Lock up your children!

There are indications the provincial government may be introducing controversial legislation that will allow authorities to detain at-risk youths against their will. And that has civil liberty and youth advocacy groups concerned. The idea dates back to when the New Democrats were in power. In 2000, the party passed just such a bill amidst protests from those groups.

"We fear that these powers will result in civil liberties violations and long-term detriment to those who need help most," wrote then British Columbia Civil Liberties Association policy director Murray Mollard in an editorial published in The Vancouver Sun.

But that legislation - which would have created an independent board that could detain youths in danger of sexual exploitation, drug addiction or other forms of self-harm - was never proclaimed into the law.

The Liberals watered down the concept in 2004, proposing a court-administered system focusing on youth in prostitution.

But that proposal, which would have decreased the maximum detention time from the 100 days allowed in the New Democrats' legislation to 30 days, was shelved. Now, five years later, the ministry of children and family development has dusted-off the idea - which was modeled after an Alberta law.

In June, Public Eye filed a freedom of information request for any and all records from 2009 that referenced proclaiming the New Democrats' old Secure Care Act, introducing the Liberals' shelved Safe Care Act or bringing forward similar legislation.

The response: an $895 fee assessment for the "search, retrieval and production" of those records.

That means the government is talking about the issue behind closed doors. But they're not saying much in public.

"I am not going to comment on legislation that may be introduced - but certainly this form of legislation has been considered for a number of years and it's something we continue to examine," said Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak.

Nevertheless, what little Public Eye has been able to find out has advocates worried.

"We don't believe that forced confinement works. We think it's not the way to help girls out on the street," said Asia Czapska, who works with the Vancouver-based non-profit Justice for Girls.

"I think rather than going after the abusers, this government has taken the completely harmful approach of going after the girls."

For her part, the civil liberties association's present policy director Micheal Vonn said the fact the government is even considering the "militarized capture of children" is "absolutely of significant concern."

"A government program that essentially involves detention of youth to prevent 'high-risk behaviour' is absolutely unconscionable in the absence of a working network of voluntary services (for those children)."

2 Comments

Grrr. Asking advocates to comment when you admittedly have very little information about what's actually happening is, in my opinion, a bit irresponsible and sensationalist. This is what bugs me about most responses in the mainstream media to political goings-on... they're based on incomplete information and appeal to emotion rather than reason. I expect better from Public Eye!

Hmm... if the press waited to get "complete" information before they ever published anything, we'd never have any news reported. And it would be a pretty powerful disincentive for transparency if the media simply played along and said nothing anytime government decided it would rather keep secrets from the public.

Really, the issue here is government's failure to be up-front about what's being considered before it becomes a fait accompli - once again! An $895 FOI fee is plainly outrageous and tantamount to refusal to honour the spirit of the Act. But as Sean reported, both the FOI response and the Minister's cmments basically confirmed (perhaps unintentionally) that the new Minister IS actually considering such controversial legislation once again - and that alone is certainly newsworthy.

This is clearly a highly sensitive issue - so why not tread carefully by giving the public and stakeholders the heads-up and an opportunity to offer advice and direction before going anywhere with it?

In such a context, it is entirely appropriate for the media to raise red flags, IMHO. The Minister has the entire Public Affairs Bureau at her disposal to provide more complete information and, if necessary, to set the record straight.

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