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THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
First Session, Thirty-eighth Parliament, 2004-05
Hearings: OTTAWA, Monday, June 6, 2005 4 p.m. - Issue No. 15 - Thirteenth meeting on:
Examine and report upon Canadas obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children.
MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE
The Honourable A. Raynell Andreychuk, Chair
The Honourable Landon Pearson, Deputy Chair
The Honourable Senators:
*Austin, P.C. (or Rompkey, P.C.), Baker, P.C., Carstairs, P.C., Ferretti Barth, *Kinsella (or Stratton), LeBreton, Losier-Cool, Oliver, Poy
*Ex officio members
Claude Rocan, Director General, Centre for Healthy Human Development, Population and Public Health Branch;
Kelly Stone, Director, Division of Childhood and Adolescence;
Dawn Walker, Special Adviser, Strategic, Planning and Analysis, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada:
Daniel Jean, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Program Development;
Brian Grant, Director General, Strategic Policy and Partnerships.
OTTAWA, Monday, June 6, 2005
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 4 p.m. to examine and report upon Canada's international obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children.
Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chairman) in the chair.
The Chairman: Honour senators, first, I must ask you to forgive my voice. I just got it back this morning and it is not in full form yet. It will be difficult to listen to me, but hopefully we will be listening to the minister.
Minister Dosanjh, Minister of Health Canada, is here as a witness, along with staff from the ministry who no doubt he will introduce in due course. We are here to examine and report upon Canada's international obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children, including covering the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh, P.C., M.P., Minister of Health Canada: With me today is Claude Rocan, Director General, Centre for Healthy Human Development, Population and Public Health Branch, Health Canada, Kelly Stone, Director of Childhood and Adolescence for the Public Health Agency, and Dawn Walker, a visiting adviser to the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada.
Mr. Dosanjh: I thank honourable senators for this chance to reinforce our commitment to advancing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a priority and area for action since Canada joined the international community at the World Summit for Children. At that summit governments pledged to give every child on the planet the prospect of a better future.
Our response to the UN convention is A Canada Fit for Children. Successive federal investments, prior to and since the adoption of A Canada Fit for Children, in 2004, ensure that our youngest citizens get a good start in life and that their families have the tools they need to care for and nurture their children.
Through these investments, the Government of Canada is increasing access to quality health care and promoting physical activity and sport as part of healthy living. We are enhancing financial assistance for children in poor families to end the cycle of poverty. We are supporting Aboriginal communities so that Aboriginal children can take full advantage of the opportunities Canada has to offer. We are strengthening our capacity to protect children from abuse and exploitation in all its forms. We are providing special support to families caring for severely disabled children, and increasing access to early learning opportunities and quality childcare for all Canadian families, the starting point for lifelong success.
Federal responsibility for the implementation of the convention rests jointly with the family law section of the Department of Justice Canada and the division of children and adolescence within the Public Health Agency of Canada which reports to me as Minister of Health. The two groups coordinate the drafting of periodic reports to the UN on the implementation and monitoring of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our next report is due in 2009. I would like to highlight just a few of the activities contained within the report which focus on our health and childhood development initiatives for Canada's children.
As Dr. Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of State for Public Health explained when she appeared before this committee, our children's programs include the Community Action Program for Children, the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program, and Aboriginal Head Start in urban and northern communities. These community-based programs support families and strengthen communities, promote healthy lives, protect children from harm and encourage education and learning.
The Public Health Agency of Canada also promotes effective parenting programs such as Nobody's Perfect, the Postpartum Parent Support Program, and the National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder initiative. Our Centres of Excellence for Children's Well Being are involved in research in these areas and new knowledge will translate into better outcomes for Canada's children.
All of our programs target the most vulnerable of Canada's children, Aboriginal children, and a key area of responsibility for my department. Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch fulfills a federal role in the provision of public health services such as immunization for First Nations children living on reserve, as well as providing primary health care delivery in remote and isolated communities for First Nations children.
The branch also implements community-based programs dedicated to serving children and their families in First Nations and Inuit communities such as Aboriginal Head Start On Reserve, and First Nations and Inuit components of the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program and the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Program. In addition to these programs, our Brighter Futures program assists First Nations and Inuit communities in developing culturally appropriate programs for community mental health, child development, injury prevention, parenting and healthy babies.
The 2005 budget includes funding for maternal, child health, and early childhood development. These are important upstream investments. Although it is difficult to make a causal link, we are hopeful that the dramatic decline in First Nations infant mortality, from 27.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1979 to 6.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000, is due in part to the work of successive governments to reduce Aboriginal health disparities.
We can point to concrete results that demonstrate measurable progress. Our enhanced funding for the Aboriginal Head Start On Reserve program, for example, has meant an increase of almost 2,000 children and 47 more project sites involved in the program over the past three years. The measurable results and increased funding indicate the governments' recognition that we need to do more to provide Aboriginal children in this country with the best possible start and ongoing quality of life.
Credit for the success of our efforts to create a Canada fit for children must be shared with our partners. We work with provincial and regional health authorities, health and social services professionals, the voluntary sector, Canadian families and Aboriginal communities to help ensure that children grow up in safe and supportive environments.
Productive partnerships with the provinces and territories are integral to our ability to fulfill Canada's commitments under the CRC. We work closely together to complement and reinforce each others' activities to ensure that no child is left behind.
A prime example of these partnerships is the early learning and child care initiative. We have witnessed great strides in pushing this agenda forward in recent weeks. Prime Minister Martin and Social Development Minister Dryden have reached agreements in principle with five provinces on early learning and child care. These provinces are capitalizing on the budget commitment of $5 billion over five years to start building a system of early learning and childcare in every province and territory in the country.
Out of this $5 billion, $100 million has been set aside for First Nations on reserve, to continue to work in partnership with them to find practical solutions that address on reserve, early learning and childcare needs. The infusion of these new federal funds will make a huge difference in increasing the availability of quality childcare, which is essential to optimal child development.
Another reflection of our commitment to partnerships that benefit Canada's children is the 10-year plan to strengthen health care in Canada, an agreement reached among ministers last September. All governments agreed to accelerate primary health care renewal so that 50 per cent of the population, including children, have access to comprehensive primary health care services 24/7 by 2011.
One of the many positive outcomes of the 10-year plan is the public health goals process. Dr. Bennett reports that in every province she has visited, of the six themes covered under the health goals process, the first theme is caring for Canada's children. This confirms for me just how committed Canadians are to changing the world for the better for our children. We know we can leave no greater legacy to the future than a country filled with healthy, happy, well cared for children who will build the society and economy of tomorrow.
We need to concede that not all children currently share equally in this vision. To help us to better understand and respond to these children's needs, the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect provides a more precise picture of the extent of the challenges confronting this country's most vulnerable children.
The data from the study increases public and professional awareness of the types and severity of child abuse and neglect. It also provides scientifically sound research for the development of policies and programs aimed at preventing child maltreatment, a priority under the CRC.
We collected data for the second cycle of the incidence study during 2003, which involved some 10,000 investigations into child maltreatment at 63 sites across the country, including eight First Nations sites. The data will be used to increase our knowledge of maltreatment among Canadian children and to address a key concern expressed by the UN. Analysis is underway and we expect to issue a final report later this year.
