The United Church of Canada – the first major Canadian institution to probe claims that women were coerced into surrendering their babies decades ago – has completed an internal review, but says it’s not ready to decide whether to back a national inquiry or to apologize.
Under scrutiny, the church launched a probe last year, and on Wednesday it released a report regarding its maternity home practices from the 1940s to 1970s. For part of that time at least, female contraception was difficult to obtain, unwed women were deemed unfit to parent and their babies were considered “blank slates” who deserved a new beginning through adoption.
The report, which is drawing praise and criticism, says societal trends meant women in maternity homes “often believed they did not have the option of keeping their babies.” The Adoption Task Group’s report came one week after women presented their accounts to politicians in Ottawa, where MPs of all stripes threw their support behind a national study of historic adoption practices.
At a United Church general council executive meeting next month, members will vote to adopt, reject or amend the report’s recommendations, including providing on-site counselling for those affected by historic adoptions. The report also proposes further research before determining whether to call for a national inquiry, press provinces and territories to retroactively open adoption records, or issue an apology.
“I’d like to have seen them make those statements right now, but I’m happy to see that they’re included for further evaluation,” said Valerie Andrews, the executive director of Origins Canada, which supports those separated by adoption.
But for an Ontario woman named Katie who said she was interviewed for the church probe, the proposals “don’t mean anything.” Katie said she lived in a United Church maternity home in Manitoba after being impregnated by rape at age 17 in 1965. She asked that her last name be withheld because her daughter, whom she met in 1993, doesn’t know she was conceived in rape.
She believes the maternity-home matron dropped her off at the hospital for the sole reason of communicating that Katie was from the Church Home for Girls – and, in turn, unwed. She said her hospital records say “baby for adoption” even though she never discussed surrender with medical personnel.
In Australia, where a senate inquiry found upward of 250,000 women may have been affected by forced adoption practices, several churches – including the Catholic Church – have apologized. In Canada, politicians such as Conservative MP Harold Albrecht are taking up the cause and working to raise awareness on Parliament Hill, despite Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s assertion that the matter is provincial.
“In fairness, I don’t think Peter MacKay had the background that the people around that table had,” Mr. Albrecht said, referring to the Oct. 22 presentation in Ottawa. “I know Peter MacKay very well and I know he’s a compassionate man. He’s not just going to simply close his door to further discussions.”
The United Church’s Amy Crawford said “it’s difficult to say” whether the church will adopt the recommendations and someday urge Ottawa to take action.
“We understand that the steps we’re recommending at this particular point in time may not meet all the hopes of women who were in maternity homes,” she said. “But we feel like it’s a good step along the way.”