Annual Report 2009March 14, 2010
The year of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
1989 was an important year in the history of the world. It was the year when the nations of the world sat down together and agreed that a child is a person with individual rights. They agreed what those rights would be and described them in some detail in the Convention.
This year, in celebration of that achievement, the International Secretariat of Defence for Children International published a history of child rights in action. It was also the 30th year since the founding of DCI as an international movement to protect the rights of children.
Governments which ratify the agreement signify their determination to ensure that their domestic laws meet the standards set in the Convention. Kay Castelle of DCI-USA edited an illustrated edition entitled,“In the Child’s Best Interest.” It was edited and published in Canada with the title, “Children have rights too!” It is available in English and French, and provides easy access to the text of an amazing international document. I should note that our stock of this publication has diminished and have recommended to the Board that we consider the need to raise funds and print a new edition.
The 20th Anniversary, November 20, 2009, was an exciting opportunity to honour the Convention and an opportunity for DCI-Canada to propose a public celebration in the Province of Ontario. The Office of the Provincial Child Advocate helped a number of youth representatives to come to Toronto to speak in support of the Convention. The Day of the Child was proclaimed in the Legislature of Ontario at an all-party occasion when political differences were laid aside. The City of Toronto also held a session in City Hall and presented one of our youth representatives with an elegant plaque at a meeting for which children and youth filled the Council chamber. It was a party!
Whoever chose “Child Rights in Action” as a title for the story of DCI was inspired… It explains the special factor that makes DCI unique among N.G.O’s. We are an independent, grassroots human rights organization with a mission to promote and protect the rights of the child through concerted international action. As I looked back over the year, it was amazing to see how closely we have followed the mandate of the Convention in our pursuit of national or international initiatives.
In 2009, Defence for Children International-Canada argued the right of the child to be heard (article 12 of the Covention) and was granted standing at the Goudge Inquiry into serious flaws in the pediatric forensic pathology system in Ontario. Justice Goudge heard our plea that we would bring special expertise to the proceedings and could serve as a voice for children who are rarely, if ever, given an opportunity to speak their views. We were able to support a youth advisory group and bring the voices and recommendations of young people to the Inquiry.
In his report, Judge Goudge specifically recognized the pain and anguish felt by children who were separated from their families and homes because of the wrongful conviction or prosecution of a parent. Unfortunately, despite the sensitivity of the Judge and reassurances from the Minister responsible, we are still waiting for evidence that the Province will consider compensation and mediated resolutions for the individual children whose lives were turned upside down. Just imagine if you were told your mother had killed your sibling. You were then removed from everything familiar to you and placed in a foster home or adopted by another family. There is no process to let you know that the charges against your mother have been withdrawn. There is no process to let you have choices about your life. There is no way in which you are compensated for the harm done to you.
Until these issues are addressed, justice has not been done.
The annual Lowery lecture in 2009 was delivered by Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. Her passion and pain touched the audience and brought strong reaction when she talked about a little community on the shores of James Bay named Attawapiskat. The school that the children attended was shut down after an extensive leakage of diesel fuel a number of years ago and replaced by some temporary buildings that were quite inadequate to meet the needs of the child population. The key role of education in fostering the positive future of children in a northern community was ignored.
Cindy has been working hard to disturb the consciences of Government ministers and has received a handful of empty promises. She is a tireless champion for First Nations children. Her efforts on behalf of the children at Attawapiskat have elicited a result from the Minister for Indian Affairs and he has made another promise that the school will be built. The circus goes on.
At the time we began to be involved with the story of Attawapiskat, Cindy filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging that the federal government’s funding formula for child welfare on reserves is discriminatory. Her claim has been supported by the federal Auditor-General. We went to hear her opening statements to the Human Rights Commission and it was hard not to be impressed by the case she painstakingly made. It’s was obvious that the Commissioner was listening well and he showed frustration at the efforts of Government to slow the process down.
After adjournment we marked our calendars with the date when the hearing would resume. In our ignorance and naivety, we looked forward to the next stage. There was no next stage. The Government is trying to put an end to the hearing by raising questions about the jurisdiction of the Commission to review the case. In my view that is a mockery of justice and human rights.