The fact that child abuse and neglect is so prevalent reinforces our belief that we need to work harder to ensure that all of Canada's children have an equal chance to grow up healthy, secure, and able to achieve their full potential.
We must also continue to work in concert with the provinces and territories to ensure that we meet these needs and our international obligations. The CRC acknowledges that each state must determine how best to comply with its obligations, given that each is organized differently and approaches may vary. Meeting the health needs of Canada's children, therefore, depends on the strong partnership between the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
I was happy to be in India on April 7, 2005, World Health Day. This year's theme was healthy mothers and children. The title of the study was "Make Every Mother and Child Count.'' To mark World Health Day, the Public Health Agency of Canada released a report on maternal and child health in Canada. That report showed that overall the health of mothers and children in Canada is among the best in the world. Even so, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must recognize emerging challenges and existing health disparities, including growing numbers of preterm births, rising obesity rates and the health gap faced by poor nations.
In this context, Minister Carroll also announced $90 million to help improve maternal and child health in developing countries.
In concluding my formal remarks, I wish to pay tribute to the extraordinary public service of Senator Pearson and all committee members who are so clearly dedicated to advancing the rights and well-being of our youngest citizens. Thanks to the efforts and valuable initiatives I have touched on very briefly in my presentation, I am optimistic the legacy we leave to the next generation will be one of which we can all be proud.
Senator Pearson: Minister, we are very pleased to have you before us and to once again have on the record the joint obligation of both your department and the Department of Justice for the implementation of the convention.
We are here to study our obligations to children's rights and freedoms. In your presentation you spoke more about needs than rights. The convention says that the children have the right to the best possible health, and that may help us to look at this subject from a slightly different perspective.
What is your response to the difference between a rights-based approach to children's health and a needs-based approach to children's health? There is a distinction. Your department has huge responsibilities for ensuring the first as much as the second.
Further, with respect to the report to the committee, while our third and fourth reports are due in 2009 , we are collapsing nine years of experience and given your considerable knowledge of federal-provincial relations and challenges, it is clear that this work should start almost immediately. Have you begun that process?
Lastly, cabinet adopted "A Canada Fit for Children'' document upon which we are to report. Has that begun? I know that is a big question. We are very interested in your opinion.
Mr. Dosanjh: Let met deal with the first question and then the officials may wish to respond as well.
This report came out in April 2004. I was still running for Parliament at that time. Officials told me this morning that I must read this from cover to cover. I have not been able to do so yet, but I will soon.
In terms of the report, they can tell you what work they are doing. I do agree that when you use language such as "needs-based'' or "rights-based,'' there are distinctions. In my view, these kinds of rights are never abstract. You have to determine to what level certain needs ought to be met, and that becomes, by definition, a right, if that is how you perceive it.
I recognize that if you approach it from the view of rights first, you might end up with stronger machinery to deal with those issues. I take your point, but I think we need to work based on needs, keeping in mind that people, children in particular, have rights. We want to ensure that we think in terms of those rights. If we think that a section of society has certain rights, that will force us to ensure that we live up to the obligation of complying with those rights.
I recognize the distinction you are making. I will let one of the officials answer the question with respect to the reports.
Ms. Kelly Stone, Director, Division of Childhood and Adolescence, Health Canada: The Division of Childhood and Adolescence of the Department of Justice family law area takes the lead in coordination for reporting. It is a challenging task because none of us have a special function or area entirely devoted to monitoring and preparing the report, so we have to do that in a collaborative way. We have an interdepartmental committee that we have worked with for a number of years. Indeed, it helped us prepare for the last report and the appearance of Canada's delegation before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva in 2003. We have kept that group together and continued to work collaboratively. We meet from time to time to compare notes on a variety of initiatives within our respective departments and, in the case of the Department of Justice, with draft legislative initiatives. Heritage Canada has a federal-provincial-territorial committee that allows us to work on the more mechanical aspects of drawing together.
As you might imagine, drawing together the work of all the provinces and the territories against that of the federal government is a daunting task. If we wait until the end to try to do that, it will be too difficult. We get together periodically, mostly by teleconference, and try to keep ourselves in line as we move forward in the report.
I fully expect that the Department of Justice and Health Canada will take the lead for the next report. We will do the best we can to monitor our progress on the key initiatives before we have to start drafting the report.
Senator Pearson: Time goes quickly. It is only three years.
Ms. Stone: I know, and it is at least a two-year job to get the report ready.
Senator Pearson: We had a very interesting presentation from New Zealand's Children's Commissioner, Dr. Cynthia Cairo. She has a statutory obligation to listen to children. As you prepare the report, we would like you to consider that you have a statutory obligation to ensure that children have had an opportunity to take part.
Ms. Dawn Walker, Special Advisor, Strategic Policy, Planning and Analysis, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada: I could add a little to the rights-versus-needs discussion from the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. We work on the assumption that a child has the right to attain his or her fullest development, to receive health care and all the other rights articulated in A Canada Fit for Children and in the previous convention and to live with his or her family. We are working toward the fulfillment of those rights within the challenges of North versus South, and within the challenges of a history, that I am sure Cindy Blackstock talked to you about in terms of residential school experiences, the legacy of colonialism and that type of thing.
Senator Oliver: Yes, she did.
Ms. Walker: The developing programs recognize that a developing child has these rights. We are looking for the best way to put in supports and services so that children can develop in the best way, as they have a right to.
Senator Carstairs: My questions are in an entirely different area. First, we do not meet our obligations to the CRC on the basis of section 43 of the Criminal Code. We still allow the corporal punishment of children. The Minister of Justice is on the record as saying he does not intend to repeal that section.
What, if anything, is being done in to change attitudes? We know that parents who are well educated about alternative means of disciplining their children do not tend to use corporal punishment.
Mr. Dosanjh: This debate has been going on for some time. I have not been involved in it. This question from you is my first brush with this topic. I would be happy to consider your views and then talk to the Minister of Justice, and see where we stand on that subject.
Ms. Stone: We have an amazing opportunity within our national children's programs. I spoke to that when I was here with Minister Bennett. We have nearly 1,000 projects reaching some 7,000 communities across the country that provide us with a network in which to reach at-risk families and parents, particularly with respect to child abuse, to which section 43 would speak.
Using our huge network, we have worked very hard to promulgate the Nobody's Perfect program, which includes a series of booklets and a training manual that is focus tested at the grade four reading level. It is published in many languages, Aboriginal languages included. It is used coast to coast as well as in South America and Japan. The Department of Justice helped to fund Nobody's Perfect and to update it in the past couple of years in partnership with the health portfolio. Our network allows us to promulgate this and to work with other departments such as Citizenship and Immigration to ensure that parents and families who may be at risk learn positive parenting approaches.
In British Columbia, Nobody's Perfect is in use far beyond at-risk families. It is never okay to hit a child, which is the message we try to disseminate through programs such as that and through the network we have available to us to promulgate.
Senator Carstairs: My second question is with regard to the Aboriginal community. It is very hard for children to reach their full potential if they commit suicide, and know that the suicide rates for young Aboriginal children are higher than those of any other group in this country. What are we doing to target these children so that we can make their lives of sufficient value that they do not choose to commit suicide?
