Hearings: OTTAWA, Monday, February 7, 2005, Issue No. 4, Second Meeting on:
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.), Carstairs, P.C., Chaput, *Kinsella, (or Stratton), Le Breton, Losier-Cool,
Oliver, Ppin, Poy
*Ex Officio Members
Changes in membership of the committee:
Pursuant to rule 85(4), membership of the committee was amended as follows:
The name of the Honourable Senator Ppin was added. (December 15, 2004).
The name of the Honourable Senator Chaput substituted for that of the Honourable Senator Ferretti Barth
(February 7, 2005).
University College of Cape
Breton, Children's Rights Center: Professor, Katherine Covell.
|CanadianCRC editor's note: (15MAR05)
The University College of Cape Breton was officially
renamed Cape Breton University in February 2004.
First Nations Child and
Family Caring Society of Canada: Cindy Blackstock, Executive
Save the Children
Canada: Rita Karakas, Executive Director.
Senator Landon Pearson (Deputy Chairman) in the Chair.
The Deputy Chairman: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. We are in
the process of studying the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international instruments related to
children and their implementation in Canada.
We just returned from an interesting trip to Geneva and to Stockholm to observe the Committee on
the Rights of the Child speak with many people involved in how countries are assessed against their reports, and
so on; and then to Sweden. Sweden has a concrete strategy for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights
of the Child and a unit within the Swedish government, whose job it is to ensure that implementation, in
addition to the Swedish ombudsman. That was very instructive for us because Sweden, while I have always thought
of it as a very unitary state, has a dual system of law so the Commission on the Rights of the Child and other
international conventions do not become law immediately. They have to be brought into domestic law the way it is
here. Furthermore, a lot of power is devolved to municipalities and counties, so they have the same problems we
have with the provinces, somewhat to my surprise. That was not the way I had thought about Sweden.
It was a very open and lively interchange. They have a committee, an all-party network within
their Parliament, on children that has been working fairly steadily for some years on keeping this. We met with
a representative from all seven parties in the Swedish Parliament, which was extremely interesting as well. It
was a very worthwhile and helpful meeting. It helped to formulate some of the questions we will now be pose to
you, Ms. Covell from the University College of Cape Breton and the Children's Rights Centre.
We welcome your presentation and then our various members will ask you questions.
Ms. Katherine Covell, Professor, UCCB Children's Rights
Centre: Thank you for asking me here and for doing this important work. I wish I had been in Sweden with
I have been asked to talk for about 10 minutes, so I will read my notes. Being a university
professor I am programmed into 50-minute slots so I do not talk too long.
The issues I chose to focus on here today come from my experience as a professor, researcher and
educator. The university courses that I teach and the research that I do are contextualized within the
Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Two things have become increasingly clear to me over the past few years. One is that, overall,
Canada is doing a pretty good job of respecting the rights of its children. I do not think we should forget
that. The other and my focus here today is that I think there remains, and it is now 15 years since we
ratified the convention, a real lack of knowledge across the country about its existence and what it means.
There is a real lack of monitoring of how it is being applied. My particular concern as a researcher is the lack
of measurement to describe the lives of Canadian children. Obviously, these gaps that we have here in Canada, I
would argue, are interdependent. If we can make progress in one area, we will inevitably make progress in the
other two. I want to address briefly each of those three areas.
In terms of education, under article 42 of the
convention, Canada is obligated to make the convention widely known to adults and to children. There have been
many training sessions, many brochures that have been put together, websites and National Child Day initiatives,
but national surveys have repeatedly demonstrated a lack of knowledge about the provisions of the convention
even among those who are working with or for children. Worse, I think, is the pervasiveness about the
misunderstandings about children's rights. Not understanding the convention, people talk about there being too
many rights for children. They talk about the chaos that would ensue if we actually told children they had some
rights, or they dismiss rights for Canadian children as not that important.
I am not just talking about the general public here but teachers, lawyers, police officers, some
MPs, I am afraid to say, and some judges.
An illustration of the lack of appreciation of the
importance of Canada's commitment to children's rights was seen in the comments made by Chief Justice McLachlin
during the Supreme Court deliberations on the constitutionality of section 43 of the Criminal Code. She not only
disregarded the consistent recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, but also went on to
say that the best interest of the child ``is not vital or fundamental to our social notion of justice.''
In a legal sense, she is probably right and her statement is probably supportable, but given
that the best interests of the child is the overarching principle of the convention, Canada's ratification of
the convention does obligate Canada to assume that the best interests of the child is fundamental to our beliefs
about social justice. The Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly has called for the incorporation of
children's rights education into professional training and school curricula. I am well aware of the
jurisdictional problems here, but we know that agreements are possible. You can look at the multilateral
framework on childcare for a terrific example of how we get agreements. The issue of children's rights education
is much too important to leave it.
We are making some progress. I am pleased to report that the province of Nova Scotia has children's rights
education at the elementary school level and yesterday I found out that they put it into the junior-high-level
new curricula as well. Some universities and more universities are beginning to include children's rights in
courses, but these are still exceptions.
When children do not know about their rights, it is difficult for them to identify when their
rights are being violated. In turn, it makes it more difficult for them to seek redress. When those who work for
or with children do not know about children's rights, they lack an important and coherent guiding framework for
their decision-making and planning, and they lack a consistent criterion for assessing the success of their
In passing, it is worth noting that the research we have consistently demonstrates the benefits of education
about the convention. Both children and adults become a lot more rights' respecting.
I want to be brief on the issue of monitoring. Basically, I think we all know the Committee on
the Rights of the Child has recommended the establishment of a permanent monitoring mechanism, which is very
important for two fundamental reasons. First, it is important for doing the required reports to the UN
committee. It is very difficult for provinces and territories in the federal government to write the type of
comprehensive reports on children in Canada that are needed without ongoing monitoring and dedicated staff to
take care of it. Second, systematic monitoring would allow not only for the identification of rights'
violations, but also of rights' consistent practices, programs and policies. That information would be very
helpful for sharing knowledge and best practices among jurisdictions, and for identifying where we need to work
toward the reduction of regional disparities.
As a researcher, my primary concern is the issue of measurement. In preparing the NGO report to
the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which I did a couple of years ago, and even more so now as I am
researching and writing the North American report for the UN study on violence against children, I have been
repeatedly struck by the absence of two things in Canada. One is the existence of national disaggregated data
about children, and the other is an absence of program evaluation.
Again, there has been some progress over the last few years. We do have some statistical
documents. We have the one-day snapshot of Aboriginals in the justice system, which is very useful; the 2004
family violence study, which is very useful; and the national incidence study of reported child abuse. However,
we do not have comprehensive national disaggregated data, and we have very few program evaluations.
I have three primary areas of concern in this regard. One is that we have no national standards
of recording or reporting. This absence is particularly apparent when we try to find information on such things
as injuries suffered by working children, statistics on child abuse, abuse-related deaths and child-death
A related issue here is that we have no standard definitions across the country, for example, of disability or
emotional neglect. Sometimes when you look at statistics about disability, what is included are behaviour
disorders and sometimes they are not. Sometimes when we read about emotional neglect, we find that includes
exposure to spousal violence, but sometimes it does not. It makes it hard to do any kind of comparisons across
jurisdictions, or to make sense of the numbers that we are reading.
Another example here is when you have statistics that report incidence data that does not
necessarily reflect the numbers of children. When we talk about the numbers of substantiated cases of child
abuse, for example, we may not be talking about the numbers of children who have been abused, because we know
that children are repeatedly brought to the attention of Children's Aid Societies, CAS. In fact, the Paediatric
Death Review Committee of Ontario recently reported that 54 per cent of the cases of child deaths they were
investigating had at least one, usually more, previous involvements with CAS prior to the child's death.
