THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
UNREVISED EVIDENCE NON-RVIS
OTTAWA, Monday, February 7, 2005
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met
this day at 4 p.m. to examine and report upon Canadas International obligations in regards to the rights and
freedoms of children.
Senator Landon Pearson (Deputy Chairman)
in the Chair.
The Deputy Chairman: Welcome to the
Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. We are in the process of studying the Convention on the Rights
of the Child and other international instruments related to children and their implementation in Canada.
We just returned from an interesting trip to Geneva and to Stockholm to
observe the Committee on the Rights of the Child speak with many people involved in how countries are assessed
against their reports, and so on; and then to Sweden, to find out how Sweden is implementing its strategy on the
implementation. It has a concrete strategy for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the
Child and a unit within the Swedish government, whose job it is to ensure that implementation, in addition to
the Swedish ombudsman. That was very instructive for us because Sweden, while I have always thought of it
as a very unitary state, has a dual system of law so the Commission on the Rights of the Child and other
international conventions do not become law immediately. They have to be brought into domestic law the way
it is here. Furthermore, a lot of power is devolved to municipalities and counties, so they have the same
problems we have with the provinces. Somewhat to my surprise, that was not the way I had thought about
It was a very open and lively interchange. They do have a committee,
an all‑party network, within their Parliament, on children that has been working fairly steadily for some years
on keeping this. We managed to meet with a representative from all seven parties in the Swedish
Parliament, which was extremely interesting as well. It was a very worthwhile and helpful meeting.
It helped to formulate some of the questions we will now be pose to you, Ms. Covell from the University College
of Cape Breton and the Child Rights Department Centre.
We welcome your presentation and then our various members will ask you
Professor Katherine Covell, UCCB Children's Right Centre:
Thank you for asking me here and for doing this important work. I wish I had been in Sweden with you.
I have been asked to talk for about 10 minutes, so I will read my notes.
Being a university professor I am programmed into 50 minute slots so that I do not talk too long.
The issues I chose to focus on here today come from my experience as a
professor, as a researcher and as an educator. The university courses that I teach and the research that I
do are contextualized within the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Two things have become increasingly clear to me over the past few years.
One is that, overall, Canada is doing a pretty good job of respecting the rights of its children. I do not
think we should forget that. The other and my focus here today is that I think there remains, and it
is now 15 years since we ratified the Convention, a real lack of knowledge across the country about its
existence and what it means. There is a real lack of monitoring of how it is being applied. My
particular concern as a researcher is the lack of measurement to describe the lives of Canadian children.
Obviously, these gaps that we have here in Canada, I would argue, are interdependent. If we can make
progress in one area, we will inevitably make progress in the other two. I want to briefly address each of
those three areas.
In terms of education, under article 42 of the Convention, Canada is
obligated to make the Convention widely known to adults and to children. There have been many training
sessions, many brochures that have been put together, websites and National Child Day initiatives, but national
surveys have repeatedly demonstrated a lack of knowledge about the provisions of the Convention even among those
who are working with or for children. Worse, I think, is the pervasiveness about the misunderstandings
about children's rights. Not understanding the Convention, people talk about there being too many rights
for children. They talk about the chaos that would ensure if we actually told children they had some
rights or they dismiss rights for Canadian children as not that important.
I am not just talking about the general public here but teachers, lawyers,
police officers, some MPs, I am afraid to say, and some judges.
An illustration of the lack of appreciation of the importance of Canada's commitment to children's rights
was seen in the comments made by Chief Justice
McLachlin during the Supreme Court deliberations on the
constitutionality of section 43 of the Criminal Code. She not only disregarded the consistent
recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, but also went on to say that the best interest
of the child "is not vital or fundamental to our social notion of justice."
In a legal sense, she is probably right and her statement is probably
supportable, but given that the best interests of the child is the overarching principle of the Convention,
Canada's ratification of the Convention does obligate Canada to assume that the best interests of the child is
fundamental to our beliefs about social justice. The Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly has
called for the incorporation of children's rights education into professional training and school curricula.
I am well aware of the jurisdictional problems here, but we know that agreements are possible. You can
look at the multilateral framework on childcare for a terrific example of how we get agreements. The issue
of children's rights education is much too important to leave it.
We are making some progress. I am pleased to report that the province
of Nova Scotia has children's rights education at the elementary school level and yesterday I found out that
they put it into the junior high level new curricula as well. Some universities and more universities are
beginning to include children's rights in courses, but these are still exceptions.
When children do not know about their rights, it is difficult for them to
identify when their rights are being violated. In turn, it makes it more difficult for them to seek
redress. When those who work for or with children do not know about children's rights, they are lacking an
important and coherent guiding framework for their decision making and planning, and they are lacking a
consistent criterion for assessing the success of their programs.
In passing, it is worth noting that the research that we have consistently
demonstrates the benefits of education about the convention. Both children and adults become a lot more
I want to be brief on the issue of monitoring. Basically, I think we
all know the Committee on the Rights of the Child has recommended the establishment of a permanent monitoring
mechanism, which is very important for two fundamental reasons: first, for doing the required reports to
the UN committee. It is very difficult for provinces and territories in the federal government to write
the type of comprehensive reports on children in Canada that are needed without ongoing monitoring and dedicated
staff to take care of it. Second, systematic monitoring would allow not only for the identification of
rights' violations, but also of rights' consistent practices, programs and policies. That information
would be very helpful for sharing knowledge and best practices among jurisdictions, and for identifying where we
need to work toward the reduction of regional disparities.
As a researcher, my primary concern is the issue of measurement. In
preparing the NGO report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which I did a couple of years ago, and
even more so now as I am researching and writing the North American report for the UN study on violence against
children, I have been repeatedly struck by the absence of two things in Canada. One is the existence of
national disaggregated data about children, and the other is an absence of program evaluation.
Again, there has been some progress over the last few years. We do
have some statistical documents. We have the one‑day snapshot of Aboriginals in the justice system, which
is very useful; the 2004 family violence study, which is very useful; and the national incidence study of
reported child abuse. However, we do not have comprehensive national disaggregated data, and we have very
few program evaluations.
I have three primary areas of concern in this regard. One is that we
have no national standards of recording or reporting. This absence is particularly apparent when we try to
find information on such things as injuries suffered by working children, statistics on child abuse,
abuse‑related deaths and child‑death investigations.
A related issue here is that we have no standard definitions across the
country, for example, of disability or emotional neglect. Sometimes when you are looking at statistics
about disability, what is included are behaviour disorders and sometimes they are not. Sometimes when we
are reading about emotional neglect, we find that that includes exposure to spousal violence, but sometimes it
does not. Therefore, it makes it hard to do any kind of comparisons across jurisdictions, or to make sense
of the numbers that we are reading.
Another example here is when you have statistics that report incidence data
that does not necessarily reflect the numbers of children. When we talk about the numbers of substantiated
cases of child abuse, for example, we may not be talking about the numbers of children who have been abused,
because we know that children are repeatedly brought to the attention of Children's Aid Societies. In
fact, the Paediatric Death Review Committee of Ontario recently reported that 54 per cent of the cases of child
deaths they were investigating had at least one, usually more, previous involvements with CAS prior to the
What is important here are the implications for policy and interventions.
To stay in this same issue of child abuse, how we respond will vary whether it is 100 children who are reported
victims of abuse, once each, or 10 children, each of whom are reported 10 times. We need to know that.
The second issue of concern is the lack of disaggregated data; that means
there are huge gaps is our knowledge, particularly about especially vulnerable children. We look at street
children, for example. We have an awful lot of estimates, mostly from our larger urban centres, but we do
not have statistics by age or gender or ethnocultural status. We do not know how many street kids are
children with disabilities, or what type. We do not know how many are Aboriginal. We know almost
nothing about children on the street who are lesbian or gay or transgender. We do not know very much about
whom or how many are in the sex trade or being otherwise sexually exploited. We do not know how many, or
who, are HIV positive. I could go on for half an hour on that.
Think about working children. How many children are working?
What types of employment are they in? What sort of jobs are they doing in the informal and formal sectors?
How many of them are suffering job‑related injuries or deaths? We do not have those data.
