Sandra Jarvie was 20 years old when she was forced into giving up her child.
It was 1968 and she was unmarried. At the time, that fact alone made her unfit to raise a child.
“The social worker stood in front of me,” Ms. Jarvie recalled during emotional testimony before the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.
“Coldly she said, ‘You will never see your baby again as long as you live.
“‘If you search for the baby, you’ll destroy his life.’”
Between the 1940s and the 1970s, over 300,000 unwed women were forced to give up their babies for adoption. Often shunned by their families and desperate for help, many wound up in government-funded homes managed by mainstream religious orders where they were hidden away and treated like they had done something wrong.
Committee members are studying how Canada’s post-war adoption mandate affected survivors. Over three days of testimony, senators heard sometimes horrific details about how vulnerable women had their infants taken from them — with support from all levels of government and church groups.
Of those groups only the United Church accepted an invitation to appear before the committee.
Federal and the provincial governments contacted also declined the committee’s invitation.
Valerie Andrews, executive director of Origins Canada, an organization that helps survivors of Canada’s Postwar Adoption Mandate, told senators that unwed mothers were considered to be “psychologically ill.”
“Social workers routinely withheld information about resources that might assist them in mothering, even to those who explicitly stated a desire to mother,” she said.
Babies were taken from their mothers almost immediately after birth, the committee heard. Some women were drugged during labour and never saw their child. Others were told their baby had died.
“There are still some mothers who do not know whether they delivered a boy or a girl,” Ms. Andrews said.
The committee also heard from Australian Senator Rachel Siewert, who led the inquiry into the history of her country’s adoption mandate. Australia issued an official apology to all of those affected by that sad chapter in the country’s history.
The committee is expected to release a report on Canada’s post-war adoption mandate later this year.
In their own words: Stories of survivors
As part of its study, the committee received written submissions from members of the public who were affected by Canada’s mandate. These stories have been condensed.
I live a life with a secret.
My daughter was taken from me immediately after birth while I was drugged. I was kept drugged for three days. I was forced to sign adoption papers with the threat that police would be called if I didn’t.
I could have changed my mind at any time for a year after the adoption papers were signed but the social worker didn’t tell me that. No matter what I said to anyone made any difference. No one would listen.
To this day sobs start and choke me and I fight tears when I even think about begging to be listened to and longing to belong again and filling my arms with my baby.
Thank you for listening now.
‘A silent hell’
In May 1965 I was raped. I was 20 years old.
Out of desperation I went to Social Services. The Social Worker told me she would find a “Home” that I could go to and would live there until I gave birth.
I must have been given anesthetic for the birth — because I was completely “OUT!” I wasn’t told anything — didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl!
The nurse bound my breasts with tight bandage around my chest and back to stop the milk production. I was in agony.
I suffered from PTSD — the trauma was too great to bear. But I had to go on with my life — I put one foot in front of the other and lived in a silent hell.