Tilson would support study of forced adoptions


For the Citizen

Dufferin-Caledon MP David Tilson says he was deeply touched by an emotional meeting of several of his colleagues from all federal parties with a few ladies from Origins Canada, all of whom had been forced to give up babies for adoption.

Although the ladies might have been in their 60s and beyond, he said he perceived that they are still traumatized by the experience. “Some obviously still needed trauma counselling,” he said.

He might have been even more touched, he said, by a clip of an address by former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, in which she apologized to the mothers of forced-adoption children.

In Australia, there had been a senate enquiry into forced adoptions. Here, Origins Canada wants a federal inquiry but the prevailing attitude is that health and adoption issues are a provincial, not a federal, responsibility.

Mr. Tilson said in an interview Wednesday he had initially taken that stance when approached by two ladies at his constituency office in Bolton, but his views have been altered after considering that adoptions are occurring across provincial, and even international boundaries.

As well, “there are federal grants to the (maternity) homes and federal tax rebates. Babies are adopted across borders.” He said one woman in the Tuesday meeting in Ottawa said she had found her child in Europe.

At the time of forced adoptions, generally from the post-Second World War years up to the late 1960s, the mothers were being coerced into surrendering their babies in the first hours after the birth. Then, there was no consent required from the biological father.

Mr. Tilson said he’s not certain when the laws changed, but he described the forced adoptions as being traumatic not only for the mothers but also for the fathers and for the children who would have matured with feelings of rejection by their biological parents.

And, until recently, it was extremely difficult for the children to trace their parents. “I’m not an expert on adoption but now it’s a lot easier to find who your original parents were.”

For today’s generation, it might be difficult to imagine how things used to be with pregnancy. Today, there are high school programs available to pregnant teens. In the 1940s and beyond, it was a disgrace for an unmarried girl or woman to become pregnant. Unwed pregnant females were regarded as unfit.

“If a girl got pregnant, her family had to send her away somewhere,” said Mr. Tilson. Or she had to get married, and there would be raised eyebrows if the first birth was premature.

The Globe & Mail reported Wednesday that the 1960s were “a time when an unmarried teen was assumed unfit to mother, abortion was illegal and contraception was hard to obtain.”

The newspaper had attended the Ottawa meeting, and quoted by Barbara Estabrooks as saying she was young and unwed in 1965 “when she faced confinement in a religious maternity home, was denied the chance to hold her baby in the hospital and then appeared in court without legal representation when her son was ordered a Crown ward.”

The article said Mr. Tilson was supportive of Tory MP Harold Albrecht’s call for a parliamentary study into the practices of the era and its adoption issues.

In the interview Wednesday, he said he would support such a study by a Standing Committee but would not go so far as to support a formal public inquiry, as sought by Origins Canada.

He was somewhat at a loss about what would be done with a study when completed, and an unspoken question might be what the current role of the maternity homes is.

Someone, he surmised, should at least apologize. But who should that be? The federal government was not involved in the nature of the adoptions, so surely not the Prime Minister.

Should the churches apologize? He noted that several, including the United and Roman Catholic, as well as possibly Salvation Army, had operated homes that are still in existence.

For its part, the United Church has a study under way that’s expected to be released next month.

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