By Lynn Gehl, Ph.D.
When state officials interfere with the process of recording a child’s birth, through standard operational procedures of administration, policy, and legislation, ways that deny dignity to a mother and her child, this is more than unfortunate.
In Ontario the Vital Statistics Act came into being in 1869. Despite this early date it was not until more recently, in 1986, when the birth registration process changed from a one name informant or parent signature requirement to a two parent signature requirement. While birth registration forms before this time asked for the signature of an informant or parent, in its latest incarnation the form requires the signature of both mother and father.
Most people are familiar with wallet sized birth certificates. These consist of a shortened form extraction of the information recorded on original long form birth registration records. A long form birth certificate, also called a certified copy, contains the person’s name, both their surname and given name(s), date of birth, birthplace, sex, location of birth, as well as important details about the parents such as the parents’ names and their dates of birth and birthplaces.
Prior to 1986 in many instances where the mother was either not married or separated, she was actively prevented from recording the father’s information on her child’s birth registration form.
While the Vital Statistics Acts in the past have stated, “the birth of a child of an unmarried woman shall be registered showing the surname of the mother as the surname of the child, and no particulars of the father shall be given”, Cathy Henderson argues that in fact there were additional provisions that further guided the process. She argues these clauses directed the Registrar General’s responsibility to ensure birth registrations were as complete as possible, such as obtaining the required signatures of unwed fathers. She argues, in the event that an error was made the Registrar General only had the authority to add a notation on the birth registration, nothing more. Clearly the deletion of fathers’ names was not allowed.
In the work that I have been doing regarding INAC’s Proof of Paternity policy I have listened to many stories about this system of denial. People have shared their stories of ordering their certified copy of birth registration records. One person explained that they filled out the application form, sending it away to The Office of the Registrar General located in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where weeks later the document finally arrived in the mail. Upon its arrival they eagerly opened the envelope only to learn that their father’s information was missing. Further, upon closer inspection there was something that seemed odd in that the lines and the section numbers on the form was misaligned, where parts of the lines were also inconsistently masked or created.
Suspicious at what they were looking at and desiring to know who their father was, they contacted the Office of the Registrar General insisting that they see their original birth registration record, rather than the certified original copy that they paid for.
In 2002 the Office of the Registrar General set up an appointment where this impassioned person travelled to the Toronto office. They were “summoned to a room, told to put on white gloves, and I was handed a file folder that contained my original birth registration record”. Upon opening the file, to their shock, they discovered that their original birth record had a blank piece of white paper glued on top of the section dedicated to their father’s information, thereby masking the very information their mother inscribed and the very knowledge they sought.
In actual fact, their birth certificate was tampered with twice: First, at their birth when the white piece of paper was glued on top of the section dedicated for father information of the birth registration from; and second, when a blank section of a birth registration form was used thereby masking the first tampering when they originally ordered their certified copy.
Karen Lynn, president of the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers, argues this practice of removing and masking information has caused much heartache to both the children of adoption and the mothers and fathers who surrendered their children for adoption so the children could have better lives. It stands to reason that the information on a person’s original registration of birth has huge emotional significance.
Lynn further explains, many people of adoption are devastated to find their fathers’ names missing, where they then turn to and blame their birth mothers, not authorities, who they would much rather build a loving relationship of trust with. Mothers too are outraged when they learn that this important document that they filled out and signed in good faith was altered without their permission.
Lynn continues, “There was no reason for this to happen. Issues around the financial responsibility of potential fathers could be resolved through some other process, such as mothers swearing an oath of truth or fathers offering contrary evidence,” adding, “Today, the process is not much better.” She continues, “While it may be true that the birth registration process changed in 1986, the father’s information is still not preserved when his signature is not on the record.” Furthermore, “when a father does not sign, the Registrar will not accept the document as the mother recorded the information, and the mother is instructed to issue a new record.”
This process of re-tampering with tampered birth documents violates international conventions and declarations.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations 1948
Article 25(2), Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations 1989
Article 8(1), States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
Gehl, L. (2013). Canada’s unstated paternity policy amounts to genocide to Indigenous children. rabble. Retrieved January 29, 2013 from http://rabble.ca/news/2013/01/canadas-unstated-paternity-policy-amounts-cultural-genocide-against-indigenous-children
Gehl, L. (2013). Indian Rights for Indian Babies: Canada’s ‘Unstated Paternity’ Policy. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 8(2), 55-73. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/fpcfr/index.php/FPCFR/issue/viewIssue/17/4
Gehl, L. (2017). Ontario’s History of Tampering and Re-Tampering with Birth Registration Documents. . First Peoples Child & Family Review, 12(1), 24-33 Retrieved from file http://journals.sfu.ca/fpcfr/index.php/FPCFR/article/view/311
Government of Ontario. (1980). c 524 Vital Statistics Act. Ontario: Revised Statutes: Vol. 1980: Iss. 8, Article 80. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2036&context=rso
Government of Ontario. (2016). Statement of Live Birth: Form 2. Retrieved from http://www.forms.ssb.gov.on.ca/mbs/ssb/forms/ssbforms.nsf/GetFileAttach/007-11022~1/$File/11022E.pdf
Henderson, C. (2012, July 29). UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Review of Canada. Illegally Removed Elements from Original Birth Registrations with Regards to Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from http://www.crin.org/en/docs/Canada_Looking%20In%20Ontario_CRC%20Report.pdfiu
United Nations. (1989, November 20). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
United Nations. (1948, December 10). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
Lynn Gehl, Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe has a doctorate in Indigenous Studies and is a critic of the land claims and self-government process and the sex discrimination in the Indian Act. She is an author who focusses on creating more space for Indigenous Knowledge. Her new book recently published with the University of Regina Press is titled Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit. You can purchase this book at www.lynngehl.com