Mr. Dosanjh: I will address that issue generally, and then the officials can give you more specific information.
You are aware that $700 million is set aside for the health of the Aboriginal communities. A significant portion of those funds will go towards dealing with upstream investments with respect to suicide prevention.
We are developing that blueprint. We will discuss some of these issues at a retreat that we have planned in the next few days, and then perhaps there will be a first ministers' meeting in the fall to finalize issues in all of the areas, including health.
Ms. Walker: To expand on that a little more specifically, what they are looking at is a three-pronged approach specific to suicide prevention; a primary care, a secondary prevention, and a tertiary care, which will involve professional support from psychologists and psychiatrics. It is being worked on with both the ITK and the AFN in very close partnership so that it meets the community need.
Our program frameworks are just about developed for the final negotiations. It is a good multi-pronged approach to suicide prevention, and then there is continuing discussion about a broader mental health framework as well.
Within that upstream investment, there is another $120 million for maternal child health. We are looking to improve the prenatal care and the support given to families at the very beginning of that family cycle, which will also have an implication on mental health and suicide prevention.
Senator LeBreton: A Canada Fit for Children put a report out in 2004, One Million Too Many. It is a report card on child poverty in Canada, and it shows that one in six children, or over one million Canadian children live in poverty. This number represents an increase of 15.6 per cent, a number that is higher than it was in 1989 when former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Landon Pearson before she was a senator attended the Convention for the Rights of the Child in the United Nations.
There are more children living in poverty in Canada today than at any time in the last 15 years. The year 2003 represented a boom year for food banks, and 317, 242 food bank users were children. During the so-called economic boom years of 1996-2001, 2.1 million, or one third of all children, were exposed to poverty.
I appreciate your comments here today, Minister Dosanjh, but how can we accept numbers like that, when words do not seem to be parlayed into action?
I would like to know specifically what programs your department and others are doing to address this obviously horrific problem of child poverty in Canada.
Mr. Dosanjh: Senator LeBreton, despite my words, I agree with your statistics. I believe they are correct, and I think that just shows that we need to do a lot more than we are doing.
The National Child Benefit was started some years ago when I was in government in British Columbia. That was a great help, because British Columbia added to it and assisted poor working families.
I do not believe that federal government alone will be able to deal with that issue. We need to figure out how to solve these problems with all of the governments' involvement.
As a recent entrant into federal politics, I can tell you there are obviously competing demands on politicians, as you know. There are people who want to deal with child poverty, and I am one of them. I am happy that you raise that issue, because that is very dear to my heart. However, you also have other people who are always clamouring for more tax cuts. These are issues of global competitiveness. These are issues of justice within domestic society. These are not easy issues. I am not trying to cop out here and say there are no easy answers, but this is a very, very difficult issue.
I am concerned as a Canadian and as a politician that this issue is not on the radar screen. I am delighted that we have the Early Childhood Development program, the $5 billion that we have set aside over the next five years, but that is a very small start in an area where a lot more needs to be done.
If you want to start a movement dealing with that, let me know. I will be happy to walk along with you.
Senator LeBreton: You mentioned tax cuts. I cannot help but retort that if all of the money that was spent on the gun registry and all these other programs had gone into child poverty, we might have actually made a little bit of a dent in it. Since you did raise the issue of tax cuts, I would counter that there are many middle income families bordering on the poverty line, and a tax cut would perhaps be quite helpful to them.
Mr. Dosanjh: I am not saying I am opposed to tax cuts. I am saying there are competitiveness pressures from across borders to attract investments.
Senator LeBreton: I am glad you pointed that out.
Senator Oliver: You had them in your first budget, and then you took it out.
Senator LeBreton: Just following up on that, and I agree there are competing interests on this particular issue of child poverty, but what specific plans or initiatives are in place with the territories and the provinces to deal with child poverty? Do you have a specific plan? Are there any specific meetings you will be holding in the near future to address the issue of child poverty?
Mr. Dosanjh: There is a meeting coming up with the first ministers on a host of issues dealing solely with the Aboriginal issues, on education, health, economic development, and other issues, which will be in the fall of this year. We are all working towards that meeting.
In consultation with the Aboriginal communities, Health Canada is working toward the development of an Aboriginal health blueprint to ensure that all Aboriginal people have quality health.
We will also look at the issue of economic development and housing. We will tackle a whole host of issues in that first ministers meeting. The reason we are doing that is we recognize that whether we look at issues around children, housing or around economic development, Aboriginal people lag behind. That has been the case historically, and we need to stem that tide and begin to take them in a direction where all Canadians are going.
Senator Losier-Cool: My question has to do with testimony the committee has heard with respect to a recommendation made by the 2003 Committee on Children's Rights about the establishment of a coordinating body. A number of witnesses have told us that there is a lack of coordination between what is done by one department or another and what is done by the federal government and the provincial government. Do you think we have an organization that could play this coordinating role? Senator Pearson spoke to us about the Commissioner of Children in New Zealand. In Canada, we have an ethics commissioner, an official languages commissioner, and others. Could we have a Commissioner for Children, or some similar agency? Your officials, who are people who set structures up, may have heard about these gaps of this lack of coordination?
Mr. Dosanjh: Having come from the provincial government to the federal government, I can tell you that a lack of coordination exists at all levels of government and remains a serious issue.
A children's commissioner or a child and youth advocate can provide a certain focus, and can advocate on behalf of children's issues, and I believe that is something that you are obviously considering. I look forward to your report and to the suggestions that you might have.
Minister Dryden is working on issues of coordination as well as early childhood development. We need to have better coordination not only on the issues of children but also on other issues, and I certainly get that message.
I look forward to your report as to how you think we can better deal with the issue, including possibly having a commissioner for children.
Senator Losier-Cool: Is there an organization in place at the moment that could play this role, so that we would not have to set up another one?
Ms. Walker: It depends on what one means by "take on this role.'' There are organizations in the non-governmental sector, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, for example, which wrote the first response to the UN, the NGO report. It is a group that coordinates and works with all of the NGOs. This group and others are unable to access the same coordination within government.
Within government departments, nothing exists that would coordinate all the activity concerning children across the departments. At one time, there was a children's bureau in design, and then there was a children's bureau created within Health Canada, which over time, has evolved. However, there is not one specific organization to coordinate or gather information about the activity both within and outside of government.
Senator Losier-Cool: Our committee is looking at the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and we have realized from the witnesses we have heard that Canadians do not know much about that convention.
Ms. Walker: You are absolutely right.
Senator Losier-Cool: Maybe we could start with a certain program or certain coordinating group that will at least sensitize Canadians to the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
Ms. Walker: That has been the main mission of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children. The Canadian coalition is comprised of non-governmental organizations from across Canada. It is a coalition, not an entity in itself or a stand-alone organization, and its purpose is to raise awareness about the convention. They share information among universities. I believe Katherine Covell has already spoken to you about some of the curriculum development they are doing. They share information about promotional materials. They received a little bit of money from HRSD to do a variety of workshops across Canada to get communities to look at community legislation in terms of how it affects children through the lens of children's rights.
That began to affect children's safety and transportation, playgrounds and schools. Within a variety of organizations, whether the YM-YWCA or the teachers' college, they were able to mobilize a tremendous amount of energy about the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, their funding is project-based and tenuous. That was its purpose in its design and creation, and Senator Pearson was its first chair and will be its honorary chair forever and ever.
