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She was abused by her adoptive father. Now she’s struggling to cut legal ties with him

When Cynthia Webb went to renew her passport, she needed a copy of her birth certificate — which still bears the name of her abuser. She's been told no province has a mechanism to reverse adoptions in cases like hers.

No province has a mechanism to reverse adoptions in cases of abuse

A woman with grey hair wearing a blue shirt taking a selfie.

WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced​ ​​​sexual violence or know someone affected by it.

Cynthia Webb felt a rush of anger when she saw her birth certificate. Something as simple as renewing her passport had thrown her back into a lifetime of sexual abuse and all the insidious trauma that came with it.

It had been more than 30 years since her legal guardian was convicted and sent to prison for abusing her, but his name remained printed on a legal document — a reminder of the adoption that ruined her life.

It started a frustrating process to have him removed from her life, and resulted in the realization there is no legal mechanism in any province for an adult who wants to reverse an adoption.

"Having this person on my birth certificate, which is a historical legal document, blows my mind," Webb told CBC News. "It blows my mind they put it on there to begin with, let alone not having anything in place for adoptees to take their abuser's name or names off their birth certificate."

To understand why it's more than a mere formality, Webb said people have to understand the extent of the trauma she was forced to endure.

When she was four years old, her mother married Gerald Lasaga in Corner Brook on Newfoundland's west coast.

"They weren't married for a second before he started to sexual abuse me," Webb said.

The abuse was a constant throughout her childhood and into her teen years, when Webb said she became pregnant with her adoptive father's child. The baby was placed for adoption, and the abuse carred on.

In 1985, while attending university in St. John's, Webb went to the RCMP and lodged a criminal complaint.

It's not symbolic in the slightest to me.

– Cynthia Webb

Court records viewed by CBC News show Lasaga was arrested and found guilty on two counts of having a sexual relationship with a minor — one count covering the years before Webb turned 14, and one count covering the years afterwards.

He could not be charged with the additional crime of incest, however, since the Canadian Criminal Code defines it as a "blood relationship." The case predates mandatory publication bans on victims of sexual assault, leaving Webb free to tell her story.

Lasaga was sentenced to 5½ years in prison, but to Webb's dismay, the sentence for his actions after her 14th birthday landed him only a six-month concurrent sentence.

"There was a pregnancy and a live birth and an adoption," she said. "He was punished for none of that."

To make matters even worse, Webb said, her mother welcomed the man back into the house when he was released from prison.

"I had nothing. I had no support. I had no people. My mother chose a child rapist over her own flesh and blood."

She said her situation was made even more complicated when — without her consent — the family that adopted the child she birthed was given her mother's contact information. Webb said she only found out after the family had visited her mother at their home in Corner Brook.

"I was so messed up by this," she said.

Fighting for change

Those experiences never left Cynthia Webb. Her adult life has been a cycle of confronting the wrongs done to her, growing frustrated with a lack of progress, and then trying to forget about it.

A few years ago, she began calling bureaucrats within the Newfoundland and Labrador government, trying to have her adoptive father removed from her life once and for all.

"They said, 'There's no mechanism and there's nothing we can do,'" Webb said. "[I was told] 'The only thing we can suggest you can do is get a lawyer and sue the government yourself to have your birth certificate altered.'"

CBC News requested comment from the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development, which confirmed there is no avenue for reversing adoptions through provincial legislation.

"However, individuals seeking to do so may be able to work with Family Court," said department spokesperson Khadija Rehma.

Webb said she shouldn't have to dole out money to hire a lawyer or figure out the legal system as a self-represented litigant. She says adults should have the ability to make their own decisions and there should be an easier process to support them.

"It's not rational. It should be easy to do. I should not have to be the one going through all this work and stress," Webb said.

Webb said she's ready to turn a page in her life and become an advocate for others who have been sexually abused. She hopes that begins with a win in this case, and a mechanism to sever ties with the man who she says robbed her of so much.

"It's not symbolic in the slightest to me," Webb said.

"It's a major acknowledgement that all of the horrible things that I've gone through were not right and the government needs to step up and do what's right for everybody that's in my shoes."

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

Download our free CBC News app to sign up for push alerts for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. Click here to visit our landing page.


Ryan Cooke is a multiplatform journalist with CBC News in St. John's. His work often takes a deeper look at social issues and the human impact of public policy. Originally from rural Newfoundland, he attended the University of Prince Edward Island and worked for newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada before joining CBC in 2016. He can be reached at ryan.cooke@cbc.ca.

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