Think about children with disabilities. There are many reports that
they are more subject to abuse than typically developing children, but we do not know the prevalence or the
types of abuse. We do not know what goes on in families, or in institutions, when we are thinking about
treatment for children with disabilities.
My third area of concern is the dearth of child impact assessments in
Canada, or of program evaluation data. Are the intervention and prevention programs that we have and
there are many of them and they look great effective? Which families, children or communities do they
help? Which aspects of child development are being improved? Are they short term or long term?
Are the resources we have being spent appropriately? Are the programs over‑ or under‑resourced? None
of these kinds of questions can be answered without evaluation data.
Increases in child tax benefits, for example, look terrific, but have they
reduced child poverty as intended? The Aboriginal head start programs look wonderful and should have a
positive effect on Aboriginal health, education and family functioning. Have they? We do not know.
Have the family resource centres helped parents, helped children? We do not know.
We think there is a huge problem of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
There have been many advances in our knowledge about FASD and some related initiatives, but we have no
information about the prevalence of children with FASD in the juvenile justice system. What types of
sentencing do they receive? What are the best practices to rehabilitate them or to try and reintegrate
My point is that without national statistics or measurable outcomes for
programs and policies, and without evaluation data, we are often limited to best guesses and estimates about our
children. I think the existing gaps in our knowledge represent major obstacles to ensuring that children's
rights are respected, and that our laws, policies and practices increasingly are gaining consistency with the
The gaps in education monitoring and measurement also constrain our ability
to inform other countries about our successes with children. We can provide many anecdotes, but as a wise
researcher once said: The plural of anecdote is not data. I will leave it at that. Thank you.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you very
much, Ms. Covell. That was challenging for the questions that I think will follow. Senator Losier‑Cool
is the first questioner.
Le snateur Losier-Cool: Je suis tout
fait daccord avec ce que vous venez de soulever sur le manque dinformation et de sensibilisation. Les droits
des enfants sont comme les droits dune minorit. Les minorits, pour avancer et se faire reconnatre, doivent
faire lobjet dune lgislation.
La Charte des droits et liberts, vous l'avez dit, comme la juge Mclaughlin, ne
suffit pas pour dfendre les droits des enfants.
Si un organisme ou un commissaire aux droits des enfants recevait cette
information, daprs vous, de quelle faon le gouvernement fdral pourrait-il sy prendre pour sassurer de
recevoir toutes ces donnes?
Senator Losier-Cool: I will begin
again. I will say it in English. I was saying that the rights of the child are much like minority
rights. For minority rights, we have it written within the legislation that there are two official
languages in Canada.
Could a structure ‑‑ I do not know what the exact term is such as what is
in the Official Languages Act, which creates an Official Languages Commissioner, create a real office for the
rights of the children? I would like to have your comment on what type of federal structure we can have.
Ms. Covell: First, I am not so
comfortable with the idea that the rights of children are for minority rights, if I understood that correctly.
The rights of the child apply to every child and there are many positive rights. We are not just concerned
with minority children.
Having said that, we need some kind of federal children's commissioner or
children's ombudsperson, as many European countries have, who can work in coordination with the provincial and
territorial child advocates. I would see that kind of structure as probably what is needed.
The Deputy Chairman: If I may
clarify, I think the question that Senator Losier‑Cool was posing was an interesting one. It is the first
time I have actually thought about the question of whether or not there should be some legislation for children
like the Official Languages Act, which is what led to the establishment of the Commissioner for Official
Languages. It is a new thought for me.
Senator Losier-Cool: It is within the
act that we have a Commissioner for Official Languages. There is a law, the Official Languages Act.
Maybe the word "minority" comes from this. "Minority" refers to those Canadians who live in minority
situations. It has been recognized through the law that francophones and anglophones are equal. In
the act and in the law, we have created a commissioner.
In your answer, you referred to other countries. What form does it
take in other countries?
Ms. Covell: What I am aware of is
that there are few countries, but there are some countries where the convention is automatically incorporated
into domestic law, which does not happen here. Other countries have a children's ombudsman, which, on
occasion, is someone to whom the children themselves can go.
If we could get the convention into a situation where it could be linked
with law, whether it is the way you described or even if it is, as it is in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, in
the preamble, and we can bring in the child impact assessments and have some definition of what "best interest"
is, that would probably be the best approach. I am not familiar enough with the minority language
situation or the legal issues surrounding that to comment in that regard specifically.
Le snateur Losier-Cool : Est‑ce qu'il y a
eu des demandes auprs des autorits ou du gouvernement sur la cration d'un tel organisme, d'un tel
commissaire? Dans laffirmative, quelle a t la rponse? Comment un gouvernement ragirait une demande afin
de crer un commissariat aux droits des enfants?
Ms. Covell: I think Senator Pearson
could probably answer that question. There have been many nongovernmental organizations across the country
that have strongly supported and lobbied for a central government children's commissioner. Why it has not
happened, I cannot answer, but I know there has been much advocacy in that direction.
Senator Oliver: Thank you for an
excellent presentation. It is not hard to see that you are a researcher, as the questions you posed have
gone right to the heart of the issues that we studied and looked at when we were away.
Senator Pearson, in about three minutes, gave an excellent summary of what
we learned while we were away in both Geneva and Sweden, the dual system of laws and many powers being devolved
down to the municipalities.
We actually met with the UN committee and heard them, first, having a
presentation from Nigeria. We then had an opportunity to talk to them about the report they had just done
on Sweden. Sweden, as you know, is a country that is quite far advanced in terms of developing procedures,
rules, monitoring and measurements for the rights of the child under the covenant.
On the other hand, the UN committee said that we have some concerns with
your report and the concerns were the measurements. They said, "We do not know how many of your children
have HIV. We do not know how many," and they listed virtually all of the things you have given us today,
saying, "That is what we lack." That was one of the main criticisms of the Swedish report that they put
in. As Senator Pearson has pointed out, one of the problems is that the ombudsperson cannot get it unless
she goes through the municipalities, who have their own rules and their own rights. It is very similar to
the problem we have in Canada.
With that background, there is one other problem that we would face in
Canada, and that is the rights of privacy and the right to self‑identify. If you wanted to know how many
of the children who have problems are visible minorities, you might not be able to get that information and that
data accurately from anyone unless you first had self‑identification, and self‑identification is subjective, not
objective, so you would not have an objective standard for that.
Are there also not some things covered by privacy laws? If you agree
with that, how do you propose that we in Canada get around them?
Ms. Covell: How we get around privacy
laws, I will not go there. As to how we get the numbers, there are questions that could be added to census
data. There are subgroups that could be added to Statistics Canada.
Much as I hate to say it, I think maybe we could check with the Americans.
Senator Oliver: We have the Charter,
though, which indicates that there are certain things one cannot ask. Certainly privacy laws indicate
there are certain things one cannot ask, and one cannot ask even on a census form.
Ms. Covell: Even with a
self‑identification you cannot have an option?
Senator Oliver: What if they do not
Ms. Covell: I would suggest we would
still have more data than we have at this point.
Senator Oliver: You would have more,
but it would not be accurate. It is hard to come up with the objective kind of standards for measurement
that you would like to have.
Ms. Covell: As a researcher, I cannot
get anything published unless I have my sample highly detailed in terms of their ethno‑cultural status as well
as everything else. I am coming from a different world here. It is expected when I do research that
I ask these questions, and people are free not to answer them, but they always do.
Senator Oliver: You are lucky.
That is good. I would like to follow up on the excellent question of Senator Losier‑Cool. If we were
to adopt a national standard with a national ombudsperson who would deal with the ombudspersons in the regions,
the territories and the provinces, how can the federal power get the provinces and the territories to agree in
terms of measurable standards and the measurements that you would like to see, that you have defined? How
would you set it up?
Ms. Covell: Do you mean structurally?
Senator Oliver: Yes.
Ms. Covell: I would look at how the
multilateral framework on child care came about, namely, what sort of cooperation was necessary for that.
Obviously, it would have to be done with cooperation at all levels. If we already have children's
advocates or the equivalent in most of the country, I think if we could organize the provincial child advocates
such that they have a consistent mandate across the country, it would have to be much expanded from what it is
at this time. Part of the role of the federal government could be to fund that. In turn, part of the
mandate of the provincial agencies would be to feed back the information to the federal government.