I am no longer on the board, but I have been on that board for a number of years myself, so there is a bias there.
Senator Oliver: The preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the subject matter of our committee, discusses the importance of the role of the family in looking after and protecting children, and states that the family should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community. This so that the family can be strong, able to support the children, keep them from poverty and give them the help and protection they need.
The Government of Canada, a number of years ago, said that four groups were in need of special measures: the Aboriginal, the disabled, women, and visible minorities. Nowhere in any of the remarks you have made today have I seen any mention of special measures for poor Black children or poor other visible minority children who are stuck in the cycle of poverty, poor health care and assistance, particularly if they live in rural parts of the country.
I do not understand why this government repeatedly does so little for Black people and visible minorities in this regard.
Please enlighten me why you mentioned the other three target groups and not the fourth.
Mr. Dosanjh: Senator Oliver, there are two or three different programs. I think I mentioned some of those programs.
Senator Oliver: You mentioned the Aboriginal and the disabled programs.
Mr. Dosanjh: There are some national children's programs, for example, the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program.
Senator Oliver: What does that do for Black children?
Mr. Dosanjh: I am not aware of the rural areas. I will grant you that when you go across major urban centres you have a huge number of families and children left behind. That is true across the country in major urban centres. I am less aware of that, but I am aware of the issue.
I think those children come from a whole host of backgrounds. In the Greater Toronto Area, many of them might be Black. In the Atlantic provinces, some of them might be Black. These national programs address all of those children. I do agree. I am not aware of any specific programs for Black children.
Senator Oliver: I am certain that there are not any and I am asking you why not, because they are in such need of special measures. Many of them are poor, many are stuck in poverty, and they need help.
Mr. Dosanjh: One reason you might have more programs for Aboriginal children within the federal machinery is that we provide health care. As the federal Crown, we have a fiduciary relationship with the Aboriginal people. We are primarily responsible for Aboriginal issues, whereas provinces are responsible for the other issues.
That is not an excuse, but it may explain why the federal programs target our primary area of responsibility while local, regional, and provincial programs focus on the kind of programs where you are suggesting they ought to be.
I am happy to take note of your concern, and I will in fact go back and study the issue myself. You obviously feel very strongly about it, and you obviously have legitimate reasons to feel that strongly.
Senator Oliver: I would have thought that the development of good public policy would include all of the groups that need special measures and special attention, not just some. That is my concern.
Ms. Stone: Senator Oliver, in our Community Action Plan for Children and the Prenatal Nutrition program in the urban centres, sponsor organizations run these centres on our behalf, and the sponsor organization is usually set up in a community where there is a community of need. If it is a predominantly Black community in Nova Scotia or a Somali community in Toronto, the Prenatal Nutrition Program or the Community Action Program for Children adapts to suit their needs.
We try to make these programs as culturally relevant to the particular community as we can. Those centres also become hubs where the province or the territory in this case, it would be the province in those cities or the municipality can hook in their programs to serve that particular community as well. It is certainly aimed at children and their families that are facing difficult life conditions.
The beauty of the Community Action Program for Children, for example, CPNP, is we know we are reaching by census about 60 per cent of low-income women and children across the country. We know that we are reaching 40 per cent of pregnant teens in the urban centres as well, and that is where presumably you will find the majority of your Black children in need. We do not count children by race because it serves all Canadians in need. I am sure that in those cities large numbers of Black families attend these programs. I am certain the sponsoring organization would try to adapt those programs to meet the needs of that particular community in that particular area of the city.
Senator Oliver: Thank you for that. I raised this because the minister said that the Government of Canada is involved in investments to enhance financial assistance for children in poor families to end the cycle of poverty. That is from whence my question flows.
Mr. Dosanjh: Senator Oliver, there is no question in my mind, and I am sure there is no question in your mind, that we are not doing enough. We are falling behind on the issue of children generally and on the issue of poverty amongst children specifically. I will not quibble with you on that point.
I would be happy to hear from you if there are populations of children specifically left out and welcome any of your ideas on how better we can address those populations.
The Chairman: Mr. Minister, we are discussing the Convention on the Rights of the Child that Canada signed, ratified, and presumably, therefore, wishes to make part of its national law. The rights under the convention are not optional, they are mandatory.
Do you and your officials look to the convention as a binding document?
Mr. Dosanjh: Senator Andreychuk, when nations enter into international obligations and international conventions, one assumes, and I do as well, that we look upon those as obligations. We just recently signed the FCTC, a treaty on tobacco control, and I assume that when I pushed that through the cabinet, we meant to comply with each part of that treaty. Whether we are able in reality to live up to the obligations that we have signed on to is another question. You probably know the answer better than I do. I would stand fully admonished by you if we have not lived up to the obligations, but I understand the thrust of your question.
The Chairman: I wish we had more time to go into that, but I think you are getting the gist of our concern.
Your department and the Department of Justice put these reports in on behalf of Canadians, whether represented at a provincial or federal level. There is only one report that goes to the monitoring body of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
We have had great difficulty finding out how this committee works with the provinces and how you actually come to the report. NGOs have to go about trying to find out the government's position. From time to time, they give their opinion, but that is about it.
Do you believe that it is time to have a more open and transparent way of collating the material and speaking to Canadians about what they believe is a fair assessment of Canada's record under the convention?
Mr. Dosanjh: Let me turn that around. Are you suggesting that we receive public input in the preparation of the report?
The Chairman: I am suggesting public input and parliamentary input into making the report. After the report from the committee comes back, there is no method to have it filed in Parliament. There is no formalized way of looking at the results to see how Canada is adjusting or changing as a result of the report and its comments. Going in and coming out are equally important if we are to adhere to an instrument.
Mr. Dosanjh: I agree. From my perspective, filing a report in Parliament can be done without legal necessity. You can just do it by tradition, so that is not as important an issue, but the preparation of the report, the collation of the information and feeding it back to the people so that they know how we are doing every time that report goes out, that provides an impetus for people and politicians to work harder. I assume that is the direction you are going, and I am with you on that. I assume you will make some recommendations in that regard.
The Chairman: I should say that we have heard that one of the problems with children is that they do not have the right to vote, so that they do not always get the attention of politicians at the right moment, and the committee here is trying to look into that issue.
Senator Stratton: My apologies, chair, for coming in late.
Senator Andreychuk asked my question with respect to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. When you look at it and read it, you are rather disturbed by the report, and second, by the fact that poverty has gone up and has not gone down with respect to children, and that is a basic human right. I would hope that you would charge someone, or some committee, such as this one, for example, to look at how we can address these two issues in the future, because this committee is probably well disposed to do that for you or on your behalf.
Mr. Dosanjh: Thank you.
The Chairman: There was a second round, minister, but I think we are going to let you go on time.
Thank you for giving us an opportunity to alert you to some of our concerns around the convention so when we file our report you can take note and put into action our recommendations.
Mr. Dosanjh: Thank you.
The Chairman: We will take a few minutes to change before the next minister appears.
Our third minister has come down with something as strong as I have and has opted not to come today. We only have Minister Volpe, and he should be here shortly.
