The Selinger government is about to lift the curtain on birth and adoption records, which could allow adoptees to reunite with their birth parents -- or at least provide them more information about their roots.
The long-awaited amendments to the Adoption Act and the Vital Statistics Act were introduced in the Manitoba legislature on Wednesday.
Adoptees, once they become adults, will be able to learn their original name, their birth mother's or birth parents' names, the date and time of their birth and where their birth mother was living at the time the child was born.
The proposed law, once passed, would not be proclaimed for one year to give birth families and adoptees an opportunity to veto the release of their names and other identifying information.
The province will launch a public-awareness campaign with the passage of Bill 59 (the Adoption Amendment and Vital Statistics Amendment Act) to publicize the new rules. If the bill passes before the legislature's summer recess, it would likely take effect in June 2015.
"For many years, government has received heartfelt letters and emails requesting that Manitoba change our adoption laws so that adult adoptees and birth parents involved in adoption can receive these significant records," said Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross. "In the adoption community, it is referred to as the holy grail. They feel this is where the answers are held for them."
Manitoba partially opened its adoption records in 1999. But all adoptions carried out on March 15 of that year and earlier remained sealed. That has been a source of great frustration for adoptees who have long sought information about their birth families.
Tasha Tuininga, who was adopted when she was six weeks old, said Wednesday she hopes to take advantage of the new law.
"I really like it. For someone like me who's always wondered what their birth parents or birth mother looks like... that's always something that you want to know," she said.
Tuininga, 26, who works as a volunteer co-ordinator with Mennonite Central Committee, said as she has got older and married, she thinks about her roots more and more.
Even being able to see a photograph of her birth mother would be great, she said, as it might provide insight into her personality.
"Me and my adoptive mom are very different. I love her to death but we're complete opposites. I want to know where my traits came from because they're not the same as hers at all," Tuininga said.
However, she called a provision in Bill 59 that permits adoptees or birth parents to veto the disclosure of information that would identify them "frustrating." And she hopes it won't prevent her from learning about her birth parents.
Roy Kading, a retired railway worker who has lobbied for years for the opening of Manitoba's adoption records, was elated with the proposed legislation. (Irvin-Ross even acknowledged Kading's efforts when she tabled the bill Wednesday in the legislature.)
He said the proposed legislation contains everything he's lobbied for and more.
Children who were adopted out of province currently cannot get information from Manitoba about their adoption because it was finalized in places such as Minnesota, Wisconsin or Ontario, he said.
"Now, they'll be able to come back and contact Manitoba and get the information they're looking for. And that's a big plus. No other province has that," he said.
Penny Treflin, who has been asking the province for information about her birth mother since 1992, said she is thrilled the government is amending its adoption laws at long last.
But she said she's reserving a bit of her elation until the bill passes third reading in the legislature.
"I'm happy right now but I'm going to be even happier when I know it's firmly in place... and it's going to happen for people," said Treflin, 69.
Janice Knight, head of the province's adoption registry, said people such as Treflin who have been waiting years for information about their birth families will be first in line when the legislation is proclaimed.
She said the province also plans to boost the registry's staff to handle an expected deluge of requests for adoption records.