What is important here are the implications for policy and interventions. To stay in this same
issue of child abuse, how we respond will vary whether it is 100 children who are reported victims of abuse,
once each, or 10 children, each of whom are reported 10 times. We need to know that.
The second issue of concern is the lack of disaggregated data; that means there are huge gaps is
our knowledge, particularly about especially vulnerable children. We look at street children, for example. We
have an awful lot of estimates, mostly from our larger urban centres, but we do not have statistics by age,
gender or ethnocultural status. We do not know how many street kids are children with disabilities, or what
type. We do not know how many are Aboriginal. We know almost nothing about children on the street who are
lesbian, gay or transgender. We do not know very much about whom or how many are in the sex trade or being
otherwise sexually exploited. We do not know how many, or who, are HIV positive. I could go on for half an hour
Think about working children. How many children are working? What types of employment are they in? What sort of
jobs are they doing in the informal and formal sectors? How many of them are suffering job-related injuries or
deaths? We do not have those data.
Think about children with disabilities. There are many reports that they are more subject to
abuse than typically developing children, but we do not know the prevalence or the types of abuse. We do not
know what goes on in families, or in institutions, when we are thinking about treatment for children with
My third area of concern is the dearth of child impact assessments in Canada, or of program evaluation data. Are
the intervention and prevention programs that we have there are many of them and they look great effective?
Which families, children or communities do they help? Which aspects of child development are being improved? Are
they short-term or long-term? Are the resources we have being spent appropriately? Are the programs over- or
under- resourced? None of these kinds of questions can be answered without evaluation data.
Increases in child tax benefits, for example, look terrific, but have they reduced child poverty
as intended? The Aboriginal head-start programs look wonderful and should have a positive effect on Aboriginal
health, education and family functioning. Have they? We do not know. Have the family resource centres helped
parents and children? We do not know.
We think there is a huge problem of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. There have been many advances in our
knowledge about FASD and some related initiatives, but we have no information about the prevalence of children
with FASD in the juvenile justice system. What types of sentencing do they receive? What are the best practices
to rehabilitate them or to try and reintegrate them?
My point is that without national statistics or measurable outcomes for programs and policies,
and without evaluation data, we are often limited to best guesses and estimates about our children. I think the
existing gaps in our knowledge represent major obstacles to ensuring that children's rights are respected, and
that our laws, policies and practices increasingly are gaining consistency with the convention standards.
The gaps in education monitoring and measurement also constrain our ability to inform other countries about our
successes with children. We can provide many anecdotes, but as a wise researcher once said: The plural of
anecdote is not data. I will leave it at that. Thank you.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you very much, Ms. Covell. That was challenging for the
questions that I think will follow. Senator Losier-Cool is the first questioner.
Senator Losier-Cool: I completely agree with the point you just raised, which is that
there is a lack of information and awareness. Children's rights are akin to minority rights. If minorities want
to progress and be recognized, there must be legislation.
As you said, and as Judge McLaughlin said, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not enough to defend the rights
If an organization or a commission responsible for protecting the rights of children received
this information, what do you think the federal government should do to ensure that it gets all the information?
I will begin again. I will say it in English. I was saying that the rights of the child are much
like minority rights. For minority rights, we have it written within the legislation that there are two official
languages in Canada.
Could a structure I do not know what the exact term is such as what is in the Official Languages Act, which
creates a Commissioner of Official Languages, create a real office for the rights of the children? I would like
to have your comment on what type of federal structure we can have.
Ms. Covell: First, I am not so comfortable with the idea that the rights of children are
for minority rights, if I understood that correctly. The rights of the child apply to every child and there are
many positive rights. We are not just concerned with minority children.
Having said that, we need some kind of federal children's commissioner or children's
ombudsperson, as many European countries have, who can work in coordination with the provincial and territorial
child advocates. I would see that kind of structure as probably what is needed.
The Deputy Chairman: If I may clarify, I think the question that Senator Losier-Cool was
posing was an interesting one. It is the first time I have actually thought about the question of whether or not
there should be some legislation for children like the Official Languages Act, which is what led to the
establishment of the Commissioner of Official Languages. It is a new thought for me.
Senator Losier-Cool: It is within the act that we have a Commissioner of Official
Languages. There is a law, the Official Languages Act. Maybe the word ``minority'' comes from this. ``Minority''
refers to those Canadians who live in minority situations. It has been recognized through the law that
francophones and anglophones are equal. In the act and in the law, we have created a commissioner.
In your answer, you referred to other countries. What form does it take in other countries?
Ms. Covell: I am aware that there are a few countries, but there are some countries where
the convention is automatically incorporated into domestic law, which does not happen here. Other countries have
a children's ombudsman, which, on occasion, is someone to whom the children themselves can go.
If we could get the convention into a situation where it could be linked with law, whether it is the way you
described or even if it is, as it is in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, in the preamble, and we can bring in the
child impact assessments and have some definition of what ``best interest'' is, that would probably be the best
approach. I am not familiar enough with the minority language situation or the legal issues surrounding that to
comment in that regard specifically.
Senator Losier-Cool: As any requests been made to the authorities or to the government
with regard to the creation of such an organization or for the position of a commissioner? If so, what has the
response been? How would the government react if it received a request to create a commissioner to protect the
rights of children?
Ms. Covell: I think Senator Pearson could probably answer that question. There have been
many non-governmental organizations across the country that have strongly supported and lobbied for a central
government children's commissioner. Why it has not happened, I cannot answer, but I know there has been much
advocacy in that direction.
Senator Oliver: Thank you for an excellent presentation. It is not hard to see that you
are a researcher, as the questions you posed have gone right to the heart of the issues that we studied and
looked at when we were away.
Senator Pearson, in about three minutes, gave an excellent summary of what we learned while we
were away in both Geneva and Sweden, the dual system of laws and many powers being devolved down to the
We actually met with the UN committee and heard them, first, having a presentation from Nigeria.
We then had an opportunity to talk to them about the report they had just done on Sweden. Sweden, as you know,
is a country that is quite far advanced in terms of developing procedures, rules, monitoring and measurements
for the rights of the child under the covenant.
On the other hand, the UN committee said that we have some concerns with your report and the
concerns were the measurements. They said, ``We do not know how many of your children have HIV. We do not know
how many,'' and they listed virtually all of the things you have given us today, saying, ``That is what we
lack.'' That was one of the main criticisms of the Swedish report that they put in. As Senator Pearson has
pointed out, one of the problems is that the ombudsperson cannot get it unless she goes through the
municipalities, who have their own rules and their own rights. It is very similar to the problem we have in
With that background, there is one other problem that we would face in Canada, and that is the rights of privacy
and the right to self-identify. If you wanted to know how many of the children who have problems are visible
minorities, you might not be able to get that information and that data accurately from anyone unless you first
had self-identification. Self-identification is subjective, not objective, so you would not have an objective
standard for that.
Are some things also covered by privacy laws? If you agree with that, how do you propose that we
in Canada get around them?
Ms. Covell: How we get around privacy laws, I will not go there. As to how we get the
numbers, there are questions that could be added to census data. There are subgroups that could be added to
Much as I hate to say it, I think maybe we could check with the Americans.
Senator Oliver: We have the Charter, though, which indicates that there are certain
things one cannot ask. Certainly privacy laws indicate there are certain things one cannot ask, and one cannot
ask even on a census form.
Ms. Covell: Even with a self-identification you cannot have an option?
Senator Oliver: What if they do not self identify?
Ms. Covell: I suggest we would still have more data than we have at this point.
Senator Oliver: You would have more, but it would not be accurate. It is hard to come up with the objective kind
of standards for measurement that you would like to have.
Ms. Covell: As a researcher, I cannot get anything published unless I have my sample
highly detailed in terms of their ethno-cultural status as well as everything else. I am coming from a different
world here. It is expected when I do research that I ask these questions, and people are free not to answer
them, but they always do.