Senator Oliver: However, it would be
funding and also applying national standards or standards that apply to every province and territory. With
the money comes an obligation.
Ms. Covell: Yes, as there are with other
provincial-federal shared systems.
Senator Oliver: Are there any other
details that you would see in setting up such a system? Do you believe it should be the ombuds‑type system
Ms. Covell: You are getting out of my
area of expertise. I am hesitant to say yes or no. That seems to me the logical route to start.
Whether there is a better route, I do not know. I have to go back to the education thing. As long as
people are not aware not just of the facts of the convention but the incredible importance of respecting
children's rights to the healthy development of society, that is an obstacle to the kind of sharing of
responsibility that we are talking about. If people at all levels of government had more information about
how important respecting children's rights is to having healthy provinces, healthy municipalities and so forth,
it would be easier to get the kind of cooperation that you would need to set up the structures we would need.
Senator Losier-Cool: To follow up on
that, what would be the department or ministry of the family, if not an ombudsman?
Do you have any thoughts for that?
Ms. Covell: Offer me the job, and I
will figure it out.
Senator Losier-Cool: You will have to
be elected first.
Ms. Covell: I am uncomfortable giving
an off‑the‑cuff answer to something so important. I would say, putting my research hat back on, that I
would look at what has been happening in the rest of the world, what has and has not worked and what can we
learn from places that have such a minister, ministry or ombudsman. Let us not start from scratch and make
the mistakes of other places. I am sure we can learn a lot, as your committee did, by going around and
talking to other people. Look at the evidence and see what works.
Le snateur Chaput: Vous nous dites que le
Canada n'arrive pas respecter ses obligations dans trois domaines : l'ducation, le suivi ainsi que de la
mesure des rsultats. D'aprs moi, et dites‑moi si je me trompe, ce n'est pas possible d'assurer des
suivis et une bonne mesure de rsultat lorsque nous n'avons pas les donnes ncessaires? Si c'est le cas,
en termes de donnes, les provinces ont-elles en main suffisamment de donnes pour aider le gouvernement fdral
faire des suivis et une certaine mesure des rsultats? Ces donnes sont-elles dj en place dans les
Ms. Covell: The short answer is no; I
do not think those data exist. You are right that you cannot do the monitoring without the data, but we
can certainly do child impact assessments on new laws, changes to legislation, new policies and new programs.
When the government funds initiatives, part of that could include a requirement that there be a child impact
assessment or some other evaluation on the program. Research can be promoted across the country.
Perhaps if privacy laws are precluding the obtaining of certain kinds of data, we could probably get enough, if
it is collected appropriately, that we could use inferential statistics to get closer approximations to reality
than we have at this point.
Le snateur Chaput: Vous dites que la
Nouvelle-cosse est la seule province qui a accd la demande d'intgrer la sensibilisation au droit de
l'enfant au programme scolaire. Pourriez‑vous nous expliquer comment cela s'est fait dans les coles en
Ms. Covell: Thank you very much ‑‑
finally, a question I can answer.
Yes, the centre in which I am located developed and pilot-tested children's
rights education materials. We tested them in the local school district. We did evaluations of their
impact on the children, and the school district did independent evaluations on their impact on the children.
That was the beginning. The evaluation data were very positive; the district was very pleased. We
eventually went to the provincial department of education and asked them if they would like to be the first
province in Canada to meet the obligations under the convention. We showed them the data, and we wrote all
of the material so that they would fit into the existing provincial guidelines, styles, learning outcomes
framework and so forth, and it kind of grew from there.
If I can take a minute here, one of the nice things about that -- it is now
being picked up and expanded elsewhere -- is supportive evaluation data are coming from other jurisdictions.
One of the important things is that it functions to change the ethos of the school, and that is why it is not
incorporated nearly as much as I would like it to be, but in other jurisdictions where it has been more widely
put into use, there are measurable outcomes on the ethos of the schools. That is nice because most of our
interventions to lessen bullying behaviours and harassment in schools have focused on the individual child, and
when you look at the research, the structure and the ethos of the school are much more predictive of problems in
the school than any individual children.
Children's rights education can really be sold as a way of improving the
Le snateur Chaput: Est-ce que ce modle
pourrait tre utilis dans de d'autres provinces s'il y avait un intrt? Est-ce qu'il est transfrable?
Ms. Covell: Thank you
for a wonderful question. Yes, in fact, it has actually been adapted by individual
school districts. There has been a lot of interest. Where it has been adapted and been most
successful is actually in England, which is an example of how adaptable it is. It has also been
recommended for use internationally by Defence for Children International. It is very adaptable. It
obviously can be updated in terms of activities and so forth. I will be happy to give you any information
The Deputy Chairman: Perhaps you
could elaborate on the fact that the program is not a separate unit?
Ms. Covell: That is right. One
of the things that must be taken into account when you are trying to introduce any new program, particularly one
of children's rights, given the suspicion about it, is how to do it in the least intrusive way. Rather
than children's rights being a separate course, which teachers would have to find the time to add, it is
incorporated into social studies and health and what, in Nova Scotia, is called personal development and
relationships at the junior high school level. Then we have Grade 12, which is all incorporated into
Senator Chaput: Was it a provincial
initiative, as such?
Ms. Covell: It is now.
Senator Chaput: Was it an individual
Ms. Covell: Yes.
The Deputy Chairman: Ms. Covell
should take great credit for this. Senator Oliver is from Nova Scotia, so he could find out.
Senator Losier-Cool: When that
program was developed did you talk about corporal punishment to children, or is there any policy on corporal
punishment in school programs, or corporal punishment as discipline?
Ms. Covell: It is not allowed as a
disciplinary tool in schools in Canada. Whether it has been discussed I am trying to remember. There
are sections on physical abuse. I do not remember, to be quite honest.
The Deputy Chairman: This could lead
to my question before we go to the second round. One of the things that Ms. Covell has been very effective
at is involving young people in her research and actually having the young people engaged in the research and
has recently, under her unit, produced some excellent work with quite young children, different ages of
children, for the study on violence against children that we got some information about when we were in Geneva.
My question is to, in a sense, some recommendations about how we at this committee might hear from young people
with respect to our issue.
Ms. Covell: I was wondering if you
were asking youth. I think that would be terrific. If you could find some way of inviting some young
people here, those who know something about rights and those who do not know something about rights, from
different parts of the country, would be excellent. It is endlessly astonishing how much wisdom they
display. The focus groups to which Senator Pearson was referring were unbelievable. I spent eight
months going through research data from across North America, and I have 40 pages of things that children have
said and, in essence, they have said all of it.
Senator Oliver: I have two questions.
The first involves the question Senator Pearson just asked you about involving children. As you know, in
the court system what judges used to do, before they would determine whether a child could give evidence in a
case, was to put them through a little test to determine just what was the age of intellection and when would
they be able to know or understand enough to respond to the questions that would be put. How do you, in
your research, get around the issue of intellection?
Ms. Covell: I think it is really
important to have age‑appropriate issues and age‑appropriate wording. We have not had a huge problem with
this particular study. The youngest children were eight, nine. That was not really an issue.
There is a huge difference between asking children in a courtroom setting and asking them in a research setting.
In a courtroom children seem to be subjected to questions in ways that make them think they have answered wrong.
When children are repeatedly asked the same questions, or asked in ways that they are uncomfortable, because
they are used to situations where they have to get the right answer, they get discomforted very quickly and can
change their stories. Then people assume they do not know what they are talking about or they are lying or
they do not understand, but very often it is that they are trying to please the person who is asking the
question. If you ask an age‑appropriate issue in an age‑appropriate way, you can talk to children from age
three and up without any problem.
Senator Oliver: Maybe judges need
training on how to pose questions in an age‑appropriate way.
Ms. Covell: Yes, and lawyers.
If you have some knowledge of development, people asked me what age can children start to participate, and I
always said at birth, because at birth they can determine how long they want to breastfeed and when. That
is participation in their own lives, and it builds from there. They can always participate, you just have
to find the age‑appropriate way of doing it.
