Silent threat

Astute readers will remember that, last year, the provincial government appointed respected former jurist and conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes to head an independent review into British Columbia's much criticized child protection system. As part of that review, Mr. Hughes received more than 200 public submissions commenting on the state of that system. But don't expect to be able to read those submissions without the assistance of a freedom of information request. In an interview with your humble organ, the review executive director Maureen Nicholls confirmed the documents won't be made public.

"It was really a decision in terms of people feeling that they could be more fulsome if their privacy was maintained. And we heard a number of people from the community express a similar view. And we thought that - if we wanted to get their views and if wanted to encourage people to make submissions - we needed to give them a sense of security."

And why do they feel the need for that security? "I would only be speculating. But my sense is there was some sense of unease (by social service agencies) in terms of the ministry knowing," their views, said Ms. Nicholls. Although she added, "I'm presume that's mostly perceptual. But I don't know." Nevertheless, such perceptions are a damning comment on the government's present relationship with those agencies.

2 Comments

If it's possible some social service agencies wouldn't make submissions for fear of government action against them, I can live with that. If they didn't put in submissions out of fear, we are living in a police state News media folks of course won't be pleased so let them do freedom of Information and possibly hurt the folks from the agencies.

Ted Hughes is a honest, and as sharp as a tack man. Not a devious bone or idea in his system. If he writes a report, well that's good enough for me. A real square shooter in my view. and we didn't make that up. We need more Ted Hughes checking up on things and reporting exactly what he sees.

The climate of fear in this sector has been astonishng but very evident since I became involved in advocacy related to MCFD cuts and restructuring in 2001.

Some service providers will discuss the fear factor in private; others cope by shutting their eyes & keeping a low profile. I've often received information and documents from people who don't feel safe bringing to public attention themselves; insiders have repeatedly encouraged me to raise issues that they don't feel safe raising publicly.

As an individual parent, I've never personally experienced anything to justify such fear but I do know agencies that have been vocal & have been punished for it. In one infamous incident, the former Deputy Minister called Board members of one agency at home and threatened them if they did not cooperate with "voluntary" budget cuts. There have been veiled threats about agencies losing their contracts if they don't toe the line.

I've also heard many other parents say they are afraid to stand up & complain publicly about service cuts or denial of services for fear of retribution. Family advocacy groups have raised this concern repeatedly with MCFD officials.

Fear factors aside, there has been little or no point in raising concerns about MCFD's approach of restructuring and budget cuts in recent years. Unless you're singing the party line, you'd simply be dismissed as a contrarian anyway.

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