Senator Oliver: You are lucky. That is good. I would like to follow up on the excellent
question of Senator Losier- Cool. If we were to adopt a national standard with a national ombudsperson who would
deal with the ombudspersons in the regions, the territories and the provinces, how can the federal power get the
provinces and the territories to agree in terms of measurable standards and the measurements that you would like
to see, that you have defined? How would you set it up?
Ms. Covell: Do you mean structurally?
Senator Oliver: Yes.
Ms. Covell: I would look at how the multilateral framework on child care came about,
namely, what sort of cooperation was necessary for that. Obviously, it would have to be done with cooperation at
all levels. If we already have children's advocates or the equivalent in most of the country, I think if we
could organize the provincial child advocates such that they have a consistent mandate across the country, it
would have to be much expanded from what it is at this time. Part of the role of the federal government could be
to fund that. In turn, part of the mandate of the provincial agencies would be to feed back the information to
the federal government.
Senator Oliver: However, it would be funding and also applying national standards or
standards that apply to every province and territory. With the money comes an obligation.
Ms. Covell: Yes, as there are with other provincial-federal shared systems.
Senator Oliver: Are there any other details that you would see in setting up such a system? Do you believe it
should be the ombuds-type system in Canada?
Ms. Covell: You are getting out of my area of expertise. I am hesitant to say yes or no.
That seems to me the logical route to start. Whether there is a better route, I do not know. I have to go back
to the education thing. As long as people are not aware not just of the facts of the convention but the
incredible importance of respecting children's rights to the healthy development of society, that is an obstacle
to the kind of sharing of responsibility that we are talking about. If people at all levels of government had
more information about how important respecting children's rights is to having healthy provinces, healthy
municipalities and so forth, it would be easier to get the kind of cooperation that you would need to set up the
structures we would need.
Senator Losier-Cool: To follow up on that, what would be the department or ministry of
the family, if not an ombudsman?
Do you have any thoughts for that?
Ms. Covell: Offer me the job, and I will figure it out.
Senator Losier-Cool: You will have to be elected first.
Ms. Covell: I am uncomfortable giving an off-the-cuff answer to something so important. I
would say, putting my research hat back on, that I would look at what has been happening in the rest of the
world, what has and has not worked and what we can learn from places that have such a minister, ministry or
ombudsman. Let us not start from scratch and make the mistakes of other places. I am sure we can learn a lot, as
your committee did, by going around and talking to other people. Look at the evidence and see what works.
Senator Chaput: You say that Canada has failed to meet its obligations in three areas:
education, follow-up and the measurement of outcomes. In my opinion, and correct me if I am wrong, is it not
impossible to conduct a follow-up and measure results when there is not sufficient data? If that is the case, do
the provinces have enough information to help the federal government conduct a follow-up and measure outcomes?
Is this information already available in the provinces?
Ms. Covell: The short answer is no; I do not think those data exist. You are right that
you cannot do the monitoring without the data, but we can certainly do child impact assessments on new laws,
changes to legislation, new policies and new programs. When the government funds initiatives, part of that could
include a requirement that there be a child impact assessment or some other evaluation on the program. Research
can be promoted across the country. Perhaps if privacy laws are precluding the obtaining of certain kinds of
data, we could probably get enough, if it is collected appropriately, that we could use inferential statistics
to get closer approximations to reality than we have at this point.
Senator Chaput: You say that Nova Scotia is the only province which agreed to a request
to make awareness of children's rights part of the school curriculum. Can you tell us how this was done in the
schools in Nova Scotia?
Ms. Covell: Thank you very much finally, a question I can answer.
Yes, the centre in which I am located developed and pilot-tested children's rights education materials. We
tested them in the local school district. We did evaluations of their impact on the children, and the school
district did independent evaluations on their impact on the children. That was the beginning. The evaluation
data were very positive; the district was very pleased. We eventually went to the provincial department of
education and asked them if they would like to be the first province in Canada to meet the obligations under the
convention. We showed them the data, and we wrote all the material so that they would fit into the existing
provincial guidelines, styles, learning outcomes framework and so forth, and it grew from there.
If I can take a minute here, one of the nice things about that it is now being picked up and expanded
elsewhere is supportive evaluation data are coming from other jurisdictions. One of the important things is
that it functions to change the ethos of the school, and that is why it is not incorporated nearly as much as I
would like it to be, but in other jurisdictions where it has been more widely put into use, there are measurable
outcomes on the ethos of the schools. That is nice because most of our interventions to lessen bullying
behaviours and harassment in schools have focused on the individual child. When you look at the research, the
structure and the ethos of the school are much more predictive of problems in the school than any individual
Children's rights education can really be sold as a way of improving the school environment.
Senator Chaput: Could this model be implemented in other provinces if they were
interested? Can it be transferred elsewhere?
Ms. Covell: Thank you for a wonderful question. Yes, in fact, it has actually been
adapted by individual school districts. There has been a lot of interest. Where it has been adapted and most
successful is actually in England, which is an example of how adaptable it is. It has also been recommended for
use internationally by Defence for Children International. It is very adaptable. It obviously can be updated in
terms of activities and so forth. I will be happy to give you any information you want.
The Deputy Chairman: Perhaps you could elaborate on the fact that the program is not a
Ms. Covell: That is right. One of the things that must be taken into account when you are
trying to introduce any new program, particularly one of children's rights, given the suspicion about it, is how
to do it in the least intrusive way. Rather than children's rights being a separate course, which teachers would
have to find the time to add, it is incorporated into social studies and health and what, in Nova Scotia, is
called personal development and relationships at the junior high school level. Then we have Grade 12, where it
is all incorporated into citizenship education.
Senator Chaput: Was it a provincial initiative, as such?
Ms. Covell: It is now.
Senator Chaput: Was it an individual person?
Ms. Covell: Yes.
The Deputy Chairman: Ms. Covell should take great credit for this. Senator Oliver is from
Nova Scotia, so he could find out.
Senator Losier-Cool: When that program was developed did you talk about corporal
punishment to children, or is there any policy on corporal punishment in school programs, or corporal punishment
Ms. Covell: It is not allowed as a disciplinary tool in schools in Canada. Whether it has
been discussed I am trying to remember. There are sections on physical abuse. I do not remember, to be quite
The Deputy Chairman: This could lead to my question before we go to the second round. One
of the things that Ms. Covell has been very effective at is involving young people in her research and actually
having the young people engaged in the research. Recently, under her unit, she has produced some excellent work
with quite young children, different ages of children, for the study on violence against children. We got some
of that information when we were in Geneva. My question is, in a sense, to some recommendations about how we at
this committee might hear from young people with respect to our issue.
Ms. Covell: I was wondering if you were asking youth. I think that would be terrific. If
you could find some way of inviting young people here, those who know something about rights and those who do
not know something about rights, from different parts of the country, that would be excellent. It is endlessly
astonishing how much wisdom they display. The focus groups to which Senator Pearson was referring were
unbelievable. I spent eight months going through research data from across North America, and I have 40 pages of
things that children have said. In essence, they have said all of it.
Senator Oliver: I have two questions. The first involves the question Senator Pearson
just asked you about involving children. As you know, in the court system, before judges determined whether a
child could give evidence in a case, they put them through a little test to determine just what was the age of
intellection: When would they be able to know or understand enough to respond to the questions that would be
put? How do you, in your research, get around the issue of intellection?