Senator Oliver: In your statement you
talked about section 43 of the Criminal Code, and you quoted Chief Justice McLachlin's comments, and she said
that the UN committee on the rights of the child had not required Canada to prohibit all parental use of
corporal punishment. What parts of corporal punishment would you say are still permitted under her
Ms. Covell: The Supreme Court
decision imposed limitations on the use of corporal punishment, they did not ban it. The limitations that
are imposed, from my developmental psychology hat, are quite frightening. They are completely inconsistent
with any notions of the rights of the child and any notions of the best interests of the child. The UN
committee did recommend Canada completely ban all forms of corporal punish. They did not suggest that
immediately after a child's second birthday party it was okay to hit him, which is not what was intended, but
that appears to be the way many parents are interpreting it. That is one of the areas where we really need
to do research right now, is how people understand the limitations that were described.
Senator Oliver: As a researcher, my
question to you is what other ways have you heard that people are interpreting the dicta from the Chief Justice
that they are not required to prohibit all parental use of? What other things have you heard are being
Ms. Covell: Just in that context.
That is all I have heard.
Senator Losier-Cool: I will ask a
question to which I should know the answer. According to the convention, what age are children?
Ms. Covell: From birth until 18.
Senator Losier-Cool: In your
research, it seems to me when I look at children, and I have been a school teacher for over 30 years, there is
an age group, when they are three years old and four, after three they can talk and they can speak, those small
children, is there a significant difference in your research for babies, as to violence against them, as to
abuse, and when they grow do they stand a better chance because they can talk?
Is there a group from zero to 18 which is more targeted, more vulnerable?
Ms. Covell: More vulnerable to
Senator Losier-Cool: To abuse of all
Ms. Covell: The statistics show that
if you are not killed before your first birthday, you are in pretty good shape. That is the most
vulnerable time in a child's life to homicide or infanticide. The family violence study from Statistics
Canada shows that children are disproportionately represented in all forms of physical and sexual abuse.
Shaken baby syndrome, by definition, is something that only happens within the first two years of life and that
is one the issues we have no statistics on in Canada.
A recent survey in the U.S., and I do not know why it would be different
here, showed high rates of parents self‑reporting shaking their babies as a routine disciplinary procedure.
That is not something that will happen when the child is older.
Physical punishment for children tends to peak at around the age of four.
Some parents continue to use physical punishment until their children are adolescents, at which time the
children very often hit back, either escalating into the criminal court system or stopping at that time.
At this time, I am in the middle of doing a childhood exit survey of older
youth and young adults, 15 to 18 years old, on their experiences with physical punishment, and the responses are
heartbreaking. I had no idea so many children were being hit with so many objects for so many bizarre
Senator Losier-Cool: I appreciate
your answer. I felt that, and you have found it in your research.
The Deputy Chairman: I would like to
be slightly more positive in the sense that there is research going on now by Dr. Susan Bennett from CHEO on
shaken baby syndrome. We should soon have more data from pediatricians and other doctors.
It is a significant problem. The study of child abuse and neglect that
Ms. Covell referred to earlier which has been done by the Department of Health has some very interesting
statistics about the incidence in early adolescence of a great deal of abuse. We need to look at how that
connects back to earlier abuse and whether the abused adolescent child is one who has been significantly abused
all the way along. I do not think that study actually demonstrates that, but there is a new study coming
out that will give us some data from two different periods of time.
Ms. Covell: And the one that we are
doing will be the same because we are asking for the different age groups to look back at the different times.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you very
much. It has been interesting and helpful, and I will send the researchers to look up more of your work as
part of our background information.
In this segment of the meeting today, we will be hearing from two people.
We will hear first from Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring
Society of Canada, and then from Rita Karakas, the Executive Director of Save the Children Canada.
We put together this panel for an interesting comparison. Rita Karakas
works mostly with international issues and Cindy Blackstock works primarily with domestic issues, but since she
has recently been in New Zealand and other places, she has had opportunities to work with other indigenous
groups in other parts of the world.
Ms. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family
Caring Society of Canada: It is a great honour to address the committee.
I am the Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
of Canada. I am here to alert the committee to the significant risk faced by First Nations children and
their families across this country, and the fact that there are often solutions, that we can make a difference
collectively in Canadian society for this generation of children.
In my opening remarks, I would like to go through the background and then
proceed to one particular example which demonstrates where we can significantly make a difference for this
generation. After that, I will conclude my remarks with three recommendations for future action.
As many of you know, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
has repeatedly urged Canada in its concluding remarks to close the life chances between Aboriginal children and
young people and non‑Aboriginal children and young people in this country. Numerous federal initiatives
have gone toward this objective, but sadly today in Canadian society, the risks continue to be disproportionate.
Our best guesstimate is that there are between 22,500 and 28,000 Aboriginal
children in the child welfare system today. That is three times the number who were in residential schools
at the height of those operations in the 1940s. This is a critical time.
In allowing so many nations to ratify the convention on the rights of the
child, I can imagine that the authors of that report thought that nations in ideal conditions would implement
the convention to the fullest extent possible.
When I talk about ideal conditions, I talk about a democratic state with a
value for human rights, preferably enshrined in a constitution or in a charter of rights, such as we have in
Canada, and about a nation that has sufficient resources, as Canada thankfully has with its report of the
For too long, reports on Aboriginal children, even back in my generation and
I was born in 1964, described us as at risk, marginalized and vulnerable. In too many reports, that
continues to be the three adjectives used to describe Aboriginal children today. There are solutions.
The message of the Keeping of the Promises report is not only to draw national attention to the lived
experiences of these children but also to say that these are not problems without solutions.
Many say the problems confronting Aboriginal children are too complex.
It almost makes one want to stand still when one looks at the magnitude of the problem. I believe that
complex questions often regard the simplest answers. For example, when we looked at the number of
resources available to First Nations children, we wanted to address the stereotype in Canadian society that
First Nations children on‑reserve have access to more resources than other children have. Our research found
that of the $90 billion in annual revenues to the voluntary sector that provides myriad social support, only a
negligible amount was going to First Nations children and their families on‑reserve.
Many of you know that often provincial governments do not provide services
on reserves and that there might not be municipal equivalents. Honourable senators who have travelled to
some of our First Nations communities know that there are few safe playgrounds for children or municipal
libraries ‑‑ things that we take for granted in urban centres.
According to the Government of Canada, the average income on reserve
is somewhere between $8500 and $9500 per year. That is less than most of send our students to university
with and yet it what families have to meet their basic needs. In terms of federal services, we know that
First Nations child welfare is funded on a per capita basis. Overall, the Department of Indian Affairs and
Northern Development and a First Nations study found that they receive 22 per cent less per child in child
welfare funding than the average province receives, based on 2000 data. That is 22 per cent less.
When I add all this up and think about why we have 9,000 First Nations
children resident on reserve and under child welfare care, and if I were making an announcement to Canadians
today to say that I would cut all provincial services and municipal services for children, most voluntary sector
services for children and put alll adults on an annual income of $9500, I wonder how well the average Canadian
child would fair? This is not rocket science. Most of us can imagine the struggle in such a
situation. In fact, I think it is a testament to the resilience of First Nations children, families and
communities that the children are doing as well as they are doing.
What are the mechanisms? Why has this not come to the attention of the
federal government in a way that prescribes it as a national crisis? I thought about that question as if I
were a family member and living on reserve with my child. The fact is that I could go to the court system
and seek redress but on such a limited income you could well imagine that I would probably more likely use my
resources to put food on the table than to take the federal government to court.
My other option could be to go to the provincial child advocate or
commissioner's office, but they have jurisdiction only provincially and have no mandate over federal
departments. I could go to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, except it exempts anything under the Indian
Act. Thus, I am left without a voice as a First Nations child or a young person on reserve and without an
opportunity to deal with the crisis that we face and the fact that there is a solution before us.
