ADOPTION LAW IS PROGRESS
The modernization of Quebec’s outdated adoption laws will come as a relief to many thousands of people who have yearned all their lives to know their origins. Bill 113 will give Quebecers who were adopted access to their records, including the names of their biological parents, unless a veto to maintain confidentiality is filed.
Bill 113 will also change how future adoptions are handled. It paves the way for the possibility of open adoptions, where children grow up knowing their birth parents’ identities and even maintaining meaningful relationships with them.
And the bill will recognize aboriginal customary adoptions, whereby other family members may take over from the biological parents in raising children. A common practice seen as key to first peoples’ identity, it has existed in a legal limbo that left children and/or their caregivers vulnerable despite calls for codification since the 1980s.
These child-centred changes will help Quebec’s laws catch up with evolving views about adoption and bring them in line with those in other provinces. But the update is only one piece of a larger puzzle concerning needed changes to family law.
For example, while Bill 113 tweaks rules on international adoptions, it is silent on the thorny issue of foreign surrogacy.
To get around Canada’s ban on payment for surrogacy, some same-sex or infertile couples have resorted to hiring Third World women to carry a child containing the DNA of one parent. Then, after the birth, they come home to Quebec and seek to have the other parent adopt the child. Two major court decisions have recently underscored the grey area in which these parents operate. There is a need for greater legal certainty. The government has promised a deeper reflection on so-called fertility tourism. But time is of the essence.
More broadly, a blue-ribbon legal panel appointed by the government has called for a radical overhaul of Quebec family law, which has not been updated in decades. Its 600page report contains 82 recommendations on urgent issues like the rights of grandparents, step-parents and children born of unmarried parents.
The panel was struck after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Eric and Lola case that de facto spouses in Quebec have no obligations toward each other when they split. In their June 2015 report, the panel members warned new rules are required to look after the needs of children born of such unions.
Major reforms to family law are long overdue, to keep pace with social change and to ensure all children enjoy the same protections. The adoption bill is welcome, but there is much more to be done.