We have to feel deeply for Cindy and the First Nations people she represents. We feel deeply ashamed that our country allows such games to be played at huge expense in a court of Human Rights. We feel sad for children who were taking the promises in the Convention seriously. Our first response to the situation was anger and disbelief and the realization that this is one more example of the traditional attitude of discrimination and neglect that has characterized Canada’s treatment of its aboriginal peoples. We had to find some course of action to channel our energy. Our second response was to collect material that would be useful to the mothers and children of Attawapiskat and ship it up. The delivery route goes via Moosenee and then by truck on the temporary ice road or by the charitable partnership of an air transport service. We have sent one shipment that was readily accepted. There is another one waiting to go. It is an expensive project but it is better than doing nothing. It is Child Rights in Action.
Another issue that has troubled our sleep has been the matter of tasers. Everybody must surely have heard reports from the Braidwood Commission on the death of the Polish visitor in Vancouver. His screams still disturb the dreams of many people who listened to the television news. It seemed so long ago and far away that we picked up the news story of a 14 year old girl who was tasered in a cell at Sioux Lookout to make her stop pulling paper off the walls. We pursued that story and were told that it was under investigation and could not be discussed but we would be informed when the investigation was complete.
When the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services established a committee to advise him on the use of tasers, DCI-Canada petitioned the Minister to allow young people to address the committee and he agreed. We attended the committee accompanied by three young men who wanted some answers about what right the police had to use an instrument of torture to force compliance from children. They spoke eloquently about the fact that the use of tasers was a violation of many Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that the effect of a taser attack on immature nervous systems was unknown and could result in permanent negative consequences. The young people also pointed out that the use of tasers created further barriers between youth and the police and suggested that training in developing methods of reaching out and engaging young people was a more effective approach.
We had a very good and courteous hearing at the committee and we hope that they heard the young men talk about how their response to police activity was shaped by the attitude and respect they received.
Child Rights in Action is another reason why DCI-Canada has renewed its membership of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of the Child. We waited a long time for Canada to table its overdue report on the measures which it has adopted to give effect to the Convention. When it was tabled, it left out facts on the real conditions that face some children in our country, including first Nations children, young people involved in our justice system and children who live in poverty. DCI-Canada is working with Justice for Children to address the issues of children in conflict with the law. Our work will become part of an overall report to be submitted by the CCRC.
All indications point to an increasingly punitive approach to young people as part of the federal government’s “law and order” platform. In spite of reductions in the youth crime rate and ignoring strong evidence that supports alternative approaches for young offenders the federal government seems determined to ignore its commitment to the Convention which calls for countries to “recognize the right of the child who has infringed penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the child’s sense of dignity and worth which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others.”
At the provincial level there is growing concern about the treatment of young people at the recently opened Roy McMurtry Centre. When the facility was in the planning stages, DCI spoke out against housing so many youth together in a large institution and proposed smaller settings as an alternative. We also talked about programs which focused on relationship rather than “command and control”. It will be a tragedy if the new Roy McMurtry Centre loses its inspiration and repeats the violent story of the Toronto Youth Assessment Centre that was closed as a result of the Meffe inquest.
We were pleased this year to have a visit from the President of DCI, Rifat Odeh Kassis. It reminded us that we are part of a strong international movement committed to the rights of children. Following his visit, Rifat’s report to the other DCI sections was full of praise for the work of DCI-Canada.
Much of the work of DCI-Canada takes place in partnership with others. This year we supported MPP Lisa McLeod’s efforts to establish a Children’s Bill of Rights for Ontario. As a private members’ Bill it was not passed in the Legislature but Lisa was successful in having individual MPPs from the other parties speak in support of her initiative.
We also supported the efforts of Jeffery Wilson, a well known lawyer who has repeated his amazing success in persuading renowned jurists and experts on law to deliver practical, informational sessions on the Law and Youth for some of the least advantaged youth in our community. The sessions help young people to appreciate their rights and take action when they are violated.
The 30th anniversary of DCI has been a busy year for a hardworking board of volunteers, which has kept up the traditions that we inherited from the pioneers of the movement. I have some pride in introducing this report, but please don’t relax. The rights of First Nations children are in jeopardy to national and provincial neglect, the rights of young offenders are under severe threat from the ignorance of authorities who believe that you can beat goodness into children, and we will need to have a strong board with firm convictions to maintain and strengthen the protection that the Convention was intended to provide. Please join us in any way that you can reinforce our efforts to make the world fit for all children.