Ms. Covell: I think it is really important to have age-appropriate issues and
age-appropriate wording. We have not had a huge problem with this particular study. The youngest children were
eight or nine. That was not really an issue. There is a huge difference between asking children in a courtroom
setting and asking them in a research setting. In a courtroom, children seem to be subjected to questions in
ways that make them think they have answered wrong. When children are repeatedly asked the same questions, or
asked in ways that they are uncomfortable with, because they are used to situations where they have to get the
right answer, they are discomforted very quickly and can change their stories. Then people assume they do not
know what they are talking about, they are lying or they do not understand. However, very often it is that they
are trying to please the person who is asking the question. If you ask an age- appropriate issue in an
age-appropriate way, you can talk to children from age three and up without any problem.
Senator Oliver: Maybe judges need training on how to pose questions in an age-appropriate
Ms. Covell: Yes, and lawyers. If you have some knowledge of development, people asked me
what age can children start to participate, and I always said at birth, because at birth they can determine how
long they want to breastfeed and when. That is participation in their own lives, and it builds from there. They
can always participate. You just have to find the age-appropriate way of doing it.
Senator Oliver: In your statement you talked about section 43 of the Criminal Code, and
you quoted Chief Justice McLachlin's comments. She said that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child had not
required Canada to prohibit all parental use of corporal punishment. What parts of corporal punishment would you
say are still permitted under her definition?
Ms. Covell: The Supreme Court decision imposed limitations on the use of corporal
punishment, they did not ban it. The limitations that are imposed, from my developmental psychology hat, are
quite frightening. They are completely inconsistent with any notions of the rights of the child and any notions
of the best interests of the child. The UN committee did recommend Canada completely ban all forms of corporal
punish. They did not suggest that immediately after a child's second birthday party it was okay to hit him,
which is not what was intended, but that appears to be the way many parents are interpreting it. That is one of
the areas where we really need to do research right now; how people understand the limitations that were
Senator Oliver: As a researcher, what other ways have you heard that people are
interpreting the dicta from the Chief Justice that they are not required to prohibit all parental use of? What
other things have you heard are being included?
Ms. Covell: Just in that context. That is all I have heard.
Senator Losier-Cool: I will ask a question to which I should know the answer. According
to the convention, what age are children?
Ms. Covell: From birth until 18.
Senator Losier-Cool: I have been a school teacher for over 30 years. It seems to me when
I look at children, there is an age group, when they are three and four years old; after three they can talk and
they can speak, those small children. Is there a significant difference in your research for babies, as to
violence against them, as to abuse? When they grow do they stand a better chance because they can talk?
Is there a group from zero to 18 which is more targeted, more vulnerable?
Ms. Covell: More vulnerable to violence?
Senator Losier-Cool: To abuse of all kinds.
Ms. Covell: The statistics show that if you are not killed before your first birthday,
you are in pretty good shape. That is the most vulnerable time in a child's life to homicide or infanticide. The
family violence study from Statistics Canada shows that children are disproportionately represented in all forms
of physical and sexual abuse. Shaken baby syndrome, by definition, is something that only happens within the
first two years of life and that is one of the issues we have no statistics on in Canada.
A recent survey in the U.S., and I do not know why it would be different here, showed high rates of parents
self- reporting shaking their babies as a routine disciplinary procedure. That is not something that will happen
when the child is older.
Physical punishment for children tends to peak at around age four. Some parents continue to use
physical punishment until their children are adolescents, at which time the children very often hit back, either
escalating into the criminal court system or stopping at that time.
At this time, I am in the middle of doing a childhood exit survey of older youth and young
adults, 15 to 18 years old, on their experiences with physical punishment. The responses are heartbreaking. I
had no idea so many children were being hit with so many objects for so many bizarre reasons.
Senator Losier-Cool: I appreciate your answer. I felt that, and you have found it in your
The Deputy Chairman: I would like to be slightly more positive in the sense that there is research going on now
by Dr. Susan Bennett from CHEO on shaken baby syndrome. We should soon have more data from pediatricians and
It is a significant problem. The study of child abuse and neglect that Ms. Covell referred to
earlier which has been done by the Department of Health has some very interesting statistics about the incidence
in early adolescence of a great deal of abuse. We need to look at how that connects to earlier abuse and whether
the abused adolescent child is one who has been significantly abused all the way along. I do not think that
study actually demonstrates that, but there is a new study coming out that will give us some data from two
different periods of time.
Ms. Covell: The one we are doing will be the same because we are asking for the different
age groups to look back at the different times.
The Deputy Chairman: It has been interesting and helpful, and I will send the researchers
to look up more of your work as part of our background information.
In this segment of the meeting today, we will hear from two people. We will hear first from
Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, and
then from Rita Karakas, the Executive Director of Save the Children Canada.
We put together this panel for an interesting comparison. Ms. Karakas works mostly with
international issues. Ms. Blackstock works primarily with domestic issues, but since she has recently been in
New Zealand and other places, she has had opportunities to work with other indigenous groups in other parts of
Ms. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director, First Nations Child
and Family Caring Society of Canada: It is a great honour to address the committee. I am here to alert the
committee to the significant risk faced by First Nations children and their families across this country, and
the fact that there are often solutions. We can make a difference collectively in Canadian society for this
generation of children.
In my opening remarks, I would like to go through the background and then proceed to one
particular example which demonstrates where we can significantly make a difference for this generation. After
that, I will conclude my remarks with three recommendations for future action.
As many of you know, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly
urged Canada in its concluding remarks to close the life chances between Aboriginal children and young people
and non-Aboriginal children and young people in this country. Numerous federal initiatives have gone toward this
objective, but sadly, today in Canadian society, the risks continue to be disproportionate.
Our best guesstimate is that there are between 22,500 and 28,000 Aboriginal children in the
child welfare system today. That is three times the number that were in residential schools at the height of
those operations in the 1940s. This is a critical time.
In allowing so many nations to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I can imagine
that the authors of that report thought that nations in ideal conditions would implement the convention to the
fullest extent possible.
When I talk about ideal conditions, I talk about a democratic state with a value for human
rights, preferably enshrined in a constitution or in a charter of rights, such as we have in Canada, and about a
nation that has sufficient resources, as Canada thankfully has with its report of the surplus budget.
For too long, reports on Aboriginal children, even back in my generation and I was born in 1964,
described us as at risk, marginalized and vulnerable. Too many reports continue to use these three adjectives to
describe Aboriginal children today. There are solutions. The message of this committee's report, ``Promises to
Keep: Implementing Canada's Human Rights Obligations'' is not only to draw national attention to the lived
experiences of these children but also to say that these are not problems without solutions.
Many say the problems confronting Aboriginal children are too complex. It almost makes one want
to stand still when one looks at the magnitude of the problem. I believe that complex questions often require
the simplest answers. For example, when we looked at the number of resources available to First Nations
children, we wanted to address the stereotype in Canadian society that First Nations children on-reserve have
access to more resources than other children have. Our research found that of the $90 billion in annual revenues
to the voluntary sector that provide myriad social support, only a negligible amount was going to First Nations
children and their families on-reserve.
Many of you know that often provincial governments do not provide services on reserves and that
there might not be municipal equivalents. Honourable senators who have travelled to some of our First Nations
communities know that there are few safe playgrounds for children or municipal libraries things that we take
for granted in urban centres.
According to the Government of Canada, the average income on-reserve is somewhere between $8,500
and $9,500 per year. That is less than what most of send our students to university with and yet it is what
families have to meet their basic needs. In terms of federal services, we know that First Nations child welfare
is funded on a per capita basis. Overall, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and a First
Nations study found that they receive 22 per cent less per child in child welfare funding than the average
province receives, based on 2000 data.
When I add all this up and think about why we have 9,000 First Nations children resident
on-reserve and under child welfare care, if I made an announcement to Canadians today to say that I would cut
all provincial services and municipal services for children, most voluntary sector services for children and put
all adults on an annual income of $9,500, I wonder how well the average Canadian child would fair? This is not
rocket science. Most of us can imagine the struggle in such a situation. In fact, I think it is a testament to
the resilience of First Nations children, families and communities that the children are doing as well as they
What are the mechanisms? Why has this not come to the attention of the federal government in a way that
prescribes it as a national crisis? I thought about that question as if I were a family member and living
on-reserve with my child. The fact is that I could go to the court system and seek redress but on such a limited
income you could well imagine that I would probably be more likely to use my resources to put food on the table
than to take the federal government to court.