Senators, we will reconvene. Could the senators come to the table? We are examining and reporting on Canada's international obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children and, in particular, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
We have before us the Honourable Joe Volpe, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. He is with one other official, and I am sure Mr. Volpe will introduce him.
The Honourable Joe Volpe, P.C., M.P., Minister of Citizenship and Immigration: Thank you very much. I am joined by my able departmental assistant, Mr. Grant.
Mr. Brian Grant, Director General, Strategic Policy and Partnerships, Citizenship and Immigration Canada: My name is Brian Grant. I am Director General of Strategic Policy and Partnerships at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Mr. Volpe: Daniel Jean and I were upstairs in another committee. I had to absent myself after a brief opening statement. I must apologize for my tardiness, but there was an issue for which I had to be present.
Mr. Jean is there to provide support for my parliamentary secretary, who so ably took on the baton, as they say in relay races. Mr. Grant is here to provide the appropriate technical support in the event that senators around the table have questions that the minister will be unable to answer.
Keeping that in mind, perhaps I should not say anything and let him answer everything.
Senators, I am a little flattered that you wanted to have me address you on this issue. Typically, this is an issue that is not completely resident within my portfolio, although I am delighted to be here with you.
Over the course of the last little while, I have been looking forward to this with a bit of anticipation and pleasure, in part because this is one of the very many enjoyable firsts during the initial months of my portfolio. Some of the senators around the table will know that we just celebrated and, I do mean "celebrated'' my fourth month anniversary in this portfolio. I come to you steeped in experience of this department. I say that only partially in jest. One tends to grow old in this portfolio very quickly. In fact, one of my colleagues at the provincial level said, "Is that not one of those portfolios where the ministers have a very short shelf life?'' I guess they do.
Four months in, I am still happy to say that the Prime Minister honoured me by giving me an appointment. I have also become aware, obviously, of your interest in our department's commitment to human rights and to the Canadian concept of equality entrenched 20 years ago under section 15 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I wish to thank you again for inviting me to discuss the equality of humankind from the perspective of the day-to- day work of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Today, we will exchange views we hold in common with regard to the youngest and often most vulnerable members of our society. Your focus as a Senate committee is on the rights that we must afford all children.
This is an obligation Canadians take seriously. We do so partly because it is our duty under international law and our own Charter. I would also add that it is our moral obligation to do so, as men and women, as parents and grandparents.
As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we must safeguard those most in need of protection among hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who are already in Canada or applying to come here.
Speaking of people who come here, may I now introduce Daniel Jean, who has obviously concluded our work upstairs.
We also strive to look after the needs of children, because that is what being Canadian is about. It is a citizenship value that stems from community spirit, not just from legislation. In this respect, I would like to share recent news about four primary issues, all of them interesting and interrelated.
They form an integral part of a wide range of programs for which my department is responsible and accountable. Afterwards, we will have an opportunity to address any activities you might like to know in greater detail.
First, from the best interests of the child perspective, one of our key principles that guide the efforts at CIC is the best interests of the child. It is the foundation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that is central to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The legislation calls for the best interests of the child to be considered in many immigration and refugee matters that involve children of minority age.
This includes cases dealing with humanitarian and compassionate considerations, adoption, and separation from birth parents, resettlement, and the appointment of guardians.
Since the implementation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on June 28, 2002, CIC has updated its guidelines for officers responsible for making humanitarian and compassionate decisions when migration or refugee claims affect children.
The improved guidelines were published in May 2005, in the departmental program/policy manual that immigration officers use when processing cases involving such sensitive, far-reaching issues.
In May 2005, we launched an innovative training module for officers who handle humanitarian and compassionate cases. The program of instruction is giving officers a better understanding of the principle of "best interest of the child'' and its relevance to our work.
We do not operate in isolation at CIC. We collaborate with other federal departments, administrations and provincial authorities. An effective legislation framework is in place whereby organizations function in a cooperative manner in matters of overseas adoption. Our common goal is to ensure that the best interests of children being sponsored to come to Canada as a result of international adoption are upheld. Similarly, when cases involve children who have become separated from their original family unit, their safety is ensured and the risk of exploitation or abuse is mitigated.
I mentioned that the best interest of the child is a key consideration, but it does not outweigh all other factors. Other elements must, of course, come into play when a case officer examines the various considerations in the balance. Let us say that the best interests of the child are one of the many important factors taken into account when an officer assesses a case.
Second, one of these issues is, of course, family reunification.
The reunification of immediate family members has long been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration policy. This key to social stability and integration also takes on a high profile in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
New refugee protection regulations were tabled three years ago, in June 2002. Since then, CIC has streamlined the procedure for processing applications filed from outside Canada by the spouses and children of refugees already in Canada.
The family member already in our country is considered "protected'' and can now be granted "landed'' status even before the overseas family's application has been assessed. Hence, we accelerate the process from two directions at once.
For the year 2004, CIC originally predicted it would be in a position to process upwards of 4,000 overseas applications from the spouses and children of convention refugees already in Canada. I am pleased to say that my department actually surpassed this target by 50 per cent last year. The final count was 6,000 applications.
With respect to children who have become separated from their refugee families who live in war zones or who do not benefit from parental care, we consider them to be "at risk.''
Our specialists overseas assign more importance than ever to the need to ensure the safety and security of children under these circumstances. The cases of those who do not possess identity documents are reviewed with more flexibility than in the past, keeping in mind the difficulty that exists in some nations in obtaining proof of identity. In the same context, any future changes to the refugee determination system will offer the most humanitarian consideration possible to children and their families.
I would be remiss at this point if I neglected to mention one of our sister organizations, one of the unsung heroes in the fields of children's rights, repatriation and family reunification. This is the Ottawa-based International Social Service Canada. For over 50 years, and through several name changes, International Social Service Canada, or ISS, has been a low-key but committed partner of government in reaching out to Canadians in distress throughout the world. Theirs is a small agency that operates under a modest federal grant. However, with a large base of volunteers, and with affiliates in 120 countries, ISS Canada helps in the rescue of hundreds of Canadian children who have been abused, abandoned, kidnapped, separated from their family or smuggled across foreign borders. I know Senator Pearson has been an honourary patron of ISS for some time. Honourable senators will be well acquainted with the tireless devotion of their director, Agnes Casselman. I look forward to being able to thank her in person one day.
The third issue is one of adoption. We proceed from family reunification into another area, which comes to the fore if, sadly, reunification is not feasible. When parents die in times of war, conflict, natural disaster or when they cannot be traced for a long time, ways must be found to ensure stability anew in the lives of children. Overseas adoption is a choice that is growing more popular every year in Canada.
We have no shortage of childless couples or existing families wishing to open their home to, say, a child in need of a hopeful future.
I would be the first to acknowledge that international adoptions are complex and can take a very long time many months to several years. CIC has no role in the actual adoption nor any control over how long this takes.
Adoption programs fall under the jurisdiction of our provinces and territories. These government agencies currently deal with more than 70 foreign countries from which Canadians adopt. They must contend with 70 different sets of legal requirements and administrative frameworks. Many of these nations are also signatories to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
I feel certain of our political counterparts throughout Canada would like to see more standardization among these countries, but caution must be taken when it comes to their sovereignty. Some countries take more time than others to investigate adoptive family backgrounds or security matters and to uphold provisions against exploitation and trafficking.
