is hoping her brother is himself searching for them, and has more luck than they've had.

"That's something we're trying to figure out: is he eligible to receive his identifying information?" said MacAulay.

"We're hoping that he's looking for us, because we want to meet him. We want to know him."

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