Leading the blind?

Last year, a leading advocacy group warned the federal government that British Columbia had introduced legislation "weakening child labour protections." But a recent Canadian submission to the United Nations included the regulatory change accompanying that legislation in a list of measures protecting children from economic exploitation.

First Call included the warning in a July 2008 briefing requested by the federal government's heritage department. The briefing was meant to inform that submission, which reported on Canada's progress in meeting international child rights laws between 1998 and 2007.

"We realize the following list focus on identified shortcomings and concerns, as these were the matters that were top of mind for our partners, many of whom work with populations of vulnerable and disadvantage children and youth" wrote First Call, which represents more than 90 non-governmental organizations.

"We want to acknowledge at the outest that we understand there are many areas where Canada and individual provinces have made good progress in upholding children's rights oh through policy and practice during the reporting period, and we fully expect these advances will be detailed in Canada's report."

But its section on British Columbia, which was prepared by the provincial government, includes nothing but apparent advances - despite international expectations that such reports should indicate any "factor or difficulties" affecting a country's compliance with the convention.

Among the factors First Call wanted to see covered were child poverty, low levels of support and services for young children and youths, as well as a "review of the weakening of child labour protections in British Columbia (Bill 37, 2003)."

At that time, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative criticized that bill and the regulatory amendment accompanying it for making British Columbia "the most child labour-friendly jurisdiction in North America."

But that amendment was included in Canada's submission to the United Nations as one of two measures listed under the heading "Protection (of children) from economic exploitation" - something First Call provincial coordinator Adrienne Montani has called "disingenuous."

Speaking on Public Eye Radio yesterday, Ms. Montani said that change "puts children at risk. But they don't mention that and it makes it look like somehow we have done something to improve, or it's implied that improvements were in it, when we actually went backwards."

In an earlier interview, British Columbia's children and youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond had also criticized the submission. And Public Eye had identified a number of programs promoted in the report that have since been cut by the Campbell administration.

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