United Church of Canada to hold mirror to its role in forced adoptions as families push for national inquiry
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By Kathryn Blaze Carlson
October 9, 2012 / nationalpost.com
The United Church of Canada is poised to strike a special task force dedicated to uncovering historic forced adoption practices, just as a national group prepares for an unprecedented conference next week that it hopes will catapult the topic squarely on to the public agenda and pressure the federal government to call an inquiry.
In April, the United Church launched Canada’s first major probe into allegations that women were coerced or forced into surrendering their children for adoption because they were unmarried. It now says it will also create a Task Group on Adoptions From United Church-run Maternity Homes at its general council meeting later this month.
A church spokesperson said the committee will review a church report due in the next month or two and draw on archival research to determine the church’s role in what it has called a “sad and difficult” chapter in Canadian history.
“The committee will then make a recommendation about next steps, for example if there’s going to be a call for a national inquiry,” said Bruce Gregersen, a spokesperson for the United Church, which co-ran a Winnipeg maternity home where one woman said she was told she would be criminally charged if she tried to keep her child.
Since the National Post launched an investigation into historic coerced and forced adoptions targeting unmarried women, scores of mothers, fathers and adoptees have emerged to share their accounts: From the church-run maternity homes where accommodation was sometimes predicated on adoption; to the social workers who concealed information about options such as social assistance and obtained adoption consents while the women were recovering from birth and under the influence of powerful medication; to the medical staff who denied women painkillers and reportedly gave women lactation suppressants without their knowledge.
Not every unmarried mother was coerced or forced into surrendering her child, but the women going public today — many of them expected to gather in one place for the first time at the Adoption Experience Conference in Ontario on Oct. 19 and 20 — are part a growing movement calling for a national inquiry.
An Australian Senate committee wrapped up its own national inquiry earlier this year, ultimately recommending the government apologize to the “many parents whose children were forcibly removed” from their care.
The Canadian women’s public accounts have sparked internal investigations at several churches, including the Salvation Army, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the United Church, which will send a representative to the conference put on by Origins Canada, a group that supports people separated by adoption.
Upward of 100 mothers, adoptees and their loved ones, from every province across Canada, are scheduled to descend upon the Vaughan Hilton Garden Inn; some will share how they were coerced or forced by social workers, medical practitioners and churches into surrendering their children during the 1940s through 1980s — a time when abortion was illegal, birth control was not easily accessible and unmarried mothers were seen as too feeble-minded to parent.
“This is a way to highlight what happened to these mothers,” said executive director Valerie Andrews, calling the conference historic and the first of its kind in Canada.
Among the conference speakers is author and filmmaker Ann Fessler, who exposed America’s history of forced adoption in her 2006 book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. Her film drawn from the same research, called A Girl Like Her, made its Canadian debut at the Montreal Film Festival this summer and will be screened at the Origins conference.
“From the women I’ve talked to in the U.S. and the women I’ve talked to in Canada, the experiences are exactly the same,” Ms. Fessler said.
Ms. Andrews hopes the conference will spur mothers into grassroots action such as contacting their provincial MPPs and federal MPs, in turn ramping up pressure for a national inquiry.
The Justice Department has said adoption is a provincial matter, but several federal politicians say they are willing to meet with a delegation of mothers once Ms. Andrews locks down a time to meet in Ottawa, possibly as early as November, Adoption Awareness Month.
The National Post confirmed Ms. Andrews is welcomed to meet with NDP Justice Critic Francoise Boivin; NDP deputy leader Libby Davies, who has twice written Minister Nicholson asking for federal leadership on the file; Liberal senator and chair of the Senate standing committee on social affairs Art Eggleton; and Liberal Justice Critic Irwin Cotler, who has called the revelations “extremely troubling and distressing.”
Ms. Boivin, who like Mr. Cotler and Senator Eggleton raised questions over jurisdiction, said she is open to a bipartisan meeting with the parliamentarians and senators because “this is too serious an issue to be politicized.”
“If we’re going to put pressure on [Minister Nicholson], we need to have a very solid file,” she said. “I want to be able to shut all the doors he could open to try to avoid [the issue].”