My other option could be to go to the provincial child advocate or commissioner's office, but
they have jurisdiction only provincially and have no mandate over federal departments. I could go to the
Canadian Human Rights Commission, except it exempts anything under the Indian Act. Thus, I am left without a
voice as a First Nations child or a young person on-reserve and without an opportunity to deal with the crisis
that we face and the fact that there is a solution before us.
Canada can make a difference. Here is the example: It is with those First Nations children
those 9,000 that are in child welfare care today. A key factor to the overrepresentation of these children in
child welfare care is the fact that they are underfunded. As the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern
Development found in 2000, they are keenly underfunded in a range of services known as Least Disruptive
Measures. That is a statutory term in most provincial child welfare legislation. If a child has been identified
as being at risk of child maltreatment or neglect, it is the range of services a government or a First Nations
child welfare agency should provide so that the child can stay safely in their home. Those services are not
funded under the current funding formula for First Nations children on reserve. That means that many more
children than otherwise would be required are ending up staying in foster homes when they could stay in their
There is a solution. Four and one half years ago, the Assembly of First Nations and the
Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development co-authored a report with 17 recommendations to make
improvements so that this inequity did not stand. The department participated in that piece and has done some
research since that time. However, the end result is that there has been no new funding identified to address
this inequality. If you looked at the department budget you would see that there is an increase in child welfare
funding but that is only driven because there is an increased number of children brought into care. In fact,
there was a 71.5 per cent increase in the number of status children going into care between 1995 and 2001. The
good news is that the federal government has sole jurisdiction. As the Committee on the Rights of the Child has
noticed, when the federal government has sole jurisdiction it has been able to make a difference. Of course,
there is a surplus budget. Under the UN Special Session, ``A World Fit for Children,'' Canada's children have
first call on a wealthy nation's resources.
The impact of doing nothing is quite clear. It is lived out every day in the lives of these
First Nations children and their families. We do not know the data for 2002 and 2003 in terms of how many more
First Nations children have gone into care while we have sat around the table trying to figure out how to
implement the recommendations. You can only imagine if you are one of those children or one of those families
how much you would have hoped that kind of inequity would have been addressed.
I have a number of recommendations. First, there needs to be someone at a federal level to look
at the violations of Aboriginal children's rights across different disciplines so that we know what they are. We
understand that Aboriginal children are not at risk, marginalized and vulnerable just because they choose to be
or their parents raise them to be. They are at risk, vulnerable and marginalized because their rights are being
persistently violated. New Zealand's Commissioner of Children, Dr. Cynthia Kiro, is an excellent example for
Canada to study.
Second, Canada should act immediately to provide equitable funding for First Nations children in
terms of child welfare. These are not just children and not just Aboriginal children. They are Aboriginal
children who are experiencing neglect and child maltreatment. Surely among the children in Canada they are the
ones that deserve to look over to us and see that we are providing them at least with an equitable chance of
safety and well-being.
The third recommendation is to make the development and resourcing of community-based strategies
that promote the well-being of Aboriginal children a priority. As a national organization, we can do something
about providing communities with resources. We understand that the answers are at a community level. National
roll-out programs have some positive aspects but they fail to respond to the rich diversity of First Nations
communities and their needs across this country.
Fourth, we need to hear from Aboriginal young people themselves. The Assembly of First Nations,
the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Mtis National Council and the National Association of Friendship Centres have
youth councils that can speak on policy issues. They, more than me, can sit here first-hand and deliver to the
committee more of a synopsis of what their experiences are and inspire you with a sense of hope with their
I hope Canada understands that you can make a difference for this generation of children and
that 30 years from now we are not using the words, ``at risk,'' ``marginalized'' and ``vulnerable'' to describe
our Aboriginal young people. By acting in a coordinated and urgent fashion together we will be able to use
adjectives like ``distinct,'' ``respected,'' ``valued'' and ``dignified,'' to describe not only this generation
of Aboriginal children but every generation to follow.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you, Ms. Blackstock. Ms. Karakas, please proceed.
Ms. Rita Karakas, Executive Director, Save the Children Canada:
It gives me great pleasure to be here this afternoon.
I am honoured to be sitting next to Cindy Blackstock. Thank you for bringing us together. I have
long been looking forward to meeting her.
I am often struck, having worked in 72 countries and having been at a previous time an adviser
to the Australian government's tourist commission on Aboriginal communities, by the comparators in Canada of our
Aboriginal communities in which we absolutely and totally as a society neglect and abuse all rights. Where we
actually should be ashamed of our behaviour, in many ways within Canada we tolerate, condone and do not support
situations which my agency receives money from CIDA to work internationally in eradicating. Canadian indicators,
whether they are health, income, participation in the education system, social justice, incarceration or
detention systems, all point to a real shame. We have not yet demonstrated that we have learned the lessons of
our past in dealing with our Aboriginal communities. I welcome and am humbled by your presentation.
We at Save the Children Canada welcome this opportunity, as we see ourselves as duty bearers
under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I will first speak about our recommendations and
then go back into our commentary. I read the presentations of Mr. Jeffery Wilson, Professor Nicholas Bala and
Ms. Covell, and we are in a similar vein. There are similar alignments in our recommendations.
Save the Children Canada calls for Canada to step up to the mark in acknowledging its responsibility as a duty
bearer for child rights and the protection and promotion of children's rights as a signatory to the UN
convention. We believe that we are a society rich in democratic principles and who value human rights, and who
have economic capacity. We have repeatedly demonstrated our economic capacity and human development index by
regularly being in the top five countries identified by the United Nations. We believe that we have successfully
had budgets and are managing our household incomes as a country and that we have the capacity to further meet
our duties and responsibilities towards Canadian children.
We call on this committee to recommend that the Canadian government and the governments of
Canada and we speak to the federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions bring together an integrated
interim departmental approach to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child across all levels of
the Canadian government and its regulatory bodies, the judiciary, customs officials, throughout the life of the
We call on a monitoring system that would create periodic reviews of the implementation of the
convention, and we note that there is a difference between monitoring and verification. We also call on the
federal government holding on to its verification responsibilities.
We at Save the Children Canada presently advise the United States Senate on the verification of
cocoa farm child labourers in West Africa as they grow cocoa beans for a safe and healthy environment. We do not
have the capacity to do the same advisory role for child labour in Canada.
We call on the Canadian governments to help oversee congruent, integrated legislation to protect
children, including victims of child trafficking and all forms of child exploitation, that is, to map
legislation and overlapping jurisdiction to ensure that inconsistencies are worked out and congruencies are
We urgently call on appropriate training of professionals on child rights, including Supreme
Court justices, judges, lawyers, teachers and other duty bearers, the mandarins at the federal government system
and very powerful mandarins in the child welfare system and the provinces. Write to the clerk and sometimes
those social welfare bureaus and offices.
We call on children's rights to be incorporated into government and civil society programming,
including instruments of civil society such as the Charter.
We call on the promotion of full and active participation of children in Canada's social and
Those are our recommendations. Our examples for calling on these recommendations reside in the daily lives of
Canadian children and Canadians' understanding of children's rights.
In honour of National Child Day this year, we commissioned an Ipsos-Reid survey of 1,000 adult
Canadians on their knowledge of children's rights in Canada and how they rated the Canadian government and
governments on their performance in children's rights duties. Regretfully, the respondents failed to demonstrate
significant knowledge of children's rights, and those who failed the test also failed the people who were held
accountable. They felt that the federal government was not doing its duty in children's rights.
