Bill 206: Concerning the Information Age and Alberta Adoptions

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Will parent profiles be exempted from Alberta’s prohibition on adoption-related advertising? On May 29th, the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement (Adoption Advertising) Amendment Act (Bill 206), received unanimous support on its second reading in the Alberta Legislature.  The degree of support for the bill was unusual, given that it was sponsored by a private member of the opposition, Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer.  Bill 206 would make it legal for adoption agencies to publish profiles of prospective adoptive parents, a practice that is lawfully occurring online in other jurisdictions. Currently, adoption agencies are permitted to advertise in the province with respect to services alone, and posting prospective Albertan parent profiles is an offence, punishable, along with much of adoption advertising, by a fine of up to $2,500.00 or a month’s imprisonment in default of payment. Prohibitions and penalties of this type are common in the legislative environment surrounding Canadian adoptions.

The Widrose Party, which is associated with social conservatism, deny that the Bill seeking the legalization of adoption agency-based profiles is a bid to encourage prospective mothers to choose adoption over abortion.  Alberta’s 2013 Children First Act (Bill 25), among other things, added an exception to the adoption advertising prohibition for Ministry-authorized publications aimed at finding homes for children. The preamble to that Act proclaimed: “appropriate sharing of information between individuals and organizations planning or providing programs and services for children is critical to ensuring successful outcomes for children and families.” Online prospective parent profiles inevitably increase efficiency and information accessibility in the adoption process, which may otherwise be a discouragingly bureaucratic and protracted for participants, burdening children and parents alike.

Yet other factors going to the propriety of the online matching forum may be at issue.  In the question of adoption related advertising, controversies arise around the encroachment of commodification and competition upon the adoption process. Issues of privacy, confidentiality, morality, safety, vulnerability, and dignity, coincide with freedom of speech, access to information and services, child welfare, equality, and stigma considerations.

Across time and space, legal and popular attitudes surrounding adoption advertising seem to vary. Jasmine Budak’s 2012 article in The Walrus on local adoption in Canada, characterized “the American approach to promoting local adoptions” as “pragmatic and business minded: create incentives, reduce costs, and advertise.”  In the reported words of adoptive father, Wildrose MLA, and Bill 206 draftsman, Nathan Cooper,  “people used to put ads in a paper looking for a child and put resources outside an adoption agency. So much has changed now.” In 1960,  Gary J. Smith and Alfred W. J. Dick’s article in the Osgoode Hall Law Journal, pointed to the appearance of adoption ads in the classified sections of Ontario newspapers as a bellwether of “the whole-hearted acceptance of adoption as a desirable social policy.”

Prospective adoptive parents in Alberta have reportedly protested that variations in private adoption advertising policy from province to province, specifically regarding the legality of online parent profiles, disadvantage them in their search for a child. In Adoption Options: For Prospective Parents (2013), Elizabeth Ehlen and Dewey Crepeau state that “adoptive parent profiles are often necessary in independent adoption,” where  having “a ‘life in a nutshell’ kind of document” that is accessible to prospective birth parents is particularly valuable.  While prospective parents in Ontario, British Columbia, and the Yukon may legally participate in online, profile-based, private adoption services that match adoptive parents with birth parents, and ultimately with children, those in Alberta cannot.

Various adoption advertising prohibitions and regulations exist nation-wide; prospective parents in neighbouring Saskatchewan and Manitoba, for example, are similarly barred from participating in online profile-based adoption matching systems. If passed, Alberta’s Bill 206 will come into force on the first day of 2018, exempting prospective parent profiles from a purportedly “dated” and unduly cumbersome restriction on adoption advertising.

This blog post was written by a CCLA summer legal volunteer. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.

About the Author

Amara McLaughlin-Harris
Amara is a University of Toronto student at law. She has come to the CCLA as a summer legal volunteer with the support of U of T's Student Law Society Fellowship program.