Friday, August 17, 2007

The complications of being me

*Update added below*

I wish I was normal, but I am complicated, waaaayyyyy too complicated.

I am trying to get passports for myself and the kids. We've never needed them until now because we've only travelled to the U.S. and birth certificates were fine until the recent rule changes where everyone, even children need passports to travel by air, and soon by car. The kid's passports were the first slap in the face. Since Mr.Cotta and I didn't get married until Kaz was a year old, the government requires us to get a long-form birth certificate before we get his passport, and according to them if he needs one so does his brother. (I guess they think illegitimacy is communicable? *rolls eyes*)

Why the long form? Well the Ontario government under the Vital Statistics Act (this act governs all sorts of things like, birth and death registration, adoption, family structure, yadda yadda) plus the Children's Law Reform Act considers Kaz a legitimate child of our marriage since we got married after his birth, (if you marry the father of your child anytime afterward, they get grandfathered in as legit, so to speak.)

However, when they recently removed the concept of illegitimate and legitimate from provincial law they forgot to inform the feds, more specifically Passport Canada. Since 9/11 the federal legislation changed and if your parents didn't get married in Westminster fucking Abbey prior to first having sex the feds consider you a bastard, and require piles of paperwork to prove that the currently married mother taking her kids on a trip to Disney isn't some kidnapping woman of ill-repute. This applies to families who are still happily married, raising kids together even when they cross a border together, since in Passport Canada's eyes, all women not married prior to birthing their children are permanent harlots and all men who are travelling with them may or may not be the father of the kids until proven otherwise. If you are separated or divorced and there is a custody issue, I get that they need to doublecheck some extra paperwork, but when you're TOGETHER? Stupid....

Basically my own government is calling me a slut, and discriminating against my children on the basis of their family of origin. Nice. Guess they forgot about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms thing.

And for adoptees like me? I have to provide my long form certificate, which is mostly blacked out by court order if I'm even allowed to get it & I'm informed I may need to provide my adoption order, a document most adoptees don't have since most of our parents withheld them from us. (I found mine in the basement when I was 19. I still remember my adoptive mother hysterically trying to make me give it back. She told me it was their proof that they OWNED me. Yes, she used THAT word. To this day, I don't even like looking at that piece of paper. I wish I could burn it. Unfortunately, it's irreplaceable.) Before 9/11 it was no big deal to get a passport, you just showed your birth certificate and 2 people like a Doctor or a lawyer to swear that you were who you said you were.

The passport form itself is one nightmare, for example, Surname at Birth: errrrr? (It was changed a couple of times, which one do you want? moment of birth, foster care name, 6 weeks after birth/post court hearing?) or Mother's Maiden Name: (Which mother? I've given different names for differing reasons before to the govt., soooo?) Place of Birth: (I know the country and province, not the rest? Umm, is that ok?)

Just typing this post is making tears well up in my eyes. My hands are shaking; the adrenaline is hitting my brain; I just want to stick my fingers in my ears and sing LA LA LA I can't hear anything. I actually feel sick at the thought of walking into that building clutching my documents knowing they have access to all sorts of my personal records I'm not allowed to see, and if I fill in one box wrong, one thing incorrectly, even make a typo, I'm screwed and I have to go through it all over again. And yes, Canada Border Services does have access to all those adoption records that are supposedly legally sealed. Several years ago, before 9/11, I went on a plane trip to the U.S. and lost my birth certificate, which was all I needed back then to get back in the country. I wasn't worried at first because I knew my husband could just drive to the airport and show them a second copy of it I kept at home, and I had loads of other ID. But instead they sent me to another desk and made me stand there and answer question after question until they were satisfied I was me.

First off, my name, address, parent's names, date of birth, etc., and every time I answer, she read the screen to make sure my answer matched, but of course they DIDN'T until she clicked around to another screen. Every time she hesitated, I felt more and more stressed until the ones come I don't know how to answer at all, and I panic. Like, what hospital were you born in? & What time were you born? The woman with the computer knew everything, even though that information is supposed to be sealed. I kept thinking, what if my parents lied to me about some of this stuff? What if they made things up to fill in the blanks and I get thrown out of my own country for answering wrong?

She finally let me go, but I've never forgotten that sense of terror and personal outrage. She had every piece of information including the names of my birth parents, heck maybe even their current addresses, and all I would've had to do is grab the screen and yank it around and I would've seen everything I've always been denied access to. I'd already found their names on my adoption order and met my birth mother so I held off, probably a good idea, I'm sure they would've freaked out and charged me with attacking a border post, just because I wanted the right to see my own history.

On the other hand, if I had done it, I wouldn't feel sick to this day walking into a government office. Heck I might even feel like I'm a citizen equal to the rest of you.