For our part, we are empowered to become involved only at that final point when the child has been legally adopted and is ready to travel to Canada. The concluding phase in which we have jurisdiction has taken less and less time over the past few years. Right now, we aim to process adoption cases within six months, and mostly succeed. Keep in mind, though, that is the point at which we receive the application.
Last year, CIC employees handled around 2,000 immigration cases involving international adoptions. One thousand of these children came from China and were processed within one month, not six. About half the rest, another 500 cases from all over the world, were processed within five months from the time of receipt of the forms to the issuance of an entry visa.
I would be reluctant to direct that this six-month limit be further shortened, as we, too, must ensure that such matters as security and health have been thoroughly investigated from a Canadian perspective. Once again, we are talking about the best interests of the children, as well as their adoptive families, being viewed in light of the interests of the nation as a whole.
I believe we have achieved a finely tuned balance and I am happy with the efforts CIC has made in this respect. Please do not think me partisan because it is my department, but because it is a reflection of the reality that comes forward from diligent men and women looking out for the interests of children as well as the national interest of their compatriots in Canada.
Fourth of those principles is the integration in the schools and in society.
I wish to cover one final issue before closing a very timely one that has already been raised in your Senate hearings. That is the integration of immigrant children into our schools, and into community life in general. This chapter in the immigration success story means a lot to me as I am a former teacher and school principal myself, and was a "young new Canadian'' as well, and I still am.
As it stands, CIC has a series of activities in place to encourage immigrant children to become fully involved in their school and community settings. Through our "host program'', youngsters already living here develop friendships with new arrivals that often last well beyond the latter's adjustment periods.
Collectively, these young people participate in neighbourhood events, explore the various avenues to active citizenship, and whether they know it or not, lead lives that speak and support of the cultural diversity that unites Canadians across the land.
We also sponsor a Settlement Workers in Schools program whereby CIC works in partnership with school boards to connect newcomer families to grassroots settlement services. This program builds bridges between schools, parents and children and has demonstrated that there is a link between success in settling and success in the classroom.
I well remember my days as a teacher in Toronto, seeing the difference that companionship and peer acceptance made in the lives of hundreds of young, new Canadians welcomed into my schools.
Our department categorizes all such ambitious ventures under the umbrella of basic settlement services. You may recall that these community integration services received a funding boost of $298 million in the recent federal budget to be phased in over five years. This support is an investment in our future community leaders, one that will bring a most favourable return on our capital.
Honourable senators, this concludes the highlights of recent initiatives undertaken by the people at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. I am pleased and proud to represent them as minister.
I must also thank this committee for its interest in our commitment to children's rights.
In this spirit, I quote Senator Pearson's recent newsletter entitled Children & the Hill. She shared a pre-retirement wish by writing:
...I am not alone in the Senate with my concerns....I am hopeful that my Senate colleagues will continue to keep "a watchful eye'' on behalf of children.
I certainly will, Senator. Although this coming November will see you stand down from the Senate, I know you will stand up and speak up for the children of the world for many years to come.
Madam Chairman, I look forward to collaborating with you in whatever efforts you undertake to shape our next generation of community leaders. Right now, I am pleased to take your questions.
The Chairman: Thank you, minister. One issue I have been following, which has been raised with us here, is that children seeking asylum have been put into detention centres, often without the counselling and support services they require as a result of where they have come from and all the problems they have experienced.
It was said that would be rectified. Has that been rectified, to your knowledge?
Mr. Volpe: Madam Chairman, are you referring to detention centres abroad or here?
The Chairman: Let us start with here.
Mr. Volpe: When someone files for political asylum, we have an obligation to verify some basic elements relating to documentation and identity to which I referred in my presentation. It would be the last recourse for people to be detained without the presence of guardians, either family or guardians appointed by the state. The short answer to your question is that such things happen only in pressing circumstances and on the rarest of occasions.
The Chairman: If your officials could provide us with information on how often this has happened, then that would helpful, with whatever time frame you can put on it, the most current obviously being the most relevant, and for how long they were kept in detention centres.
Mr. Volpe: We would be delighted to do that. As the committee is no doubt aware, some of the responsibilities that used to reside in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration have been devolved to colleagues in another portfolio. My officials have undertaken to get that information from my colleague's department and to relay it to the committee through your clerk.
Senator Pearson: Mr. Volpe, your presentation is clear and appropriate. It is an approach that pays respect to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and it will be helpful for us in preparing our recommendations.
I also appreciate you comment about ISS. I am sure that Aggie Casselman would be delighted to meet with you, to thank you. We must find ways together to ensure that this underrated but important organization continues to do the good work it has been doing for so many years. If it did not exist, it would have to be invented. I thank you for those comments on Ms. Casselman's behalf.
I have been following closely the issue of trafficking in women and children for sexual purposes. I was happy to learn on Friday that Canada has been brought back up to tier one by the Americans in their assessment of our behaviour with respect to this issue. It was a matter of consternation for some of the people I know in Foreign Affairs. That is a tribute to the fact that we are working on this issue.
I have three specific questions. How do you get the statistics on trafficking of children into Canada? The RCMP were supposed to begin that process a while ago and I would like to know where that stands now. How does your ministry get intelligence and information with respect to trafficking, given its very clandestine nature? What kind of information-sharing processes are in place with other departments and law enforcement agencies, both domestically and internationally?
Mr. Volpe: As I indicated, we find ourselves working with an array of departments and jurisdictions, not only in Canada but abroad. We are part of a federal interdepartmental working group on trafficking in persons that is co- chaired by the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs. The working group is developing an effective, long-term anti-trafficking-of-people-and-children strategy.
We are an important part of that interdepartmental working group, as is, of course, the RCMP. We work with them to identify missing children everywhere around the world. We work closely with other law enforcement partners in countries, especially those where this unfortunate phenomenon is more prevalent.
In some cases, the numbers are estimated. In others cases, unfortunately, the numbers are much more easily identifiable. Through that collaboration, we have been able to get much better empirical data on what is happening and what the implications are for the approach of the entire Government of Canada to this regrettable practice.
My officials will make available to you whatever information is available through our colleagues.
Senator Pearson: I know the challenge is being taken seriously by Canada with our law against trafficking and the tremendous penalties it contains. I always wonder how we find out that these difficult problems exist. We sometimes do not use the better methodology of having people who have been in the process themselves helping us with that. I ask you to think seriously about engaging people who have actually been trafficked. They know how to find out how many people are being trafficked. The rest of us are not very good at finding that out.
Mr. Volpe: We try to rely on people who are experts in the field, which are the RCMP. On occasion, they do not identify how many missing persons are children, so they give us an estimate.
Your point is well taken in terms of finding out what happens to these children before people enter through our borders. If we are talking about understanding conditions, then we rely very much on our contact and our network through the Canadian International Development Agency and the non-governmental organizations. These organizations are in the field and see what happens to families and what direction many of the survivors of those families end up taking. They are also the first people to know what is going on in terms of the larger demographic movements in the world. The third ones are all partners for Canadian Security and Intelligence Service and the RCMP in terms of observing the movements that are generated by illegal activities.