Ms. Covell called on facts and knowledge. Canadians have very limited knowledge on the number of Canadian
children with HIV/AIDS, number of instances of child abuse, number of instances of children in labor or in the
worst forms of labour. Of course they do not know because we at Save the Children Canada do not know, Ms. Covell
does not know, and we do not know at the federal and provincial levels. When we do know, we do not act. We do
know in the case of Aboriginal children, and we still do not act.
We call on the fact that those who deal with children's rights and are at a position in the
child's life to make a difference in that child's life by exercising the children's rights approach do not know
their duties and therefore cannot act as duty bearers. We say that the Canadian government is negligent in this
part of the convention.
I would like to cite you a case of a child called Zheng, a Chinese child, not a Canadian child, but a child at
the age of 14 who came to Canada and sought to have protection under the Canadian legislation. This child came
to Canada in 2002 as a 14-year-old minor and, with approximately 20 other minors, was apprehended by immigration
officials while entering Canada illegally from China. She applied for refugee status and claimed to have been
trafficked into Canada from China on the way to the United States. She feared persecution if she was returned to
China. She was denied refugee status, made an appeal, and the appeal, along with those of other claimants, was
denied. In the appeal, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was cited as the reason for the denial. The
citing was that she was able to give consent.
We believe that she was viewed as a voluntary migrant who left China to improve the economic
status of herself and her family. The reasoning in the decision was centred on the use of the convention's
position that maturity is an ongoing process. Senator Oliver, this leads to some of your questions. This
position was stretched in this case to defend the argument that, as children age, their consent can be given
more weight and can eventually be legally binding before adulthood.
Children's rights to protection from violence, abuse and exploitation are not in any way limited
or circumscribed as a result of their age. Children's limited capacity to protect themselves always means that
consideration of age and capacity can only suggest stronger rights for protection, never weaker. At the least,
it demands that Canadian officials making this judgment are fully cognizant of that child's life, her social
condition and what informed consent means. Certainly this is an argument that we see in certain parts of Africa,
when males use young women to have intercourse with in order to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. It is informed
consent. In some parts of the world, that is social coercion. Certainly it is a debate that we encounter when we
talk about children being forced into soldiering, war children, and children forced into criminality at 14. Is
that informed consent? We took a view, and we deported this child. We used the convention to do that.
We would argue that Canada needs to ensure that adequate legislation is in place to protect
children, in cases of trafficked children in particular. We are particularly concerned and bring this as an
example. For us it covers a multitude of Canadian responsibilities under the convention, the duty to have
informed and trained professionals working within the governmental systems. Our concern is highlighted post
September 11 as we increasingly become very worried about our borders and protecting our borders.
We also believe that Canadian federal and provincial jurisdiction sometimes allows this
government, our country, not to meet its requirements under the convention.
We have many examples of asymmetrical legislation, particularly in our health care. We have many
examples presently where there is a will to redress some of the increasing deterioration or distortion of our
universal or intended health care system. Where there is a will there is a way. What there seems to be in Canada
is an absence of a will of children's rights.
Senator, you spoke about children as a minority. We think children are still perceived in Canada
as property of adults. We think we are extremely careful about the politically correct cultural sensitivities
around children, yet we also believe that human rights cannot exist without enshrined children's rights. Human
rights start with children's rights.
This view is recognized by the Canadian International Development Agency, and we at Save the
Children Canada are funded to train the government of Kenya, to train the Ethiopian government and their
officials, and to work globally around the world on children's rights and child participation. We have
repeatedly made the same offer to various departments of the Canadian government to no avail. We made it again
last week. We welcome an opportunity to train Canadian officials in understanding their duty and responsibility
under children's rights and children-friendly legislation, and children-friendly schools. We served to help
change the curriculum structure of the Peruvian government in respect to Aboriginal children and making
education child friendly. We would welcome those opportunities here.
Jurisdictional differentials, federational structure, the Constitution and the Charter are not
barriers to the duties of children's rights. There are existing solutions. There are many other states where the
federal models exist that have managed to find solutions to children's rights. We can cite Norway, Sweden, New
Zealand and Scotland that resides in the United Kingdom structure and has a youth Parliament and who invites
youngsters to be directly able to claim their rights.
In summary, we believe that as a society we have the capacity, but we do not have the
motivation. We have had leadership. At Save the Children Canada we are very concerned that the leadership be
able to continue to another generation. We are very grateful for the leadership we have seen.
We have a lack of commitment to understanding the impact of legislation on the lives of children, and we are
incredibly complacent as a society about the welfare of all our children, and particularly our socially excluded
Senator Oliver: First, I would like to thank you both for two excellent presentations.
Could I ask a question of Ms. Blackstock?
We are looking for a model for both monitoring and implementing the convention. No one has come
up with a form of model. Ms. Blackstock said in her presentation that she liked the New Zealand commissioner
model. Could you tell us a bit more about it, and whether and how it might apply to Canada?
Ms. Blackstock: As you know, New Zealand is not a federal state, so it has one
commissioner that has jurisdiction throughout the country. The commissioner who has been appointed can address
individual complaints of children and their families, as well as systemic complaints.
The current commissioner is Dr. Cynthia Kiro, who happens to be a Maori woman, and who brings
that sensibility to bear for the well-being of all children in New Zealand. She has a staff of interdisciplinary
professionals. I visited the office personally and was very impressed with not only the dedication of the staff,
but the nice balance they had struck between meeting the needs of individual children and their families who
were bringing forward concerns, and dealing with systemic complaints, which often have broad implications for a
broad number of children.
Senator Oliver: That is fascinating, because the ombudsperson in Sweden does not have the
right to make representations on behalf of individual cases. Could you tell us how large the office was? How
many people were working in New Zealand when you were there?
Ms. Blackstock: This is a guesstimate; of the group I met, there were about 12 to 14
Senator Oliver: They would be of what types of disciplines?
Ms. Blackstock: Social work, legal professions, child-rights focus, and Dr. Kiro herself
comes from a health background.
Senator Oliver: From what you saw, were most of their problems bigger systemic types, or
were they doing a lot of individual matters arising from individual complaints and concerns?
Ms. Blackstock: As I suggested, my impression was they had struck a nice balance. They
were looking at some of the large systemic issues, and doing investigations and providing meaningful
recommendations that were pragmatic and could be implemented. They were also judicious about ensuring that
children felt they had a voice at the commission and that they were heard at the commission.
Senator Oliver: What age would some of these children be that were being heard by the commission? Was it seven,
eight, nine or older?
Ms. Blackstock: My understanding is that the children's commission has jurisdiction over
all children aged zero to 18 in the country of New Zealand.
Senator Losier-Cool: I must admit right from the beginning that when I hear about
children, I get like Senator LaPierre was saying, I go gaga a bit. I cried last night watching some program on
the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I will have a general comment, and then I will go to a specific question on this.
When you mentioned leadership, it reminded me of listening to Romo Dallaire at one of those
many conferences. He said, ``We have created the leadership. Now we must lead.'' That is so true. Bono then sang
in Toronto, ``The world needs more Canada.'' Canada must lead somewhere. Do we need a CIDA agency for Canada?
How would the application of the Convention on the Rights of the Child affect native children?
Ms. Karakas: I believe that Canadians and I have traveled the world as a Canadian are
very proud of their citizenship. A big factor is that I am an immigrant and that my parents chose to immigrate
to Montreal; I have a certain rights as a woman and as an immigrant. But sometimes people make mistakes. As
Canadians, we did not really live up to all of our promises.
We do not always follow through. Our international development aid is going down, and the
Americans' is going up, net aid. We have commitments where we are actually on the right side philosophically,
yet when we come home and look at how we apply it, we do not follow through consistently.
