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Current time: August 12, 2022, 10:47 am

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News: Church archives ground zero in search for evidence of forced adoptions
News: Church archives ground zero in search for evidence of forced adoptions
National Post:

Since the first accounts were reported on March 10, at least 100 mothers have contacted the newspaper saying they were coerced or forced by social workers, medical professionals and maternity-home staff into handing over their illegitimate babies at a time when abortion was illegal, birth control was difficult to access, and single mothers were deemed unfit to parent.

The most egregious allegations involve social workers denying women their parental rights and doctors and nurses colluding with children’s aid societies to ensure young, unmarried women surrendered their children. But many women also say some church-run maternity homes played an integral role in what they say was systemic coercion.

‘People wanted babies and we were the baby-givers. It was a very lonely and very sad place’

Women’s accounts of their time at church-run maternity homes are myriad, but the controversial aspects include: accommodation predicated on adoption; a rule against using last names in order to protect a family’s reputation; forced manual labour and daily chapel attendance; viewings of graphic childbirth videos and mandatory appearances at pro-life rallies; strict curfews and a ban on guests other than family; and no discussion about whether the women would like to keep their babies.

“People wanted babies and we were the baby-givers,” said Karen Marten, whose parents sent her to the United Church’s Victor Home for Girls in Toronto when she was 17 in 1969. “You just felt like your life was on hold. It was a very lonely and very sad place.”

According to a 1965 newspaper article, the Victor Home’s executive director said staff counselled girls not to keep their babies. “I cannot see that it is fair to a baby for a girl to try to raise it without a father,” Mrs. L.H. Doering said at the time.

An Ontario woman named Katie, who asked her surname be withheld because her daughter was conceived in rape and does not know, said her experience at a United Church home in 1965 in Winnipeg was “dehumanizing.”

“I had my eighteenth birthday in that hellhole,” she said, adding that she believes the matron escorted her to the hospital for the sole purpose of telling staff that she came from the maternity home — that this was a girl whose child was up for adoption. Katie said her hospital admissions records say “baby for adoption,” even though she said she never intended on surrendering her daughter.

Several mothers met with United Church representatives in October 2010 to alert them of what happened at church-run maternity homes, but nothing came of that meeting. Bruce Gregersen, a church program director, said he regrets the initial inaction, and said it took the National Post series and an explosive report on Australia’s historic adoption practices to convince the church “this is a serious issue that required significant attention.”

The church plans to prepare a report on its probe by the fall, which Mr. Gregersen said could be helpful in the mothers’ growing push for a federal inquiry: If the movement is armed with official documentation such as a church report, perhaps Ottawa will consider changing its mind that this is a provincial matter not suitable for a national inquiry.

In the three weeks since announcing its review, United Church archivists have already discovered what looks like an additional seven church-run or co-sponsored maternity homes, on top of the Victor Home, which staff already knew about.

Head archivist Nichole Vonk — who is also wrapping up a precedent-setting, two-year probe into the church’s role in the Indian Residential Schools system — has identified what were likely maternity homes in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and possibly New Brunswick.

‘I would never want my son, or any other person’s child, to think we just tossed them aside. That’s so far from the truth’

She has also descended into the basement of the former Victor Home, which is today the Massey Centre for Women, and taken a cursory glance at the records stored in upward of 500 boxes there. She said some of the most interesting records she came across include brochures hinting at the home’s policy on single motherhood.

“It certainly sounds like, although maybe not stated outright, that women had to give up their babies,” she said during an interview in the church’s reading room."


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