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  Opening adoption records: success in Ontario
Family Helper editor

(Nov. 3, 2005) After over a decade of debate, Ontario has finally reformed its law on adoption records, opening them up so that adoptees and birth parents can know about each other. Ontario now joins British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland in unsealing its adoption records.

On Nov. 1, 2005 Bill 183, the Adoption Information Disclosure Act, 2005 passed the Ontario legislature by a vote of 68 to 19. Though the bill became law on receiving royal assent Nov. 3, it actually goes into effect in 18 months -- the Ontario government will use the delay to work out the operational details and to publicize the changes.

Under the new system, adoptees and birth parents can access records that were previously sealed. Adoptees can learn their original name, and birth parents can learn the current name of a child they placed for adoption. These details could ultimately lead to reuniting a long-separated parent and child.

There are now four Canadian provinces which have unsealed their adoption records: British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Newfoundland. However Ontario remains the only province without a "disclosure veto", which would allow anyone to keep their records sealed if they specifically requested it.

The Ontario legislation does give birth parents and adoptees the option to request they not be contacted (a "contact veto"), but to keep their records sealed they would need to prove to the Child and Family Services Review Board that revealing their identifying information would cause harm.

The Coalition for Open Adoption Records (COAR),, which has been pushing hard to get adoption records unsealed in Ontario, called it "the most progressive adoption disclosure law in North America." According to Wendy Rowney of the COAR Coordinating Committee, "Ontario is now the only jurisdiction in North America to permit both adopted adults and their birth parents unrestricted access to identifying information. We are thrilled that the government has recognized our absolute right to this information."

The new law eliminates the Adoption Disclosure Register and all of its functions including the release of non-identifying information. However, says Wendy Rowney, the government has promised COAR that it plans to continue releasing background information to adopted adults and birth parents.


In an Explanatory Note,, the Ontario Legislative Library summarizes the provisions of the Adoption Information Disclosure Act, 2005:


Until now, the law did not permit adopted persons to obtain information concerning their birth parents. Nor did it permit a birth parent of an adopted person to obtain information from the Registrar General about the adoptee. Now, an adoptee who is at least 18 can get a copy of the original registration, if any, of his or her birth and of any adoption order.

Moreover, a birth parent can get all of the information contained in specified registered documents concerning the adopted person (except information about persons other than the birth parent and the adopted person), once the adoptee is at least 19.


An adopted person who does not wish to be contacted by a birth parent may register a notice to that effect, if the adopted person is at least 18. Similarly, a birth parent may register a notice that he or she does not wish to be contacted by the adopted person. These notices may include a brief statement concerning the person's reasons for not wishing to be contacted and concerning family and medical history. A notice takes effect when it is matched with the relevant registered adoption order. These notices may be withdrawn. The notice is given to the adopted person or birth parent at the same time the Registrar General gives him or her the copies under section 48.1 or the information under section 48.2.

However, if a notice registered by an adoptee is in effect, the Registrar General cannot give the birth parent the information under section 48.2 until the birth parent agrees in writing not to contact or attempt to contact the adoptee either directly or indirectly. Similarly, if a notice registered by a birth parent is in effect, the Registrar General cannot give the adoptee the copies under section 48.1 until the adoptee agrees in writing not to contact or attempt to contact the birth parent either directly or indirectly.

It is an offence for the adoptee or birth parent to knowingly contact or attempt to contact the person who registered the notice. It is also an offence for another person to do so on behalf of the adoptee or birth parent.


A new section 48.4 of the Act authorizes the Child and Family Services Review Board to order the Registrar General not to give the information to the birth parent if the Board is satisfied that, because of exceptional circumstances, the order is appropriate to prevent significant harm to the adopted person or to his or her sibling. An adopted person who is at least 18, an adoptive parent of the adopted person, if the adopted person has a sibling who is less than 18, or a person acting on behalf of an incapable adopted person who is at least 18, is entitled to apply to the Board for such an order.

For more, including ministry documents, see the article at the Adoption Council of Canada web site,

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Contact: Robin Hilborn,
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Copyright 2009 Robin R. Hilborn
Updated Mar. 22, 2006

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