Adoptees can find mom, but not dad

Searches are stymied by blacked-out records documenting the birth of 'illegitimate' children

Nicole Baute/The Star
December 10 2009

When Ontario opened its adoption records on June 1, adult adoptees yearning for information about their birth parents applied in droves.

But as the replies came back, it became clear something was missing: the names of their fathers.

Out of all 250,000 Ontario adoption registrations, less than 10 per cent have fathers' names on them, according to the Ministry of Government Services.

Ruth Rideout was devastated by the omission.

The 61-year-old adoptee received her statement of birth in October and found the father's section of the form blank, with a line drawn through it.

"He is half of my biological makeup and I need to know if there are any illnesses, conditions," she says.

Rideout's birth mother recently died, at 81. Although she has since met her birth mother's family, they do not know who her father was.

It turns out legislation prohibited her mother from naming him.

Until the mid-1980s, an unmarried woman could not put her baby's father's name on the statement of birth unless she and the father made a statutory declaration that he be named, according to the Vital Statistics Act. The child was "illegitimate," a word that was not removed from the act until 1981.

But when unmarried women filled out the father's section anyway, it seems the information was removed – whited out, blacked out or covered up.

A Waterloo man, John S., who did not want his last name published, received his statement of birth from 1955. The information on the "husband" side of the form was blacked out, line by line. An accompanying letter from ServiceOntario explains that his father's information was removed because, in 1955, the Vital Statistics Act did not allow it to be included.

Mothers interviewed by the Star say they remember putting the names of their children's fathers on birth registration forms they filled out in hospitals many years ago. In some cases, the fathers were present at the time of birth, or signed a declaration of paternity and other identifying documents during the adoption process.

Now, they feel betrayed.

Karen Lynn distinctly remembers writing her son's father's name on his birth registration in the hospital in 1963, when she was 19. She recalls fussing over how to spell his second middle name – was it Lawrence or Laurence? She settled on Lawrence.

Lynn is the president of the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers and a member of the coordinating committee for the Coalition for Open Adoption Records. She says she expected many fathers' names to be missing from records, because unmarried women were discouraged from naming them.

But she was shocked to learn, as records trickled in, that names had been removed.

Lynn reunited with her son in 1999, but for her this is a matter of principle. "You expect that the document you signed is going to be kept intact," she says.

Michael Prue, the community and social services critic for the Ontario NDP, says unmarried women were told not to name a father. "Young women were discouraged, and it was because of shame and everything else," he says. Summing up the attitude then, he says: "You're not married, the child doesn't have a father, leave that blank."

Yes, he says, some names could have been scratched out. "Some people 30 or 40 or 50 years ago may have thought that was the right thing to do. A lot has changed."

Leslie Wagner received a copy of her son's statement of live birth, which she filled out at the Toronto Western Hospital in June 1982. The record is in her 17-year-old handwriting, but it appears to have been doctored: the father section looks like it has been replaced with a blank version of the same section.

Catherine Cunningham (her maiden name) says her son's father was by her side in the hospital in November 1981. She was sure he was named on the birth registration – and he later signed an acknowledgment of parentage with the Ministry of Community and Social Services. But his name isn't on the statement of birth. "Should my son request his original birth certificate, his first instinct will be that I did not know who his father was, which is unsettling to say the least, and completely not true," she says.

As far as they know, none of the people in this story has been affected by a nondisclosure veto.

The mothers have questions about their records. "Who altered them?" Wagner asks. "We still haven't got a clear answer around who had the authority to alter that."

Adoptees such as Rideout will have a difficult time finding their fathers if their mothers cannot or will not help them – or if they have changed their names or died.

Rideout says staff at Family and Children's Services of Waterloo Region have confirmed in emails that her father's name is on three of their documents, but say they cannot share it with her.

She knows her father was a German Canadian Lutheran truck driver from the Kitchener area and that he would be 84 if he is still alive today. Without his name, she will have a hard time finding him.

Valerie Andrews is executive director of Origins Canada, a support group for people separated by adoption. She says the missing fathers illustrate how poorly mothers were treated in the past. "I think it shows quite clearly that the so-called `unwed mother' was someone without rights (or) status in our society," she says.

Today, a father does not have to make a statutory declaration to be included on the statement of birth, but he and the mother have to sign the form. So even today, if the father is not involved at birth, his name will not be on his child's records.

Lynn realizes there are concerns about men being held financially liable for children they did not father. But today, a simple DNA test can determine paternity, she points out. She finds the assumption that women would lie about or not know who fathered their baby insulting.

"Are we trying to protect the 0.1 per cent of men who may have been accused and they aren't the father, or are we trying to serve the best interests of the child?"

Lynn says fathers' rights have also been violated. If a father of a child given up for adoption is not listed on the statement of birth, he probably won't be able to see the file. "They can apply, but they won't get it, because they weren't named."


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