Canada can make a difference. Here is the example: It is with
those First Nations children ‑‑ those 9,000 that are in child welfare care today. A key factor to the
overrepresentation of these children in child welfare care is the fact that they are under funded. As the
Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development found in 2000, they are keenly under funded in a range of
services known as least disruptive measures. That is a statutory term in most provincial child welfare
legislation. If a child has been identified as being at risk of child maltreatment or neglect, it is the
range of services a government or a First Nations child welfare agency should provide so that that child can
stay safely in their home. Those services are not funded under the current funding formula for First
Nations children on reserve. That means that many more children than otherwise would be required are
ending up staying in foster homes when they could stay in their own homes.
There is a solution. Four and one half years ago, the Assembly of
First Nations and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development co‑authored a report with 17
recommendations to make improvements so that this inequity did not stand. The department participated in
that piece and has done some research since that time. However, the end result is that there has been no
new funding identified to address this inequality. If you looked at the department budget you would see
that there is an increase in child welfare funding but that is only driven because there is an increased number
of children brought into care. In fact, there was a 71.5 per cent increase in the number of status
children going into care between 1995 and 2001. The good news is that the federal government has sole
jurisdiction. As the committee on the rights of the child has noticed, when the federal government has
sole jurisdiction it has been able to make a difference. Of course, there is a surplus budget. Under
the World Fit for Children, Canada's children have first call on a wealthy nation's resources.
The impact of doing nothing is quite clear. It is lived out every day
in the lives of these First Nations children and their families. We do not know the data for 2002 and 2003
in terms of how many more First Nations children have gone into care while we have sat around the table trying
to figure out how to implement the recommendations. You can only imagine if you are one of those children
or one of those families how much you would have hoped that that kind of inequity would have been addressed.
I have a number of recommendations. First, there needs to be someone
at a federal level to look at the violations of Aboriginal children's rights across different disciplines so
that we know what they are. We understand that Aboriginal children are not at risk, marginalized and vulnerable
just because they choose to be or their parents raise them to be. They are at risk, vulnerable and
marginalized because their rights are being persistently violated. New Zealand's Children's Commissioner,
Dr. Cynthia Cairo, is an excellent example for Canada to study.
Second, Canada should act immediately to provide equitable funding for First
Nations children in terms of child welfare. These are not just children and not just Aboriginal children,
but they aret Aboriginal children who are experiencing neglect and child maltreatment. Surely among the
children in Canada they are the ones that deserve to look over to us and see that we are providing them at least
with an equitable chance of safety and well‑being.
The third recommendation is to make the development and resourcing of
community based strategies that promote the well‑being of Aboriginal children a priority. As a national
organization, we can do something about providing communities with resources. We understand that the
answers are at a community level. National roll‑out programs have some positive aspects to them but they
fail to respond to the rich diversity of First Nations communities and their needs across this country.
Fourth, we need to hear from Aboriginal young people themselves. The
Assembly of First Nations, ITK, the Metis National Council and the National Association of Friendship Centres
have youth councils that can speak on policy issues. They, more than I, can sit here first hand and
deliver to the committee more of a synopsis of what their experiences are and inspire you with a sense of hope
with their brilliance.
I am hoping that Canada understands that you can make a difference for this
generation of children and that 30 years from now we are not using the words "at risk, "marginalized" and
"vulnerable" to describe our Aboriginal young people. By acting in a coordinated and urgent fashion
together we will be able to use adjectives like "distinct," respected, "valued" and "dignified," to describe not
only this generation of Aboriginal children but every generation to follow.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you, Ms.
Blackstock. Ms. Karakas, please proceed.
Ms. Rita Karakas, Executive Director, Save the Children Canada: It gives me great
pleasure to be here this afternoon.
I am honoured to be sitting next to Cindy Blackstock. Thank you for
bringing us together. I have long been looking forward to meeting her.
I am often struck, having worked in 72 countries and having been at a
previous time an adviser to the Australian government's tourist commission on Aboriginal communities, by the
comparators in Canada of our Aboriginal communities in which we absolutely and totally as a society neglect and
abuse all rights. Where we actually should be quite ashamed of our behaviour, in many ways within Canada
we tolerate and condone and do not support situations which my agency receives money from CIDA to work
internationally in eradicating. Canadian indicators, whether it is health, income, participation in
education system or social justice or incarceration or detention systems, all point to a real shame. We
have not yet demonstrated that we have learned the lessons of our past in dealing with our Aboriginal
communities. I welcome and am humbled by your presentation.
We at Save the Children Canada welcome this opportunity, as we see ourselves
as duty bearers under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I will first speak about
our recommendations and then go back into our commentary. I read the presentations of Ms. Wilson,
Professor Bala and Ms. Covell, and we are in a similar vein. There are similar alignments in our
Save the Children Canada calls for Canada to step up to the mark in
acknowledging its responsibility as a duty bearer for child rights and the protection and promotion of
children's rights as a signatory to the UN convention. We believe that we are a society rich in democratic
principles and who value human rights, who have economic capacity and repeatedly have demonstrated our economic
capacity and human development index by regularly being in the top five countries identified by the United
Nations, and we believe that we have successfully had budgets and are managing our household incomes as a
country and that we have the capacity to further meet our duties and responsibilities towards Canadian children.
We call on this committee to recommend that the Canadian government and the
governments of Canada ‑‑ and we speak to the federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions ‑‑ to bring
together an integrated interim departmental approach to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
across all levels of the Canadian government and its regulatory bodies, the judiciary, customs officials,
throughout the life of the federal government.
We call on a monitoring system that would create periodic reviews of the
implementation of the convention, and we note that there is a difference between monitoring and verification.
We call on also the federal government holding on to its verification responsibilities.
We at Save the Children Canada are presently advising the United States
Senate on the verification of cocoa farm child labourers in West Africa as they grow cocoa beans for a safe and
healthy environment. We do not have the capacity to do the same advisory role for child labour in Canada.
We call on the Canadian governments to help oversee congruent, integrated
legislation to protect children, including victims of child trafficking and all forms of child exploitation,
that is, to map legislation and overlapping jurisdiction to ensure that inconsistencies are worked out and
congruencies are aligned.
We urgently call on appropriate training of professionals on child rights,
including Supreme Court justices, judges, lawyers, teachers and other duty bearers, the mandarins at the federal
government system and very powerful mandarins in the child welfare system and the provinces. Write to the
clerk and sometimes those social welfare bureaus and offices.
We call on children's rights to be incorporated into government and civil
society programming, including instruments of civil society such as the Charter.
We call on the promotion of full and active participation of children in
Canada's social and economic life.
Those are our recommendations. Our examples for calling on these
recommendations reside in the daily lives of Canadian children and Canadians' understanding of children's
In honour of National Child Day this year, we commissioned an Ipsos‑Reid survey of 1,000 adult Canadians on
their knowledge of children's rights in Canada and how they rated the Canadian government and governments on
their performance in children's rights duties. Regretfully, the respondents failed to demonstrate
significant knowledge of children's rights, and those who failed the test also failed the people who were held
accountable. They felt that the federal government was not doing its duty in children's rights.
Ms. Covell called on facts and knowledge. Canadians have very limited
knowledge on the Canadian number of children with HIV/AIDS, number of instances of child abuse, number of
instances of children in labor or in the worst forms of labour. Of course they do not know because we at
Save the Children Canada do not know, Ms. Covell does not know, and we do not know at the federal and provincial
levels. When we do know, we do not act. We do know in the case of Aboriginal children, and we still
do not act.
We call on the fact that those who are dealing with children's rights and
are at a position in the child's life to make a difference in that child's life by exercising the children's
rights approach do not know their duties and therefore cannot act as duty bearers. We say that the
Canadian government is negligent in this part of the convention.
I would like to site you a case of a child called Zheng, a Chinese child,
not a Canadian child, but a child at the age of 14 who came to Canada and sought to have protection under the
Canadian legislation. This child to came to Canada in 2002 as a 14‑year‑old minor and, with approximately
20 other minors, was apprehended by immigration officials while entering Canada illegally from China. She
applied for refugee status and claimed to have been trafficked into Canada from China on the way to the United
States. She feared persecution if she was returned to China. She was denied refugee status, made an
appeal, and the appeal, along with those of other claimants, was denied. In the appeal, the convention on
child rights was cited as the reason for the denial. The citing was that she was able to give consent.