Often, our domestic politics gets in the way, yet we do need an instrument for sustainable development in our
own country. It is unacceptable for such a wealthy country as Canada, and a country who takes such a high road
internationally in so many ways and such leadership in many ways. We are quietly, through the offices of Mr.
Axworthy, negotiating an Ethiopian Nutria. I can cite many examples of this, but we tolerate some inequities in
social justices in our own country that we also do not speak about.
I think we need both a monitoring and an enabling facility. You asked previously about a ministry of children,
and families. I would have said children and families, because sometimes ministry of families has a political
connotation that some of us in the women's rights movement would be concerned about. A ministry is accountable
to government. I would like someone accountable to Parliament. I think there is a difference in that. I think
Ms. Blackstock was speaking about it in the ombudsman capacity. There is a different accountability. We can
afford to have an Auditor General. I guess that is important. I would put to you that our children are much more
Ms. Blackstock: You asked if implementing the convention would make a difference for
Aboriginal children and my answer is a wholehearted yes.
If we implemented only the non-discrimination provision, providing communities equal access to
resources available to other children, I am confident we would see a significant improvement in the well-being
of Aboriginal children.
Let me provide an example of research into youth suicide. We around the table have all heard of
the drastic numbers of Aboriginal young people who sadly take their lives every year. In British Columbia,
Christopher Lalonde and Michael Chandler conducted a study on this matter regarding First Nations children in
As some of you know, 197 of the 633 First Nations are in British Columbia. Taken as a whole,
they have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Dr. Chandler and Dr. Lalonde began having conversations
with First Nations, and some of them said that it might be true, but they had not had a youth suicide in their
community for the last 13 years. How could that be possible?
They unpacked it a bit more and found that 90 per cent of suicides were happening in 10 per cent
of the bands. Some communities had a zero per cent suicide rate. Imagine the lessons they could teach mainstream
Canada about keeping your children safe.
What was the difference between the communities? What they found was really common sense.
Communities with the higher degree of community decision making as reflected by First Nations control over
education, health, fire and police services, women in government and child welfare were the communities that had
the zero-per-cent suicide rate. Those communities that had limited control over their own decision making had
higher rates of suicide.
It makes sense. In our own personal lives, when we have a sense that we can make decisions, or
that people we love and care about can make decisions for us, then we feel much more in control and can see a
future for ourselves.
Senator Losier-Cool: To be inclusive.
Senator Chaput: I do not like what I have heard because it is not the way it should be in
Having said that, my question is with regard to the First Nations. The society that you represent today, does it
represent on-reserve and also off-reserve First Nations? Do you know if there is a difference between the state
of children on-reserve and off-reserve? Do you have statistics or information in that respect?
Ms. Blackstock: Our society does not represent any one group. We provide services to
communities, to First Nations child welfare agencies and they service children both on and off reserve.
The example I gave you with regard to funding applies on reserve only. However, the over-representation of
Aboriginal children in the child welfare system is the same on and off reserve.
Provinces collect their data about children and child welfare care differently. Sadly, all I can provide is a
good best estimate of the numbers of Aboriginal children in care, which is between 22,500 and 28,000. About 50
per cent of them would be children off-reserve who are being served by the provinces or in some cases by
Aboriginal child welfare agencies themselves.
We are beginning to get data through the Canadian incidence study that will start hopefully with
this round of data collection to explore the differences between Aboriginal children on and off reserve. That
will be the first time that we will have data in that format. We are encouraging further investment in the study
because it is the first benchmark.
With the data set from 1998, when we looked at the reasons for Aboriginal children coming into
care, what we found was a bit surprising, even to the communities. These children are not coming to the
attention of the child welfare system because of sexual abuse or physical violence, but because of neglect, both
on and off reserve.
Neglect can mean many things. We wanted to find out more about what it meant. We controlled for poverty,
inadequate housing and substance misuse. If we did all of those things, there should be no over-representation
of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system. This is an important finding.
When I did child protection work, I would come into homes and I might assess neglect, but I would assume that
the parents would have the capability of making changes in the risk factors. There is little parents can do
about being poor or living in an inappropriate house, because that is correlated.
You can argue that substance misuse is within the personal domain for change, but that suggests
they have access to resources. Research shows that access to resources for Aboriginal peoples is quite limited,
and we found that from research both on and off reserve.
Senator Ferretti Barth: Was the convention signed 15 years ago?
Ms. Blackstock: Yes.
Senator Ferretti Barth: You have raised several issues. In the last 15 years, what have
the obstacles been? Why has your institution not made any recommendations or made public the failings? As a
senator from Quebec and an immigrant, I have the impression that not enough is being done right now. Issues are
discussed, they are studied, recommendations are made, and then they are set aside.
Why do we not create an organization which will make things happen? When you set objectives, you
should not wait to reach them; they have to be anchored in your heart and soul if you want to attain them. I do
not understand why, after 15 years, we are still grappling with these terrible problems. Is it that government
is not working well, or is it that your institution and the people who work there who don't take their mandate
seriously? Why is there not any progress? What do you expect from us? Tell us. We are there to help you.
Ms. Blackstock: I would say in response to your question that we are actually the only national
non-profit organization that specifically works for Aboriginal children and families in the country. We were
established only two years ago.
Since we have been established, we have worked strenuously to study the convention ourselves, to
make our communities aware of its importance and how they might utilize the recommendations. Furthermore, we
participated in the indigenous day of discussion in Geneva. Since that time we have worked with Anna Pinto, who
is from India, to form an indigenous subgroup as an advisory to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Since we have been active, we have done everything we can to bring this to the attention of not only our
communities but to see the convention as a opportunity to highlight some of the concerns and also the brilliance
and the assets of Aboriginal communities. More importantly, we want to say that there are solutions to these
issues. Really what it takes is a commitment to making them a national priority and an investment in equality.
Those are the messages we are taking home. We want to be part of the solution.
Many members of our board of directors have sat on national panels because it is not good enough to simply
identify the problems. We have to work together toward solutions and monitor that they are done. There is a
generation of children out there waiting for us to meet their needs now.
Ms. Karakas: In my opinion, as regards native communities, the responsibility lies with Ottawa. The levels of
government should not be playing ping-pong with this issue. So I would hope that one of your recommendations
would be to set priorities.
Second, many Canadian children live in poverty and they are often the children of single working mothers. They
live in poverty in great part due to the relationship between governments. I think it is a long struggle.
Canadians believe that simply by creating youth protection agencies will solve the problem. Unfortunately,
Canada has refused to address the issue head-on.
We prefer our own comfort rather than systematically tackling problems. I believe that eliminating the budget
deficit has become more important than taking positive social measures or trying to bring about social justice.
The two do not go together. But it is possible to be fiscally responsible and secure our children's future, as
well as having progressive, fair and social policies.
Canada has allowed the exclusion of a whole generation of native children. It is dramatic. And
we are telling you that this is completely unacceptable.
Senator Ferretti Barth: In my humble opinion, Quebec has too many institutions and
agencies whose mandate is to protect children. Everyone wants to do something. But there is no coordination. The
only thing these groups share is their common view that this ground, these problems must be addressed
immediately. All their efforts are scattered.
Ms. Karakas: Before appearing here, I was involved with responding to problems caused by
the tsunami in Indochina, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, because we have offices in those countries. One of the first
things we did was to coordinate people and places. I think that NGOs are working in a coordinated fashion with
community organizations. But the lack of coordination, or alignment, occurs among the various jurisdictions and
regulatory regimes involved.
There's more. I have also worked in the area of child protection in Montreal, and what you
increasingly see is that frontline workers have less experience, salaries are lower, educational requirements
are very low and workers are deluged with work. So I find myself wondering what our priorities really are. Sure,
there are social service centres here and there. They hire people who have college degrees and who are
responsible for very serious cases. But I believe that we do not take this problem seriously enough in Canada.
