On a renewed hunt to find his birth parents, Virden-born Les Jackson only has a one-page adoption paper that includes a vague physical description of his parents, their racial origin and health history from when he was born in 1968.
But proposed sweeping changes to Manitoba’s adoption laws, which would eventually throw open provincial records, may help the Prince George, B.C., resident.
Proposed amendments to the Adoption Act and Vital Statistics Act would make adoption records more accessible for Manitoba-born adoptees, adopted inside or outside the province in March 1999 or earlier.
The province partially opened its adoption records in 1999. But all adoptions carried out on March 15 of that year and earlier remained sealed.
A few years ago, a rodeo event for his daughter brought Jackson (née Dryden) to Virden — back to the spot he spent the first seven years of his life.
It reignited the calling to search for his biological parents, a 15-year endeavour he never fully delved into.
"Being home, so to speak, brought back that desire," Jackson said. "Driving around there and showing my kids my elementary school and where my best friend lived, telling them a bit about the beginning of my life, I realized there’s other beginnings to my life, there’s another story there and I don’t know anything about it."
Jackson hopes the proposed changes to adoption laws will be an important tool on his journey.
However, if passed, the legislation wouldn’t likely take effect for more than a year. The delay would give the province an opportunity to advertise the changes and allow birth families and adoptees to veto the release of their names and other personal information.
Jackson described what has been a frustrating search for his biological parents.
"I’ve tried this a couple of times and I haven’t got too far and it’s been a bit discouraging, so it just led me to give up," he said, "so I’m wondering if this kind of change (to adoption laws) is going to make things easier for me to find out at least something."
While he has few details about his lineage, Jackson does know he has aboriginal roots, which is of particular interest to the 45-year-old, who was adopted by a Virden Presbyterian minister and heavily involved in surrounding aboriginal communities.
"Opening up the adoption records is going to help that a lot, because unfortunately, even if I was to find my birth mother, my aboriginal heritage is on my father’s side, so I’m going to need to take an extra step — assuming they didn’t marry."
Parents and adult adoptees with existing records could file a veto on disclosure of identifying information. However, once the legislation is proclaimed, likely in June 2015, disclosure vetoes will no longer be permitted in future adoptions. That means anyone adopted after that date will have the right to any records indicating their birth parents. Those parents, though, would be able to indicate that they do not want to have contact with the child they gave up.
"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."
Armed with ever-evolving tools of the Internet and the legislation, Jackson will press on to find his birth parents and if he has any biological siblings.
"I was adopted into an absolutely phenomenal family, my parents are wonderful, I had everything a person could want growing up," he said, "but those questions, they just seem to linger."
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press
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