We believe that she was viewed as a voluntary migrant who left China to
improve the economic status of herself and her family. The reasoning in the decision was centred on the
use of the convention's position that maturity is an ongoing process. Senator Oliver, this leads to some
of your questions. This position was stretched in this case to defend the argument that, as children age,
their consent can be given more weight and can eventually be legally binding before adulthood.
Children's rights to protection from violence, abuse and exploitation are
not in any way limited or circumscribed as a result of their age. Children's limited capacity to protect
themselves always means that consideration of age and capacity can only suggest stronger rights for protection,
never weaker. At the least, it demands that Canadian officials making this judgment are fully cognizant of
that child's life, her social condition and what informed consent means. Certainly this is an argument
that we see in certain parts of Africa, when males use young women to have intercourse with in order to protect
themselves from HIV/AIDS. It is informed consent. In some parts of the world, that is social
coercion. Certainly it is a debate that we encounter when we are talking about children forced into
soldiering, war child, children forced into criminality at 14. Is that informed consent? We took a
view, and we deported this child. We used the convention to do that.
We would argue that Canada needs to ensure that adequate legislation is in
place to protect children, in cases of trafficked children, in particular. We are particularly concerned
and bring this as an example because for us it covers a multitude of Canadian responsibilities under the
convention, the duty to have informed and trained professionals working within the governmental systems, and our
concern is highlighted as we increasingly post September 11 become very worried about our borders and protecting
We also believe that Canadian federal and provincial jurisdiction sometimes
allows this government, our country, not to meet its requirements under the convention.
We have many examples of asymmetrical legislation, and particularly in our
health care. We have many examples presently where there is a will to redress some of the increasing
deterioration or distortion of our universal or intended health care system. Where there is a will there
is a way. What there seems to be in Canada is an absence of a will of children's rights.
Senator, you spoke about children as a minority. We think children are
still perceived in Canada as property of adults. We think we are extremely careful about the
politically-correct cultural sensitivities around children, yet we also believe that human rights cannot exist
without enshrined children's rights. Human rights start with children's rights.
This view is recognized by the Canadian International Development Agency,
and we at Save the Children Canada are funded to train the government of Kenya, to train the Ethiopian
government and their officials, to work globally around the world on children's rights and child participation.
We have repeatedly made the same offer to various departments of the Canadian government to no avail. We
made it again last week. We welcome an opportunity to train Canadian officials in understanding their duty
and responsibility under children's rights and children‑friendly legislation, children‑friendly schools.
We served to help change the curriculum structure of the Peruvian government in respect to Aboriginal children
and making education child friendly. We would welcome those opportunities here.
Jurisdictional differentials, federational structure, the Constitution, the
Charter, are not barriers to the duties of children's rights. There are existing solutions. There
are many other states where the federal models exist who have managed to find solutions to children's rites.
We can cite Norway, we can cite Sweden, we can cite New Zealand, we can cite Scotland, which resides in the
United Kingdom structure and has a youth Parliament and who invites youngsters to be directly able to claim
In summary, we believe that as a society we have the capacity, but we do not
have the motivation. We have had leadership. At Save the Children Canada we are very concerned that
the leadership be able to continue to another generation. We are very grateful for the leadership we have
We have a lack of commitment to understanding the impact of legislation on
the lives of children, and we are incredibly complacent as a society on the welfare of our children, and all of
our children, and particularly complacent about our socially‑excluded children.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you very
much indeed. Who wants to start the questioning?
Senator Oliver: Could I ask a
question of Ms. Blackstock? First, I would like to thank you both for two excellent presentations.
Thank you for coming before us.
We are looking for a model for both monitoring and implementing the
convention. No one has come up with a form of model. One of the things that Ms. Blackstock said in
her presentation is that she liked the New Zealand commissioner model. Could you tell us a bit more about
it and whether and how it might apply to Canada?
Ms. Blackstock: As you know, New
Zealand is not a federal state, so it has one commissioner that has jurisdiction throughout the country.
The commissioner who has been appointed can address individual complaints of children and their families, as
well as systemic complaints.
The current commissioner is Dr. Cynthia Kiro, who happens to be a Maori
woman, who brings that sensibility to bear for the well‑being of all children in New Zealand. She has a
staff of interdisciplinary professionals. I visited the office personally and was very impressed with not
only the dedication of the staff, but the nice balance they had struck between meeting the needs of individual
children and their families who were bringing forward concerns and dealing with systemic complaints, which often
have broad implications for a broad number of children.
Senator Oliver: That is fascinating,
because the ombudsperson in Sweden does not have the right to make representations on behalf of individual
cases. Could you tell us how large the office was? How many people were working in New Zealand when
you were there?
Ms. Blackstock: This is a
guesstimate; of the group I met, there were about 12 to 14 staff.
Senator Oliver: They would be of what
types of disciplines?
Ms. Blackstock: Social work, legal
professions, child-rights focus, and Cindy herself comes from a health background.
Senator Oliver: From what you saw,
were most of their problems of the bigger systemic types, or were they doing a lot of individual matters arising
from individual complaints and concerns?
Ms. Blackstock: As I was suggesting,
personally my impression was they had struck a nice balance. They were looking at some of the large
systemic issues and doing investigations and providing meaningful recommendations that were pragmatic and could
be implemented. They were also judicious about ensuring that children felt they had a voice at the
commission and that they were heard at the commission.
Senator Oliver: What age would some
of these children be that were being heard by the commission? Was it seven, eight, nine or older?
Ms. Blackstock: My understanding is
that the children's commission has jurisdiction over all children aged zero to 18 in the country of New Zealand.
That is my understanding.
Senator Losier-Cool: Thank you very
much. I must admit right from the beginning that when I hear about children, I get like Senator LaPierre
was saying, I go gaga a bit. I cried last night watching some program on the convention of children.
I will have a general comment, and then I will go to a specific question on
When you mentioned about leadership, it reminded me I was listening to Romo
Dallaire at one of those many conferences. He said, "We have created the leadership. Now we must
lead." That is so true. Bono then sang in Toronto, The world needs more Canada. Canada must lead
somewhere. Do we need a CIDA agency for Canada?
Quelle incidence lapplication de la Convention des droits des enfants
aurait sur les enfants autochtones?
Mme Karakas: Je pense que les Canadiens
et jai voyag dans le monde en tant que Canadienne sont trs fiers de l'tre. Surtout que je suis immigrante
et que mes parents ont choisi dimmigrer Montral; je jouis des droits que j'ai en tant que femme et en tant
quimmigrante. Mais parfois on se trompe. Comme Canadiens, nous ne sommes pas vraiment la hauteur de toutes
We do not always follow through. Our international development aid is
going down, and the Americans' is going up, net aid. We have commitments where we are actually on the
right side philosophically, yet when we come home and look at how we apply it, we do not follow through
Often, our domestic politics gets in the way. Yet I would say to you
that we do need an instrument for sustainable development in our own country. It is unacceptable for such
a wealthy country as Canada, and a country who takes such a high road internationally in so many ways and such
leadership in many ways. We are quietly, through the offices of Mr. Axworthy, negotiating an Ethiopian
Nutria. I can cite many examples of this, but we tolerate some inequities in social justices in our own
country that we also do not speak about.
What I think we need is both a monitoring and an enabling facility.
You asked previously whether a Ministry of Children, and you said families. I would have said children and
families, because sometimes Ministry of Families has a political connotation that some of us in the women's
rights movement would be concerned about. A ministry is accountable to government. I would like
someone accountable to Parliament. I think there is a difference in that. I think Ms. Blackstock was
speaking about it in the ombudsman capacity, there is a different accountability. We can afford to have an
auditor, an Auditor General. I guess that is important. I would put to you that our children are
much more important.
Ms. Blackstock: You asked if
implementing the convention would be make a difference for Aboriginal children and my answer is a wholehearted
If we only implemented the non-discrimination provision, providing
communities equal access to resources available to other children, I am confident we would see a significant
improvement in the well being of Aboriginal children.
Let me provide an example of research into youth suicide. We around
the table have all heard of the drastic numbers of Aboriginal young people who sadly take their lives every
year. In British Columbia, Christopher Lalonde and Michael Chandler conducted a study on this matter
regarding First Nations children in that province.