We try to come up with numbers, which are important for us to identify. For example, some provincial adoption agencies have developed an expertise in understanding the movements of people, the movements of children, the frequency of requests for adoptions, and the mechanisms associated with verifying just how many of those are legitimate.
I cite the odd occasion as an example, always regrettable, the tsunami disaster where we wanted to react quickly to what we thought was a humanitarian issue. How do we deal with the numerous children who became orphaned, as a result?
The local agencies and the local authorities were equally concerned, and sometimes we forget that. They were anxious to ensure that the children's best interests were also served. When we entered the field to offer our assistance via the adoption process, some of them said, Hold on, not until we make an accurate identification from our perspective so we can have the children lined up with guardians who are blood relatives.
We work in tandem with many jurisdictions that do not necessarily find themselves with displaced people as a result of a natural disaster. We have worked, and continue to work, in a developing and evolving relationship that allows us to be more secure in the ways that we garner information about circumstances and the individuals that flow from that.
The Chairman: Just to follow up on the statistics, both the literature and the witnesses point out that the most vulnerable in human trafficking are women under the age of 18 who are classified as children under the convention. We often deal with them as adults when they are 16 and 17, when, in fact, we have an obligation to look at them as children. They seem to be the most vulnerable, and we need to pay particular attention to them. If we have any statistics as to that issue, it would be important.
Senator Oliver: Mr. Volpe, I would like to ask a question first in relation to your fourth point that dealt with integration into schools. When you made your presentation, you told us about your host program and later your grassroots settlements program.
You would know, minister, that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child chastised Canada in its concluding observations in 2003. This report should serve as a how-to guide for Citizenship and Immigration Canada on how to better ensure the protection of the interests of the child, but many of the recommendations that were made have not been addressed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The United Nations committee articulated concern over the exclusion of children of migrants from the school system. The UN committee held that this type of policy was de facto discrimination against certain groups of children. I would like you to address that, minister.
The committee went on to say that it requested Canada to ratify the convention on the status of stateless persons of 1954. Without this convention, stateless children do not have easy access to birth registration and citizenship applications. Could you address that for our committee?
Mr. Volpe: I would like to address the first issue. I feel more prepared in that area.
Senator Oliver: Surely, the host program you talked about in your opening remarks does not cover off this scathing indictment from the UN committee. There must be more to it than that.
Mr. Volpe: Senator Oliver, we both have a particular interest in ensuring that the Government of Canada accepts appropriate credit where it is due. By that I mean not only the federal Government of Canada but all governments in Canada that are interested and implicated in the integration of children from elsewhere. When I view that particular report, I view it in the context of what takes place.
First of all, the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, IRPA, changed the rules, allowing children of people with irregular status to attend schools. That is what we did from the national level.
In my experience, Senator Oliver, and especially when I was actually earning a living serving the public in a different capacity, what happens is that all school boards throughout the country are responsible under education acts in the provinces. In my own province, Ontario, the school boards are responsible for the education of children under the age of 16. Some school boards take refuge in an environment that says these children are not residents; therefore, they are not our responsibility.
Others take the larger view, the one that we have tried to encourage throughout the entire country. That view is that we are responsible for educating children, period. We have that responsibility. The child's status is not of consequence or of determination in the exercise of that responsibility.
I will be specific to my province in citing an example because that is where I have most experience. We found that some school boards were anxious to educate all children, and others were looking for assistance from other jurisdictions to address the needs of children of irregular status.
I think we have made great strides in ensuring that particular value permeates everywhere in the country. Children who find their way into schools will be educated, and by and large school boards are doing a good job.
We fund the integration process through the host program that calls for having people who will bridge a different experience and culture into the current one. The program ensures that the differences of children from another place do not block the children from complete integration and settlement.
Sometimes the difference is language, sometimes it is social and sometimes cultural, but on all occasions, the program allows people with some expertise to help the children feel comfortable in the new environment. It is not an easy process.
Senator Oliver: You referred to these children as being of irregular status. Today in Canada, 2005, are children of school age who are here with an irregular status able to access the school system fully like Canadian children? Is there still, as the United Nations calls it, de facto discrimination against a certain group of students?
Mr. Volpe: I can repeat what I said earlier, but with a greater definitiveness. Let me answer your question.
Senator Oliver: I want to know the status today.
Mr. Volpe: We do not require children without documentation to have documentation before they go into a school. We have an arrangement where we encourage provinces to ensure that all children attend classes.
Senator Oliver: Could you comment on the concern of the status of stateless persons of 1954?
Mr. Volpe: We are moving in a direction where we will provide refuge for all those who require refugee protection. It may be that some institutions are unhappy that we have not signed on yet, but the more important issue is what we do with those people who come here, whether we acknowledge an implicit legal obligation or whether we abide by an explicit convention.
We try to accommodate all these children into our social and academic environments. Whether we have signed on or not is of secondary significance. We are moving in the direction of signing on to all those institutions.
Senator Oliver: Is that actively being considered then in relation to this?
Mr. Volpe: Yes.
Senator LeBreton: Within the last several weeks, as I am sure you are aware, the Canadian Bar Association stated that it is concerned about the large backlog in processing parental sponsorship applications that have been filed overseas. The Canadian Bar Association claims that the wait for these applications can extend to over five years.
Has this backlog affected cases of separated children and, if so, does the department know how many of these backlogged cases involve children under the age of 18 who are seeking to have a parent enter Canada?
Mr. Volpe: I am not sure that we have a breakdown of all the numbers. You are probably referring to a report of one member of the Canadian Bar Association. I was pleased to make the announcement not that long ago that we wanted to eliminate the backlog of parents and grandparents in the system. In part, this move was because we recognized the importance of having parents and grandparents form part of the whole process of a cohesive social unit as people adapt in a new environment.
There are about 110,000 such people in that backlog. It is true that processing those individuals could take a considerable amount of time, in some places longer than in others. We moved on two fronts, Senator LeBreton. We said that, in the context of the range of people who would be accepted for landing under the parliamentary plan for this year and the coming year, we would exercise the space we had for the processing of an additional 12,000 parents and grandparents. We would increase the number, essentially, by an additional 200 per cent. We were to have 300 per cent of what we had the previous year. We went from 6,000 to 18,000 for this year, and 6,000 to 18,000 for next year, for a total of 36,000 out of the 110,000 over a two-year period. Over this period we are building a parliamentary plan to present to the House of Commons with respect to numbers for immigration and the mix within that total range.
The third thing we did, because we believe that we should reunite families as best and as quickly as possible, was to provide for all those sponsored parents and grandparents the opportunity to come here on multiple entry visas for the duration of five years while their applications are being processed, effectively eliminating the 110,000 backlog. Presumably, if we could snap our fingers and people would comply, it could be done overnight, but legislatively, or in terms of regulations, we accepted that we would unite those parents and grandparents with their families immediately.
The fourth item on that particular initiative was to include under that grouping all dependent children of those parents who were in a sponsored category, so that we would eliminate even further the potential of separating children from their immediate family, in this case parents.
I think we have already moved in that direction, Senator LeBreton. I am happy to say that at this stage of the game, if there is a problem still, it is because operationally we are gearing up to make this matter quickly addressable. You can imagine, from an operations point of view, my officials abroad would have been struck that there has been a huge regulatory and policy change, and that we must gear up to ensure that we can deliver on the minister's and the department's requirements.