Senator Oliver: My question is for Ms. Karakas. A committee such as this one hears from
witnesses in its deliberations after which recommendations are determined. I want to speak about one of your
recommendations. You said that we need appropriate training of professionals on child rights, including judges,
lawyers, teachers and other duty bearers. Is that kind of training available in Canada?
Ms. Karakas: Yes, and we provide it.
Senator Oliver: Is it effective?
Ms. Karakas: It is not being utilized. We do not have the resources but, putting that
aside, we should be able to participate and collaborate. The problem is not always funding. We have expertise in
child rights and we train CIDA and other governments.
Senator Oliver: Are members of the superior courts of Canada in all provinces being
Ms. Karakas: No, they are not obliged to be trained. There is no requirement but we would
welcome it. It is not only about money.
Senator Oliver: What about in the provincial bar associations?
Ms. Karakas: They are being trained on provincial and federal legislation that affects
children and that is different from child rights and the convention.
Senator Oliver: If there is training now, what should the committee recommend?
Ms. Karakas: You should recommend not only training as a minimum entry to understand the
convention, its linkages to the regulations or the application of the laws of Canada in the jurisdictions in
which those laws are being applied, but also retraining because the convention is a moving, living document.
There are many institutes one in British Columbia and one on the East Coast. Ours is not the only one. The
capacity exists. We are hired to train other governments and we cannot get ourselves invited to train Canadian
officials. We offered it last week to the Ministry of Social Development under Minister Ken Dryden.
Senator Oliver: Rather than a whole series of training modules, should we have one
Ms. Karakas: There are universal standards. The convention is the convention and you
cannot deviate from it. We welcome an overseeing of putting all the training together and keeping the
documentation and training relevant to jurisprudence. That is also key. However, our training recommendation is
also for front-line decision makers, such as refugee boards and customs officials. We used to do a program
called ``Right Way,'' which we can no longer afford to fund, which child advocates across the country have
taken. Currently we are doing an evaluation to improve the program and take it forward. However, that is about
training children in detention and incarcerated settings about their rights. We would welcome the opportunity to
train the guards. You would not want to hear the conditions in which some children in Canada are held in
protective custody. I wonder who is protecting whom?
Senator Oliver: If we were to look at some kind of New Zealand commissioner or Swedish
ombudsman model, is that where you think the power to control the training should be, or would you like to see
it decentralized and put in the territories, regions and provinces?
Ms. Karakas: The closer it is to the user, the better the training. We need to segregate
the duty bearer, accountability, monitoring, verification and certification. We are looking at a design on how
to certify safe cocoa farms for children. We have not talked about labour, but there are significant child
labour issues in this country also. We recommend one body reporting to Parliament, independent of a political,
if you like, link to the child advocates. The ombudsman notion is different from an advocate notion, and those
need to be thought through and combined. An advocate is proactive, while an ombudsman is mediating.
As with the Commissioner of Official Languages, there must be legislation which then enables
enactment so the commissioner has some capacity, just as the Auditor General has some capacity. There has to be
the ability to act, to intervene. There can be any combination of that, and there are many models available. It
does not have to be costly. However, we must sort out the jurisdiction of the provinces, territories and federal
government. Within that, children live in communities. They do not live in provinces. They live in villages,
towns, hamlets and municipalities. Those need to be worked through. The mayors are key to this thing.
Homelessness is very often in large urban centres.
Ms. Blackstock: I think that those training initiatives are key, but we need to
understand and drill down more than just providing information, and that is to take the courageous step of
exploring why there have been instances of rights violations and yet we have stood still. How have things become
so normalized in our society that sometimes we do not see them even as rights violations?
I will give you the example of the Indian Act. When an Aboriginal child is born in Canada today,
the Government of Canada goes through a process of measuring their blood quantum to determine whether or not
they are a status or non-status Indian. If they are a status Indian pursuant to the blood quantum measurements
of the Government of Canada, a card is issued called a status card or a registry card. That entitles that child
to certain rights, but also, in law, makes that child a ward of the Government of Canada. If I were to describe
that scenario to you, you would think that was the type of thing that we all courageously in this country stood
against with the apartheid regime in South Africa, and yet that has become normalized within our Canadian
society. We have created a system of status and non-status children. To me, there should be nothing like a
non-status child. They are all status children. All children are status children, as far as I am concerned. We
need to awaken ourselves to those things that have been comfortable and in some cases invisible. We need to
understand that as part of our duty of vigilance. In any training program, it is part of being a courageous
country that truly embraces human rights.
Senator Ferretti Barth: I want to congratulate you for the courage you have shown in
working for Save the Children Canada. Your mandate is to improve as quickly as possible children's live by
promoting their rights. I hope you are successful. It will be rather difficult, but with your strong will and
enthusiasm, you will surely help uphold the rights of children, no matter what their status is.
Ms. Karakas, I read on the website that you raised $2.3 million to help children who were
victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. Is that figure up to date?
Ms. Karakas: By now it's even more than that.
Senator Ferretti Barth: How many children have you been able to help until now?
Ms. Karakas: We have already helped 775,000 children. We are looking after 310,000
children in Sudan. We are responsible for protecting children in Benda Aceh and in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, we
are entirely responsible for looking after the needs of 110 families. We are just beginning our work in India.
Unfortunately, we decided not to work in Somalia because the needs are not as pressing there. We have just
received a mandate to study other areas affected by the tsunami. We are working extremely hard. We are also
looking after children who have HIV and AIDS in Africa.
However, we are not doing enough in Canada. We cannot be proud of what we are doing in Sri Lanka
if we are not as proud with what we are doing here.
Senator Ferretti Barth: But isn't everything you do directed at helping each individual
Ms. Karakas: We are directly responsible for food, health, security and education.
Senator Ferretti Barth: Individually?
Ms. Karakas: Yes, we are operational. We provide services. In Canada, we are not
operational, we work with other groups and they help us improve our work in order that we may continue with what
We provide direct services operationally around the world.
Senator Ferretti Barth: Are you responsible for each child until he or she becomes
Ms. Karakas: Until the child reaches the age of 18.
The Deputy Chairman: What value added will it be to our committee to hear from young
Ms. Blackstock: This is who it is all about. This is what the convention is supposed to
be. Not only does it talk about youth participation, but I think those who are most qualified to speak about
their rights and the perception of how rights are fulfilled are the children and young people themselves. I
strongly urge the committee to reach out to the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the
friendship centres, and the Mtis National Council. Invite their youth to come and address you directly. I think
you will also see an ember of hope there. They are absolutely brilliant. Despite all the barriers, these
talented young people want to make a difference, not only for Aboriginal people but for all Canadians. I truly
do hope the committee has the opportunity to meet these young people.
Ms. Karakas: I would echo that. One of the fundamental rights is the right to a voice,
self expression, and self- determination. We believe that young people need appropriate intervention and not
tokenism. I know that this committee, under your leadership, would not make it tokenism. They should be heard,
and they have valuable things to say. I would be more than happy to offer our services, if required, for
organizing. Child participation has to be one of the pillars of children's rights where our society expands.
``Children must be seen and not heard,'' therefore children have no rights. Children must be encouraged and
welcomed to participate in an effective manner. Your committee would benefit enormously.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you for that reassurance. As you know, I agree with you, but I
think it is helpful for all of us to come to the conclusion that it will be important.
Thank you, both of you. Your participation has added greatly to the ideas that we will pursue. I hope you will
be keeping watch on us, on CPAC. Next week, we will continue to hear from witnesses from the extraordinary
organizations out there.
Ms. Karakas: This is very encouraging for us. Not only will we watch, but if you need
further information and further details, we had limited time in putting our presentation together, so we would
be more than happy to make further information available to you.
The committee adjourned.