As some of you know, 197 of the 633 First Nations are in British
Columbia, and taken as a whole, they have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Dr. Chandler and
Dr. Lalonde began having conversations with First Nations, and some of them said that that might be true, but we
have not had a youth suicide in our community for the last 13 years. How could that be possible?
They unpacked it a bit more and found that 90 per cent of suicides were
happening in 10 per cent of the bands. Some of the communities had a zero per cent suicide rate.
Imagine the lessons they could teach mainstream Canada about keeping your children safe.
What was the difference between the communities? What they found was
really common sense. The communities with the higher degree of community decision making as reflected by
First Nations control over education, health, fire and police services, women in government and child welfare
were the communities that had the zero per cent suicide rate. Those communities that had limited control
over their own decision making had higher rates of suicide.
It makes sense. In our own personal lives, when we have a sense that
we can make decisions or that people we love and care about can make decisions for us, then we feel much more in
control and can see a future for ourselves.
Senator Losier-Cool: To be inclusive.
Senator Chaput: I do not like what I
have heard because it is not the way it should be in Canada.
Having said that, my question is with regard to the First Nations. The
society that you represent today, does it represent on-reserve and also off-reserve First Nations? Do you
know if there is a difference between the state of children on reserve and off reserve? Do you have
statistics or information in that respect?
Ms. Blackstock: Our society does not
represent any one group. We provide services to communities, to First Nations child welfare agencies and
they service children both on and off reserve.
The example I gave you with regard to the funding applies on reserve only.
However, the over‑representation of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system is the same on and off
Provinces collect their data about children and child welfare care
differently. Sadly, all I can provide is a good best estimate of the numbers of Aboriginal children in
care, which is between 22,500 and 28,000. About 50 per cent of them would be children off reserve who are
being served by the provinces or in some cases by Aboriginal child welfare agencies themselves.
We are beginning to get data through the Canadian incidence study that will
start hopefully with this round of data collection to explore the differences between Aboriginal children on and
off reserve. That will be the first time that we will have data in that format. We are encouraging
further investment in the study because it is the first benchmark.
With the data set from 1998, when we looked at the reasons for Aboriginal
children coming into care, what we found was a bit surprising, even to the communities. These children are
not coming to the attention of the child welfare system because of sexual abuse or physical violence, but
because of neglect, both on and off reserve.
Neglect can mean many things. We wanted to find out more about what
that meant. We controlled for poverty, inadequate housing and substance misuse. If we did all of
those things, there should be no over‑representation of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system.
This is an important finding.
When I did child protection work, I would come into your home and I might
assess neglect, but I would assume that you as a parent would have the capability of making changes in the risk
factors. There is little you can do about being poor or living in an inappropriate house, because that is
You can argue that substance misuse is within the personal domain for
change, but that suggests that you have access to resources. Research shows that access to resources for
Aboriginal peoples is quite limited, and we found that from research both on and off reserve.
Le snateur Ferretti Barth: La convention a t
signe il y a 15 ans?
Mme Blackstock: Oui.
Le snateur Ferretti Barth: Vous soulevez
plusieurs problmes. Depuis les 15 dernires annes quelles ont t les obstacles? Pourquoi votre
institution n'a‑t‑elle pas fait de recommandations ou na-t-elle pas expos les lacunes? En tant que
snateur du Qubec et immigrante, j'ai l'impression qu'il n'y a pas d'intervention immdiate. On discute des
questions, on les tudie, on fait des recommandations, puis en les mets au rencard.
Pourquoi ne pas crer un organe qui fasse bouger les choses? Lorsquon se fixe
des objectifs, il ne faut pas attendre; il faut se les ancrer dans lme et dans la tte pour les mener
excution. Je ne comprends pas que nous soyons encore pris, aprs 15 ans, avec ces problmes abominables. Est‑ce
lappareil gouvernemental qui ne fonctionne pas bien, ou est‑ce votre institution et les gens qui y travaillent
qui ne prennent pas cur leur mandat? Quest-ce qui empche les choses davancer? Quattendez-vous de nous?
Il faut nous le dire. Nous sommes l pour vous aider.
Ms. Blackstock: I would say in
response to your question that we are actually the only national non-profit organization that specifically works
for Aboriginal children and families in the country. We were only established two years ago.
Since we have been established, we have worked strenuously to study the
convention ourselves, to make our communities aware of its importance and how they might utilize the
recommendations. Furthermore, we participated in the indigenous day of discussion in Geneva and since that
time have worked with Anna Pinto, who is from India, to form an indigenous subgroup as an advisory to the
committee on the rights of the child.
Since we have been active, we have done everything we can to bring this to
the attention of not only our communities but to see the convention as a opportunity to highlight some of the
concerns and also the brilliance and the assets of Aboriginal communities, and more importantly, to say that
there are solutions to these issues. Really what it takes is a commitment to making them a national
priority and an investment in equality. Those are the messages we are taking home. We want to be
part of the solution.
Many members of our board of directors have sat on national panels because
it is not good enough to simply identify the problems. We have to work together toward solutions and
monitor that they are done. There is a generation of children out there waiting for us to meet their needs now.
Mme Karakas : Je pense que, dans le domaine
des communauts autochtones, la responsabilit demeure Ottawa. Ce n'est pas une question de ping‑pong
entre les juridictions. Donc, je souhaite quune de vos recommandations soit de prioriser cela.
Deuximement, il y a beaucoup d'enfants au Canada qui souffrent de la
pauvret, lintrieur de familles o la mre est la seule adulte au travail. Ils souffrent dune pauvret
conomique qui dpend normment des relations intergouvernementales. Je pense que c'est une longue lutte. On
croit au Canada que nous allons crer des juridictions de protection de la jeunesse et que le problme sera
rgl. On refuse quand mme au Canada d'aborder la problmatique, malheureusement.
Nous prfrons notre confort plutt que daborder les problmes
systmatiquement. Je pense que le dficit dans le budget a remplac un langage positif d'action sociale, de
justice sociale. Les deux ne vont pas ensemble. On peut avoir une responsabilit fiscale et importante pour
l'avenir de nos enfants, et en mme temps avoir des politiques progressistes, justes et sociales.
On permet au Canada l'exclusion de toute une gnration d'enfants
autochtones. C'est dramatique. Et on vous dit que c'est tout fait inacceptable.
Le snateur Ferretti Barth : Je pense, avec
beaucoup dhumilit, qu'il y a, au Qubec, trop d'institutions, trop d'agences qui s'occupent des enfants. Tout
le monde veut faire quelque chose. Il n'y a pas de coordination. La seule coordination quil y a cest de dire :
a, cest le territoire, cest le milieu quil faut attaquer tout de suite. Les nergies sont disperses.
Mme Karakas : Avant de me prsenter ici,
j'tais proccupe par les rponses qui venaient des problmes arrivs aprs le tsunami, en Indochine, en
Indonsie et au Sri Lanka, parce que nous avons des bureaux ces endroits. Une des premires choses qu'on fait,
c'est de coordonner qui va faire quoi et o. Je crois qu'il y a une coordination auprs des ONG, auprs des
organisations communautaires. L o on manque de coordination, dalignement, c'est dans les juridictions et les
Mais il y a aussi autre chose. J'ai dj travaill dans le secteur de la
protection des enfants Montral, et quand on voit que de plus en plus souvent, on demande moins d'exprience
aux gens qui travaillent en premire ligne, les salaires sont moindres, on demande un niveau de scolarit trs
bas et on donne une charge incroyable, je me demande o on met notre priorit. Il est possible quil y ait des
centres de services sociaux ici et l, mais les gens responsables, on peut en engager qui dtiennent des
diplmes collgiaux, et on les place dans des circonstances trs graves. Je me dis qu'on ne prend pas cela assez
au srieux au Canada.
Senator Oliver: My question is for
Ms. Karakas. A committee such as this one hears from witnesses in its deliberations after which
recommendations are determined. I want to speak about one of your recommendations. You said that we
need appropriate training of professionals on child rights, including judges, lawyers, teachers and other duty
bearers. Is that kind of training available in Canada?
Ms. Karakas: Yes, and we provide it.
Senator Oliver: Is it effective?
