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THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
First Session, Thirty-eighth Parliament, 2004-05
Hearings: OTTAWA, Monday, June 15, 2005 - Issue No. 18 - Eighteenth and nineteenth meetings 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
Government of Prince Edward Island:
Department of Health and Social Services, Children's Secretariat: Cathy McCormack, Early Childhood Education Consultant; Janice Ployer, Healthy Child Development Coordinator.
Department of Education: Carolyn Simpson, Provincial Kindergarten Program Administrator.
Senate of Canada: The Honourable Elizabeth Hubley,
Senator for Prince Edward Island.
Native Council of Prince Edward Island: Jamie Gallant, President and Chief; Paula Thomas, Chief Finance Officer.
Early Childhood Development Association of Prince Edward Island: Brenda Goodine, Early Childhood Program Consultant..
Prince Edward Island Association for Community Living: Bridget Cairns, Director; Michele Pineau.
CHARLOTTETOWN, Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 9:05 a.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: I would like to commence the meeting by indicating that our mandate is to examine and report upon Canada's international obligations in regard to the rights and freedoms of children and in particular the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We are the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights and are pleased to be here today.
Our first panel of witnesses is from the Department of Health and Social Services.
Ms. McCormack, please proceed.
Ms. Cathy McCormack, Early Childhood Education Consultant, Department of Health and Social Services, Children's Secretariat, Government of Prince Edward Island: Good morning, everybody. It is very nice to have everybody here and some staff and one of our own senators; that's lovely. Our presentation outlines some of the ways P.E.I. is contributing to the goals of Canada's plan of action and response to the May 2002 United Nations Special Session on Children.
I will give some background about our section in government. Carolyn Simpson will talk about how recent federal, provincial and territorial initiatives are supporting this work. Janice Ployer will finish our presentation with some policy suggestions on how to help support children and families.
P.E.I. is working to support the goals of A Canada Fit for Children through our Healthy Child Development Strategy. This strategy aims to improve outcomes for children from prenatal stages to early school years in the areas of safety and security, good health, success at learning, social responsibility and belonging. Our strategy identifies key areas for action that focus on particular aspects of healthy child development: parental support, family literacy, early childhood education and care, family violence prevention, childhood injury prevention, environment, children's mental health, pregnancy, birth and infancy, and children with exceptional needs.
As a province we recognize that no government or individual alone can accomplish these goals, but as a provincial government we have a lead role to play in that. Through our strategy we are supporting partnerships and encouraging participation in a number of ways. Some of these partnerships are very formal and others are very informal.
The mandate of our secretariat is to facilitate interdepartmental cooperation for healthy child development. Health and Social Services is the lead department and we partner with five other departments: the Department of Education, Department of Development and Technology, Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, Department of Energy, Environment and Forestry, and the Office of the Attorney General.
Government and our community partners work together as a Children's Working Group. This intersectoral group includes community representatives from networks that I will explain in a minute, addressing key areas of action. Also, the provincial government representatives from the Children's Secretariat sit on this committee. The Public Health Agency of Canada and our University of Prince Edward Island are also represented on that group.
Our working groups are informal networks of people who are interested in the key areas of action, and participation is open to everybody. The community members serve as chair of their network. They represent that network on the Children's Working Group and that is where the formal and informal pieces happen.
Some of our groups, such as the group that supports early childhood care and education, are quite formal. It is usually members of the Early Childhood Development Association where other groups, such as our Childhood Injury Group, have people who come and go. Right now we are very involved with Zellers because we are doing an initiative on bike helmet safety. Our next initiative is on booster seat safety and we are working very closely with the RCMP, because they do roadside checks and we will be involved in those.
We also have a Premier's Council on Healthy Child Development, and that is a group of individual Islanders who advise the premier on issues affecting children. Every year that council hosts a children's think tank in the fall where parents, educators, health care professionals, community organizations and government officials come together for a day of learning. Through that we prioritize our actions for children for the next year.
This council also recognizes the good work that individuals and organizations do through a Champions for Children Award that is given every year in April.
I will now turn it over to Carolyn.
Ms. Carolyn Simpson, Provincial Kindergarten Program Administrator, Department of Education, Government of Prince Edward Island: Good morning to each of you. I do not know how many of you have had the opportunity to visit our province before. To those of you for whom this is your first time, welcome. To those of you who have been here before, I am sure you are enjoying our fine June day. It is beautiful out there. As Cathy said, my name is Carolyn Simpson and I am a member of the Children's Secretariat representing the Department of Education, and I am the Provincial Kindergarten Program Administrator.
