Dealing with adoption
"Chief" oversight worries Inuit, Metis and MLAs

by Cheryl Leschasin
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 21/97) - The NWT cabinet has introduced four family law bills to replace outdated and inconsistent laws governing divorce, child custody, adoptions and other family issues.

A six-MLA committee is now touring the North, seeking public input on the bills. As part of our coverage, News/North continues a four-part look at the proposed legislation. This week: The Adoption Act.

The proposed Adoption Act covers private, step-parent and departmental adoptions. Custom adoptions are covered under the 1995 Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act.

Among the most consequential changes to the existing adoption process is the creation of an adoption registry.

According to Andy Langford, director of family support and child protection for the GNWT, the registry would offer "active search and reunion assistance."

It would also allow those adopted after the act is passed to access information about their medical and cultural background upon reaching the age of majority.

Information regarding the identity of birth relatives, however, would remain confidential.

Currently, reunions are only attempted if both birth parent and adoptee wish it, and then only when time permits. With the new legislation, only one party need apply for reunion and an active search would be made.

Another important feature to the new legislation is the lowering of age from 18 to 16 at which a child is required to remain in care.

"The new legislation will allow for 16- and 17-year-olds to access care and services if they wish," said Langford, but nothing is mandatory.

Also, children over the age of 12 must consent to their adoption before it takes place. Previously, a child was unable to refuse adoption although they may have been consulted.

MLAs on the committee on social programs are particularly concerned about one aspect of the act, which says that "Chiefs of band councils and relatives may intervene in adoptions of their band children to people in southern Canada."

It is well known that Metis, Inuit and Inuvialuit communities do not have chiefs, and yet no provision is made in the act for them to intervene in southern adoptions.

The committee is hoping to hear suggestions from these groups during their tour, in order to amend the proposed legislation.

Other major changes being proposed include:

  • Pre-birth and pre-adoption counselling for the biological parents.

  • Open adoption to common-law couples.

  • Biological parents can revoke consent for adoption within 30 days.

  • Provisions for post-adoption access where it is appropriate and in the best interests of the child.