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Lawyer fights for right to privacy in Ontario adoption law

Last Updated: Friday, October 13, 2006 | 8:51 PM ET

One of Canada's most well-known lawyers is fighting for the right of birth parents and adoptees in Ontario to be able to choose to remain anonymous.

'This is a personal choice. And the government has failed to respect the personal nature of that choice.'-Lawyer Clayton Ruby

An Ontario adoption law set to take effect next year would see records opened to both parties without permission from either.

Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby has launched a constitutional challenge of the adoption law on the behalf of four Ontario residents, including adoptees and parents.

"This is a personal choice," he said Friday. "And the government has failed to respect the personal nature of that choice and has instead set up a complex arrangement."

Constitutional right to privacy

Ruby wants parents and children involved in adoption to have the right of privacy with the inclusion of the option to restrict access to their personal files, without a lengthy process forcing them to prove their case.

Current rules allow information to be released only if both the parent and child have granted permission.

Under the new Adoption Information Disclosure Act, which passed its third reading and is expected to be proclaimed in 2007, adoptees and birth parents would have access to adoption records.

'You never forget. You spend your entire life — until you find out what happened to your child — suffering.'- Marilyn Churley

However, either person could choose to file an order preventing the other one from making contact. Individuals who break the order could face a $50,000 fine.

Fought for law

Former MPP Marilyn Churley fought 10 years for the very adoption law Ruby is now looking to scrap.

A mother herself who gave up her son as a teenager, she has been a longtime champion of changing Ontario's adoption laws.

"You never forget," she said. "You spend your entire life — until you find out what happened to your child — suffering."

She managed to reconnect with her son without going through the province's adoption system, but says other parents and children deserve the chance to learn about their past.

Opponents want veto

But not all parents and children want the right to know the identities of their birth family or have them know their identities.

Denbigh Patton, one of four Ontarians fighting the law, was given up for adoption when he was less than one year old and is now in his 40s.

Content with his life, Patton doesn't want the disruption of being contacted by his birth parents.

"The adoption went well, life is normal," he said. "It's got problems and challenges and tragedy and happiness, but it's a normal life."

He argues that it's unnecessary to make "a dramatic change in who you know and what your relationships are … especially when that change is forced upon you by others."

A ban preventing his birth family from contacting him is not enough, he said. Patton wants a disclosure veto that would prevent the government from even releasing his name.

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