Instead I feel like completely marginalized. Nice to see my government gives a shit about my rights, eh?

Updated to say: The database does exist, I know it sounds a bit paranoid, but this article describes one massive database that the privacy commissioner in Canada found and got rid of in 2000. It was run by Human Resources Canada, and contained 2,000 pieces of information on each of our 33 million citizens. It was ostensibly about Labour Force planning and completely secure with only 6 people having access but based on my experience at the border, I think that's bullshit. I think they have copies in other departments.


  1. I'd feel like hitting my head against a brick wall too.

    I don't have any of those issues, but I've never gotten the kid a passport just because of the hassle of BOTH parents having to appear at the post office to prove that we're her parents and that one isn't trying to spirit her out of the country.

    Maybe it'll make you feel better to know that I've just given you a Schmooze award. (

    A glass of red wine would be appropriate about now - it's almost cocktail hour.

  2. oh shit. Jackson is illegitimate. I can't wait to go down this road for him, NOT.

  3. I just applied for a passport this week. They didn't request a long form birth certificate. They just used the little one that was issued in my adoptive name.

    I did hesitate at the name at birth box. I know what my last name was at birth. I just didn't know what to put, so I stuck with my maiden name. I figured I didn't want to open up a can of worms.

    And if Kaz is illegitimate, I guess I am, too.

    I hope you all get your passports, soon, with no hassle. Then maybe we can take a road trip to Buffalo to do some shopping.

  4. Really Reality? When I called the 1-800 line, they went on and on about needing the long form one for me. Something about legal next-of-kin and extra documentation needed.

    Although that might be because I've changed my adoptive name to my married name, with all the legal paperwork, not to mention the time I spent in foster care before I was adopted.

    Another weird thing I didn't know until a few years ago-- I wasn't sent directly to my adoptive parents from the hospital, but spent some months in the care of another person. I don't know who she is either! Sigh...another blank in my past.

  5. Is it ok that I am still chuckling at illegitimacy being communicable?

    I'm sorry they are giving you such a hard time. I second that glass of wine suggestion. Or three. Whatever works, really.

  6. Wow. That's brutal.

    I'm absolutely dumbfounded as to how difficult a (relatively) simple passport application can be made to be. I'm so sorry Aurelia, that there are so many obstacles to the real information, paticularly because it's *your* information.

  7. I'm so pissed off for you! What is this legitimate/illegitimate crap? Wow. I had no idea - I feel almost positive the US doesn't do that. Your experience with border patrol people sounds so nightmarish. I'm always frightened at those places, even though I know all that background information and it's totally easy - my parents haven't even moved changed their address or phone number!

    Tinker's right - this is *your* background information, and it makes adopted children seem like chattel to treat it this way.

  8. I guess I'm in the illegitimate camp too! This is truly horrible. Just one more part of being adopted that sucks.

  9. That's unbelievable. Interesting that there is a database with info about you that you don't have access to. I'm pretty sure that the recent freedom of information laws in the UK would mean that in the same situation you'd have the right to demand access to that information.

  10. It sounds incredibly traumatic, aurelia, like people with too much time on their hands making rules for others to suffer from, I am sorry. I hope it's easier than you are anticipating.

  11. Oh Aurelia, that is terrible! My husband is from the GTA, and so I've had a little vicarious experience with Canadian bureacracy, but that is extreme! I'm so sorry that the early part of your life has made this all so complicated and painful. I'm hoping for your sake things smooth out.

    If you and Reality head to Buffalo, you HAVE to let me know! That's my town (at least for one more year)! I even know where there is a "ladies" entertainment shop! (although I have never been in it -- really!) :-)

  12. I am dumbfounded that the concept of illegitimacy even exists in Canada in 2007. It sucks. Kinda like dealing with maternity leave EI when you have a dead baby.

  13. Aurelia, what would happen if, when someone questioned you, you simply answered that you were adopted, the records were sealed, and you didn't have access to the information? I'm not trying to be snarky, I'm just curious as to what the "official" response would be.

  14. No worries about snark, I know it all sounds very strange.

    Sharah, they'd probably be fine with it, in fact, they probably wouldn't say a thing.

    The odd part is though, that since I have found my birth mother and know "some" of the information, my quandary is that if I answered that I didn't have the information, it would be a lie, on an official government document where I am swearing to tell the truth.

    But her memory is faulty, so I'm not sure that she has told me is correct.

    And...since the records are sealed, technically I'm not supposed to know any of this. Meeting my birth mother wasn't sanctioned by the government.

    So should I admit to having information I'm not supposed to have?

    None of this is probably a big deal to the bureaucracy, but just typing this comment makes me feel like crying, so how am I supposed to stand in line for hours and ask the guy behind the counter?