Some places can move more quickly than others, but it is fair to expect they would have an adjustment period, especially since we are now bringing item number five in this regard the appropriate resources to bear so that we could eliminate this backlog.
Senator LeBreton: Yes, there are 110,000 in the backlog; you talked about two years and 36,000. What are the criteria then? Who is on first? Is it whoever applies first? What criteria do you use in implementing this new program?
Mr. Volpe: Senator LeBreton, for us always, having children is the first priority, so if there are any minor children involved who are separated from their parents, that application gets immediate priority.
I said we would have multiple entry visas for everyone; there is no question of priority here. If you have already been sponsored, you are one of the sponsored people. If you are the first person to show up, we will handle your case right away.
We have brought $68 million in additional resources under the last budget to address this particular backlog. We are putting resources into this issue. Out of the 110,000, who is number one and who is number 110,000? It does not make a difference. Our resources will get to them right away. The processing can take time, but we will respect the fact that some people applied before someone else.
Senator LeBreton: Do you dispute the five-year claim of the Canadian Bar Association?
Mr. Volpe: I will put to one side the good counsel that my official has given me, because he has given a technical explanation of where those 12,000 would go first. Let me repeat it.
The individual from the CBA that gave an indication of the backlog did not identify that in some places you have a much larger backlog than others, and the average is much less than five years. That is why we thought we could handle it in two.
The most important issue is that we actually have money in place to address an issue that may develop as a result of insufficiency of resources and regulatory policy that had been approved by parliament and that had not been changed.
We have been successful in changing it. We are addressing it on the fronts that I suggested and in a variety of ways so we could deal with it immediately. All those factors come to bear immediately.
How long will it take to be up and running 100 per cent? Since the funds are available now, the training of personnel is ongoing, and the distribution of that personnel in the areas where they are most needed is already being allocated. I would hesitate to say what time it is, but the biggest move was the change that has been done.
Senator Losier-Cool: My question is about refugees, particularly child refugees. Earlier, we were talking about the most vulnerable people; in my opinion the most vulnerable refugees are definitely the children. In Canada, we have guidelines on children who are refugees. Do the people who question these children receive special training? Do they have specific knowledge about the way children develop? Do these guidelines that Canada has put in place for refugees really show some knowledge of children?
Mr. Volpe: Yes, we have competent people involved in analyzing these cases and making decisions. However, as you know, there are two types of refugee. The first type is further broken down into two categories, in cooperation with the UN and the Committee on Refugees. The second group is made up of people who arrive at our border in some way or other and submit an application for refugee status. For the first category, we have staff with international expertise and all the elements they require to make a decision, because both technical expertise and practical experience are required. We need to develop expertise in this area and build on it. In this case, we have a system that emphasizes the qualities we want in the people who conduct these interviews and make the decisions. To give you a more precise, technical answer, I will ask Mr. Jean to continue.
Senator Losier-Cool: Yes I would like some further clarifications.
Mr. Daniel Jean, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Program Development, Citizenship and Immigration Canada: As a result of the comments made by the people who are in charge of implementing the convention and others as well, we have updated our directives regarding the procedures to apply in the case of claims from unaccompanied minors. A training program will be offered all summer, until the fall, on these new directives. In these directives, we ask our officials to take all necessary care in this type of situation. We try to develop mechanisms and protocols with the provincial authorities with respect to protecting children in an effort to ensure that they will be properly represented. In Canada, the claim is assessed by the Immigration and Refugee Board, and it will normally ask that someone be appointed to represent the child's interests in such cases.
Senator Carstairs: When Kelly Stone, Director, Division of Childhood and Adolescence in the Department of Health, appeared with Minister Carolyn Bennett, Ms. Stone said she would make available to citizenship copies of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and also the document "Nobody's Perfect,'' which deals with corporal punishment of children and the alternative, which is other forms of discipline. I just wanted a yes answer from you that it will, in fact, be made available to those applying for citizenship in Canada.
Mr. Volpe: Do you want me to give you the whole answer or will yes be sufficient?
Senator Carstairs: I just want yes.
Mr. Volpe: It is sufficient.
Senator Carstairs: You are getting statistics for Senator Andreychuk. I want to know whether these unaccompanied minors who have been detained, and I appreciate this is only, as you have indicated, in extraordinary circumstances, have access to local child and service agencies who have more knowledge of this than, I would think, your department officials.
Mr. Volpe: I think our people are very knowledgeable, but the answer is yes.
Senator Carstairs: In the agreements that you are working out with provinces with respect to the settlement of immigrants, is English or French, as the case may be, as a second language a part of those agreements? You and I both know there are schools in your city and mine in which more and more of those children do not speak either English or French. To date, the English as a second language programs, in my experience, are declining, not increasing.
Mr. Volpe: Yes.
Senator Carstairs: Fine.
The Chairman: That answer was helpful. I do not know if it was helpful to the question but certainly it was to our timeframe.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I am always concerned when children are talked to without parents and particularly without mothers. My question is around what kind of links your department has in its Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Are you analyzing statistics and your data input in terms of holding these two intentions in coming up with something that might be a little new and more creative than what we sometimes see?
Mr. Volpe: As you may have already gathered, this is a challenge for everyone. It is especially a challenge for any government that tries a whole-of-government approach to all issues.
From our perspective, the challenge is more local, but it applies the same principles. Our department makes a concerted effort to bring together not only the various departments but the agencies, and therefore all the information that accrues through those departments and agencies to bear on the manuals and preparatory material that we would provide for any of our officers, case officers, interviewing officers and so on.
Senator Nancy Ruth: That does not say very much to me.
Mr. Volpe: Yes. Senator, I answered your question. Yes, we do.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I hear you say it is a struggle to take all the conventions to which Canada is signatory and have every department work, meld and blend together, and in your manuals you provide this.
Mr. Volpe: Honourable senator, you may have missed the point in between, because my Blackberry interrupted everyone's attention. We try to apply the same whole-of-government approach that spans all departments, but in our own narrow focus as Citizenship and Immigration; that is, we collect all the information that is brought to bear by the agencies and departments that are important for us as we service our clientele. We bring that data together so that we can prepare our officials and officers appropriately, especially as it relates to gender and to children.
The Chairman: Minister, you began by saying you were not quite sure why you were here, as the emphasis on the Convention on the Rights of the Child appeared to have responsibilities elsewhere. I believe that you are gathering from our committee that we see the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a responsibility of all, including your ministry.
Thank you for sharing your first points of entry and responsibility on the convention. We will either ask you to return at a later date, if we have further questions, or you can await our report and our recommendations, which we hope you will take into account. Our work with refugees and immigrants is vital to the convention, as are other areas. We wish to put that emphasis in our report. I wish to thank you and your officials for sharing your information today.
Mr. Volpe: I look with anticipation to both possibilities. I know the second possibility is much more real, because you will present me with your recommendations. However, if you feel that my presence will be of some use in your further deliberations, I am sure we will do everything we can to be here for further discussions.
In the meantime, on behalf of my two officials and my staff that has accompanied me, thank you for not only having invited me, but also for having engaged us in what I hope was a fruitful discussion.
The committee adjourned.