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More Opposition to Adoption Disclosure

October 24, 2005 permalink

Ontario's privacy commissioner Dr Ann Cavoukian is again opposing the adoption disclosure bill. Commentary follows the article.



The Ottawa Sun

October 24, 2005

Adoption bill riles privacy boss

Birth moms told info would be kept under wraps

By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD, Queen's Park Bureau

TORONTO -- Ontario's privacy commissioner is speaking out for birth mothers who fear sensitive personal information will become public if adoption disclosure legislation is passed tomorrow.

Dr. Ann Cavoukian says the proposed law is "shameful" in retroactively revealing information birth mothers were told would be kept private when they gave up their babies for adoption decades ago.

"This erodes trust in government and in my view it is shameful that the government would consider doing this retroactively without giving anyone the right to say no."


Only three provinces have retroactive adoption disclosure -- B.C., Alberta and Newfoundland, and all have a disclosure veto that allows a party to the adoption to refuse to allow their information be given out.

Cavoukian wants that as Ontario's legislation. Bill 183 gets third reading tomorrow.

"It's the only fair thing to do. You have to have a balance. You can't be one-sided, only favour one of the parties," she said.

Amendments allow for a veto -- but the individual requesting it has to plead her case before an expert panel, who will decide if disclosing her information will cause her harm. Cavoukian says that's unacceptable.

"People who want to preserve their privacy want to preserve their privacy because it is their right to do so."

Cavoukian received several submissions from birth mothers and adult adoptees who were told by children's aid and legal system officials that their records would be sealed. Cavoukian pointed out that simply coming to a tribunal would require an individual to lose their right to privacy.

She would like to see a system in which parties to an adoption could opt out.

"What I am seeking is the weakest form of privacy protection," she said.

The minister responsible for the bill said changes made to the legislation over the summer have strengthened privacy protection. But Sandra Pupatello added adoptees have the right to know where they come from.

"The other side of the coin for each of those cases is an individual, a son or a daughter, who has been denied their right to information for many years."

Source: Ottawa Sun

Commentary: John Dunn commented on June 25, 2005, on the curious position of Ann Cavoukian.



It is interesting how the Ontario Privacy Commissioner is so against parts of Bill 183 and yet recently on CTV there is a story where she tells of the need for CAS's to be under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA) so that the CAS can become more accountable to the public.

Although I support this 120%, it is just odd how she is behaving so "polar" on the two similar issues. When you read the Hansard (the minutes or text record) of the committee meetings regarding Bill 183, one person who presented to the Social Policy Committee stated that she thought maybe the Commissioner had something in her past she was hiding (maybe gave up/lost a child herself)

Read this quote below from a public deputation who spoke to the committee, Michelle Quick of Defense For Children International;

Michelle Quick: Finally, we should ask questions about the privacy commissioner's motives, given that she is acting outside of the mandate of her office. She has made a number of inflammatory and irrational statements in public. When I heard a radio interview earlier today, I thought I detected a note of desperation in her voice, so perhaps the privacy commissioner has a very personal connection to the issue, and this is what is driving her to act outside of the proper scope of her office.

I come before you today in support of Bill 183 --


The Chair: Yes, Mr. Jackson?

Mr. Cameron Jackson (Burlington): Mr. Chairman, I am very anxious to hear the deputations, but if we're going to impugn this, I'd like to have sufficient time to ask the deputant which medical degree or which legal degree she's drawing upon to draw these extraordinary conclusions.

The purpose of these hearings is not to indict former deputants, any more than we would allow you to leave the room today and have someone come in here and trample on your good name.

With all due respect, I don't know you at all and I didn't really know Ms. Cavoukian, but I believe that the purpose of this hearing is for us to hear your personal experience. I would just like you to perhaps focus on that, and I believe it would be the role of the Chair to assist you in that regard.

This raised the roof for a second in the Committee, but my gut said the same thing. She is fighting this tooth and nail and using very strong words so hey, you never know. All I can say is that I would not be surprised to find out some day it was true.

That being said, I want to now move on to her recent press release which announces a recent release of the 2003/04 Annual Report from the Privacy Commissioners Office. In the report, she makes mention of the fact that she believes that CAS's should be under the FIPPA. Here is the paragraph that I find so important and support.

"Here, I address the need for three over-arching steps the government should take that would significantly enhance freedom of information and protection of privacy in Ontario:"

She goes on to recomend that "Institutions that are primarily funded by government dollars should be covered by Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation for the purposes of transparency and accountability. Universities, hospitals and Children's Aid Societies are leading examples of the types of institutions that need to be brought under this legislation. I recommend that the government launch an immediate review to compile a list of institutions that are primarily funded by government but are not yet covered by the Acts. Part two of this project should be a short review of which of these institutions will be placed under the Acts — with the default position being that each institution on the list will be added, unless there are very unique and compelling reasons not to add a specific institution."

Now, read that last line carefully which states "with the default position being that each institution on the list will be added, unless there are very unique and compelling reasons not to add a specific institution."

This is exactly why the CAS is currently exempt from FIPPA. I read it somewhere before, which at this very moment I can not remember where, but I am looking into it, that this happened the last time. The CAS's presented that they were to be exempt because their files had unique and compelling reasons not to be under FIPPA.

This now goes to you. If you want to increase accountability of Children's Aid Societies, this is the most important move we can all work on together. Whether your life has been affected by CAS or not, your assistance in getting CAS under FIPPA would be greatly appreciated.

It is one way we, as members of the public, would be allowed to "order" copies of CAS files, documents, decisions, statistics, and to have questions answered which are currently impossible to have answered. If you have a friend in the media, let them read this email, or tell them that this recent Annual Report from the Ontario Privacy Commissioner has opened a door for debate on the issue of opening up CAS's to FIPPA, then please tell them.

We need to create a huge body of people who will lobby publicly to open CAS records to the public (with identifying information blanked out of course) What kind of information could then be made available?

Just as an example off the top of my head...

1. Serious Occurance Reports: When a child / Youth in care is abused in care, they MUST fill out a "Serious Incident / Occurance Report which details the incident and they must submit it to the Ministry for review.

2. My life records contain evidence of child abuse in them. I know, because I have seen them.

3. Thousands of foster kids and former foster kids files contain evidence of abuse in them. For example, they say things like Johnny was moved from the home because the environment was "too strict" or "Ronnie was pushed over the couch during an argument with the foster father" etc...

4. We could ask general questions such as "how many times this year, was a child moved between foster homes due to serious incidents which involved physical or sexual abuse".

The questions go on and on and on to almost anything you can think of and if they are under FIPPA, they must answer and the Privacy Office will help when they try to deny you access to the information via an appeal process.

As it stands now, the CAS simply has to say "no" and the FIPPA does not covery them, the Ombudsman does not have CAS's under it's juristiction and of course, they will simply claim that this information is "confidential".

Please, get involved. Contact me at to let me know if you would like to join a lobby group to actively get involved in spreading awareness of the issue through flyers, emails, a web site, networking, public speeches (Speakers Corner etc) and through press releases and conferences.

Thank you.. please, forward this to a media rep or list.

John Dunn
The Foster Care Council of Canada