Careful, this watchdog bites

Yesterday, British Columbia's chief and youth officer distributed an open letter asking for a "complete and public retraction" from provincial New Democrat MLA Maurine Karagianis. At issue: a suggestion by the children and family development critic that Jane Morley gave the public "exactly what the government told her to" in a report recently released by her office. In her letter, Ms. Morley writes that suggestion constitutes "an attack on my integrity that is completely unacceptable and unfounded." But this isn't the first time Ms. Morley has moved to protect her reptuation and that of the office she holds.

Back in March 2005, when three former senior provincial officials released a letter expressing their concerns about British Columbia's child protection system, Ms. Morley penned a column in which she wrote, "It is simply untrue to say that I 'answer to the attorney general,' as one of the three authors stated in a CBC interview...I am free to say publicly what I think about government-funded services for children, youth and families, or about any other issue related to children and youth. I have not, in the two years I have held this position, felt threatened in this independence or been directed by the attorney general in how to fulfil my statutory responsibilities."

Then, about a year later, came this article by The Province's Michael Smyth: "In an earlier column, I was critical of Morley's performance as a watchdog...saying she wasn't digging her teeth hard enough into the government's backside. But I believe now, after speaking at length with her, that I was the one who sunk my fangs in too deeply. I want to correct several important points from that column and retract any wrong impressions." The column concluding with Mr. Smyth writing "I regret that I went after her the way I did. It didn't do justice to her record, and it did little to help the voiceless victims of a broken system."

The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned open letter to Ms. Karagianis.

***
October 24, 2006

OPEN LETTER TO MAURINE KARAGIANIS, M.L.A.

In an article by Jeff Rud, Youth officer calls for 'multi-agency teams' Vancouver Sun, B06 - October 24, 2006 and Multi-agency teams could prevent deaths Times Colonist, A02 - October 24, 2006, you are quoted as saying of my report: "It's given us exactly what the government told her to." This echoes a voice clip on CBC radio 12:00 pm October 23, 2006, in which you stated with reference to me: "I think she's narrowed in and tried to give us exactly what the government told her to."

You are of course entitled to criticize my report. The columnist Les Leyne, and a few other journalists, do not like the "beyond blame" approach that I have taken in this report and during my tenure as the Child and Youth Officer. Fair enough. I am always prepared to discuss and debate my approach to influencing child welfare reforms. Your statements, however, constitute an attack on my integrity that is completely unacceptable and unfounded.

An obligation to function independently is an overriding responsibility that infuses and encompasses my role as Child and Youth Officer, including in conducting the investigation and preparing the report into the circumstances surrounding the continued placement of the brother and other children in the home of the caregivers where the Nuu-chah-nulth child died. To suggest otherwise, as you have done, is to impugn my character, and you have done so without a shred of evidence to substantiate your assertion.

The Attorney General, to whom in accordance with the provisions of the Office for Children and Youth Act my report was directed, understood my independence. At my specific request in November 2005, the Attorney General set terms of reference for my investigation and report. At no time was I "told" by the Attorney General, or any other government official, how to conduct my investigation or what to say in my report.

I was provided, at my request, with additional and sufficient funds to retain outside counsel and to interview the witnesses and to conduct a thorough investigation. My 135-page report of that investigation contains what I decided was necessary and most significant after consideration of evidence from many files and other records, from the examinations of 31 witnesses and from representations received from individuals and organizations potentially affected by my report.

The report, which was delivered to the Attorney General on September 29, 2006, was my report alone. It was not driven in any way by what anyone within government "told" me to say. On October 20, the Attorney General made public my complete report, as I wrote it and as I delivered it to him.

In the circumstances, I expect from you a complete and public retraction.

Yours truly,

Jane Morley, Q.C.
Child & Youth Officer
Province of British Columbia

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