Ms. Karakas: It is not being
utilized. We do not have the resources but, putting that aside, we should be able to participate and
collaborate. The problem is not always funding. We have expertise in child rights and we train CIDA
and other governments.
Senator Oliver: Are members of the
superior courts of Canada in all provinces being trained?
Ms. Karakas: No, they are not obliged
to be trained. There is no requirement but we would welcome it. It is not only about money.
Senator Oliver: What about in the
provincial bar associations?
Ms. Karakas: They are being trained
on provincial and federal legislation that affects children and that is different from child rights and the
Senator Oliver: If there is training
now, what should the committee recommend?
Ms. Karakas: You should recommend
that not only training as a minimum entry to understand the convention, its linkages to the regulations or the
application of the laws of Canada in the jurisdictions in which those laws are being applied but also retraining
because the convention is a moving, living document. There are many institutes ‑‑ one in British Columbia
and one on the east coast. Ours is not the only one. The capacity exists. We are hired to train
other governments and we cannot get ourselves invited to train Canadian officials. We offered it last week
to the Ministry of Social Development under Minister Dryden.
Senator Oliver: Rather than have a
whole series of training modules, should we not have one standard module?
Ms. Karakas: There are universal
standards. The convention is the convention and you cannot deviate from it. We welcome an overseeing
of putting all of the training together and keeping the documentation and training relevant to jurisprudence.
That is also key. However, our training recommendation is also for that front line decision makers, such
as refugee boards and customs officials. We used to do a program called Right Way, which we can no
longer afford to fund, which child advocates across the country have taken. Currently we are doing an evaluation
to improve the program and take it forward. However, that is about training children in detention and
incarcerated settings about their rights. We would welcome the opportunity to train the guards. You
would not want to hear the conditions in which some children in Canada are held in protective custody. I
wonder who is protecting whom?
Senator Oliver: If we were look at
some kind of New Zealand commissioner or Swedish ombudsman model, is that where you think the power to control
the training should be, or would you like to see it decentralized and put in the territories and the regions and
Ms. Karakas: The closer it is to the
user, the better the training. We need to segregate the duty bearer, the accountability, the monitoring,
the verification and the certification. We are looking at a design on how to certify safe cocoa farms for
children. We have not talked about labour, but there are some significant child labour issues in this
country also. We recommend one body reporting to Parliament, independent of a political, if you would
like, link to the child advocates. The ombudsman notion is different from an advocate notion, and those
need to be thought through and combined. An advocate is proactive, while an ombudsman is mediating.
As the Commissioner of Official Languages has, there must be legislation
which then enables enactment so the commissioner has some capacity, just like the Auditor General has some
capacity. There has to be the ability to act, to intervene. There can be any combination of that,
and there are many models available. It does not have to be costly. However, we must sort out the
jurisdiction of the provinces and territories and the federal government. Within that, children live in
communities. They do not live in provinces. They live in villages and towns and hamlets and
municipalities. Those need to be worked through. The mayors are key to this thing.
Homelessness is very often in large urban centres.
Ms. Blackstock: I think that the
those training initiatives are key, but we need to understand a drill down more than just providing information,
and that is to take the courageous step of exploring why there have been instances of rights violations and yet
we have stood still. How have things become so normalized in our society that sometimes we do not see them
even as rights violations?
I will give you the example of the Indian Act. When an Aboriginal
child is born in Canada today, the Government of Canada goes through a process of measuring their blood quantum
to determine whether or not they are a status or non‑status Indian. If they are a status Indian pursuant
to the blood quantum measurements of the Government of Canada, a card is issued called a status card or a
registry card. That entitles that child to certain rights, but also, in law, makes that child a ward of
the Government of Canada. If I were to describe that scenario to you, you would think right that that was
the type of thing that we all courageously in this country stood against with the apartheid regime in South
Africa, and yet that has become normalized within our Canadian society. We have created a system of status
and non‑status children. To me, there should be nothing like a non‑status child. They are all status
children. All children are status children, as far as I am concerned. We need to awaken ourselves to
those things that have been comfortable and in some cases invisible, and we need to understand that as part of
our duty of vigilance. In any training program, it is part of being a courageous country that truly
embraces human rights.
Le snateur Ferretti Barth: Je vous
flicite pour votre courage au sein de lorganisme Save the Children Canada. Votre mandat est d'amliorer
immdiatement la vie des enfants en faisant connatre leurs droits. J'espre que vous allez russir le faire.
Ce sera un peu difficile, mais avec une trs bonne volont et votre enthousiasme, vous allez sans doute arriver
faire respecter les droits des enfants, quel que soit leur statut.
Madame Karakas, j'ai lu sur le site Web que vous avez recueilli 2,3 millions
pour aider les enfants victimes du tsunami en Asie du Sud‑Est. Est‑ce une donne jour?
Mme Karakas: C'est plus que cela
Le snateur Ferretti Barth: Combien
d'enfants avez‑vous pu rejoindre jusqu maintenant?
Mme Karakas: Nous en avons rejoint
775 000. Nous prenons soin de 310 000 enfants au Soudan. Nous sommes responsables de la protection des enfants
Benda Aceh et au Sri Lanka. Au Sri Lanka, nous sommes entirement responsables des besoins de 110 familles. En
Inde, nous commenons notre travail. Malheureusement, nous avons dcid de ne pas aller en Somalie parce que les
besoins ne sont pas aussi ncessaires. Nous venons d'obtenir un mandat pour tudier d'autres rgions touches
par le tsunami. Nous travaillons trs fort. Nous travaillons aussi en Afrique avec les enfants atteints du VIH/sida.
Cependant, nous ne travaillons pas assez au Canada. Nous ne pouvons pas tre
fiers de notre travail au Sri Lanka si nous ne sommes pas aussi fiers de notre travail ici.
Le snateur Ferretti Barth: Mais tout cela,
ce n'est pas directement pour chaque enfant?
Mme Karakas: Nous sommes directement
responsables de la nourriture, de la sant, de la scurit, de la scolarisation
Le snateur Ferretti Barth:
Mme Karakas: Oui, nous sommes
oprationnels. Nous fournissons les services. Au Canada, nous ne sommes pas oprationnels, nous travaillons avec
d'autres groupes et ceux-ci nous aident amliorer notre travail afin que nous puissions continuer.
We provide direct services operationally around the world.
Le snateur Ferretti Barth: tes-vous
responsables de lenfant jusqu' ce quil soit autonome?
Mme Karakas: Jusqu' ce quil ait atteint
l'ge de 18 ans.
The Deputy Chairman: What value added
will it be to our committee to hear from young people?
Ms. Blackstock: This is who it is all
about. This is what the convention is supposed to be. Not only does it talk about youth
participation, but I think those who are most qualified to speak about their rights and the perception of how
rights are fulfilled are the children and young people themselves. I would strongly urge the committee to
reach out to the Assembly of First Nations, the ITK, the friendship centres, the National Metis Council and
invite their youth to come and address you directly. I think that you will also see an ember of hope
there. They are absolutely brilliant. Despite all the barriers, these are talented young people who
want to make a difference, not only for Aboriginal people but for all Canadians. I truly do hope the
committee has the opportunity to meet these young people.
Ms. Karakas: I would echo that.
One of the fundamental rights is the right to a voice, self expression, self‑determination. We believe
that young people need appropriate intervention and not tokenism. I know that this committee, under your
leadership, would not make it tokenism. They should be heard, and they have valuable things to say.
I would be more than happy to offer our services, if required, for organizing. Child participation has to
be on of the pillars of childrens rights where our society expands. Children must be seen and not heard,
therefore children have no rights. Children must be encouraged and welcomed to participate in an effective
manner. Your committee would benefit enormously.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you for
that reassurance. As you know, I agree with you, but I think it is helpful for all of us to come to the
conclusion that it will be important.
Thank you, both of you, your participation has added greatly to the ideas
that we will pursue. I hope you will be keeping watch on us, on CPAC. Next week, we will continue to
hear from witnesses from the extraordinary organizations out there.
Ms. Karakas: This is very encouraging
for us. Not only will we watch, but if you need further information and further details, we had limited
time in putting our presentation together, so we would be more than happy to make further information available
The committee adjourned.