Out of frame

A Canadian submission to the United Nations omits key information in its reporting on measures taken to protect child rights in British Columbia, according to the province's independent children and youth representative. Under international law, the submission - which covers the period from 1998 to 2007 - is supposed to indicate any "factor or difficulties" affecting a country's compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But, in response to an interview request from Public Eye, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said its section on British Columbia "misses the biggest things or doesn't frame the issues in quite the way I think they need to be framed."

As an example, the representative said the submission doesn't address the "poor reporting on outcomes" for children and youth - especially those of aboriginal descent. Nor does it acknowledge they don't have a "voice in important proceedings around family breakdown, child welfare and so on," violating article 12 of the convention.

The report does trumpet the creation of Ms. Turpel-Lafond's office - something she said is "important. But this is a report for the period of up to 2007. They don't mention they shutdown the children's commission during that same period. Boy, that escaped attention...I don't think the reporting is very fair."

Also escaping attention, according to the representative, is "any mention kids that are in state-care really have nowhere to go outside the ministry when they have a complaint. They have no forum apart from some advocacy" by her office.

And Ms. Turpel-Lafond said he takes "umbrage" with the submission seemingly suggesting the province has a child rights education program by referencing a pilot project that was launched in 2006 called Rights 2 Success.

"There's no child rights education program in B.C. There's no child rights standards. There's nothing in the schools on the convention unless the UNICEF brings in some material."

"What this report says to me as a whole - the whole 200 pages together - is why it's so important not only to have an independent office here but to have a national children's commissioner" who can verify the information included in such submissions.

"This type of report runs a great risk because what if this is inaccurate?" she continued, noting its national embarrassment when a report such as this touts a youth advisory council that was abolished by British Columbia in April.

"There are some good things to report, to be sure," she said, making specific reference to Coquitlam's Cape Horn Elementary School, which bills itself as North America's first child-rights respecting school. "But this convention has not really landed in British Columbia other than through lip service."


Ms Turpel Lafond's appointment is the one act that Premier Campbell and his government can really be proud of - the one area where they unquestionably did the right thing for BC's children and youth. But a single appointment is not enough to address our responsibility re the rights and welfare of BC's children's.

I guess like most people, they just assume that we are a modern, progressive society so there's no need to pay much attention.

On November 20 this year, as the world marked international children's day and the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, no one in the BC government, from the Premier and the Children's Minister on down, even bothered to issue a simple statement or to mark this important occasion in any way. Ms Turpel Lafond was the only one who seemed to notice. Compare this to our lavish decade-long build-up and all the fanfare around the 2010 Olympic Games.

I asked the principal and teachers at my child's school if they were familiar with the Convention, or at least the parts of it that specifically apply to education rights - none had ever even read it in its 20-year history, far less made any effort to teach their students what their rights were.

British Columbians' widespread assumptions that we don't need children's rights because we're beyond that simply don't stand up to the facts.

Sure we have a higher average standard of living and economy, but those averages disguise the shame of having the highest child poverty rate in Canada.

And yes we have a world-class public education system, but that hides abysmal graduation rates for many sub-groups - in some districts, almost 80% of Aboriginal students drop out before graduating. Many other vulnerable kids are also failing or falling through the cracks and the province is doing less and less to identify and track such failures.

Our kids are our future. Nothing else matters if we fail them. And we won't know if we're doing that if we're not paying attention.

It is really disturbing that this report mentions but does explain that changes to BC's child labour laws actually lowered the work-start age to 12 and reduced employment standards for under 15s. One can't help but think the writer was deliberately trying to obfuscate an embarrassing truth.

I wonder how the next report will deal with the fact that work-related accepted injury claims for 12 - 14 years olds have increased 10-fold since the law changed.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond is right to call for a national children's commissioner.

The report adds insult to injury for BC's children and youth and those who advocate for them.

Dawn, Is this a case of "the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions", or did Gordon Campbell never really have the intent to improve the situation of BC children living in poverty? Or is it both? Take your pick, because either way they don't deserve to be in gov't!

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