Through the Early Childhood Development Initiativeof 2000, Prince Edward Island received federal support for new and expanded services in early learning and child care. Through this initiative, we have been able to support the implementation of the Healthy Child Development Strategy and some of the objectives, goals and initiatives of that strategy.
One such recommendation was the implementation of publicly funded kindergarten within the province. Our kindergarten program is unique to North America inasmuch as we have chosen as a province to leave our kindergarten as part of our early childhood sector. It has been a highly successful component of our early childhood system for well over 25 years and our province, through consultation with Islanders and talking with early childhood educators, public school educators, parents and others, made the recommendation to indeed develop a cohesive core program. However, one of the key components that families thrived upon was the fact that we could leave our kindergarten system program within our early childhood system, responding to unique family values and needs. That has been quite successful not without its challenges, but nonetheless quite successful.
As well, the Early Childhood Development Initiative has helped to support a program that we fondly refer to as the MIKE project Measuring and Improving Kids' Environments. Through MIKE, best practices in the delivery of inclusive and quality early learning child care services are promoted and supported. The MIKE coordinators and kindergarten mentors work together quite closely as a team within our early childhood sector to improve early learning environments for the children of families and staff within the early learning and child care programs.
In 2003 the Multilateral Framework on Early Learning and Child Care was signed. Additional funds to support this agreement were announced in 2004. The multilateral framework provides funding specifically for our licensed early childhood sector.
Most recently, the federal government has announced an investment in early learning and child care, as we all know,of $5 billion over five years to address some key areas that we refer to as our QUAD principles: quality, universally inclusive, affordable, and developmental.
While these agreements are important steps toward a vision for early learning and child care, supporting a system of licensed early learning and child care that can fully address each of the QUAD principles will require much greater investment.
We know, for example, that our professionals in early learning and child care nationally but I will speak specifically for Prince Edward Island, obviously are grossly underpaid. Our average wage here on Prince Edward Island ranges from $7 to $10 per hour, depending upon the season, the time of year you are working, and indeed which area of the province you are actually employed. There is a move afoot within the early childhood sector in that the early childhood educators have organized and the Union of Public Sector Employees is their union, their representative.
Retention, obviously, is a key issue that we have also and, needless to say, that is directly linked to the lack of good wages and adequate benefits and working conditions.
Each of the agreements listed above provide funding to jurisdictions based on a per capita funding model. However beautiful we are, we are small and we feel that per capita funding is indeed insufficient for a jurisdiction such as ours with small populations. There are many activities that jurisdictions across the country will take on, and basically the cost is not any different in one province or area than in another. For example, each of the jurisdictions will take a look at their legislation revise, revamp, rework, rewrite legislation. That cost, regardless of where the jurisdiction is, remains the same. If we were to consider the creation of a database, for instance, to help align our system a bit tighter of how we support children and families, that cost is the same, regardless. So those are some examples of what we mean by that.
I will turn it over to Janice.
Ms. Janice Ployer, Healthy Child Development Coordinator, Department of Health and Social Services, Children's Secretariat, Government of Prince Edward Island: Through the initiative of the Early Childhood Development Association of Prince Edward Island, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to all aspects of development for young children, P.E.I. has been very fortunate to be one of the first six communities to pilot the Understanding the Early Years project.
P.E.I. was unique in that the entire province was considered an Understanding the Early Years community, or "UEY'' as we affectionately call it here. We are very affectionate toward that initiative because it has been a wonderful asset for P.E.I. UEY has mobilized the community through capacity building and learning, supported the work of the Healthy Child Development Strategy and inspired collaboration. UEY has been an excellent source of information to inform decision making at all levels: community, family, municipal and provincial.
Although the UEY-P.E.I. project is now coming to an end, we are looking forward to exploring other possibilities for its continuation, albeit in a different capacity. Through the Children's Secretariat, we are considering other ways of linking data collected through UEY with other sources, and one area we are looking at is environmental data.
We do have some suggestions for some policies. First, we would like to applaud the enhancement of maternity and parental benefits. They help to promote attachment, breast feeding, involvement of fathers in parenting and have been a very positive move for children and families.
However, there are some suggestions. One is to expand the eligibility requirements to allow self-employed parents and parents in non-standard employment situations to access the benefits. Prince Edward Island, in particular, has a lot of seasonal employment, and part-time employment as well, but particularly seasonal, and that can create some challenges to qualify for those benefits. Eliminating the two-week waiting period could help to diminish associated financial challenges for families having a gap in their income for those two weeks. Another suggestion would be to look at increasing the number of insurable hours.
The Women's Network of Prince Edward Island has completed considerable work in this area and they are an excellent resource for further recommendations and suggestions.
The Compassionate Family Care Benefit is an excellent initiative that supports families and caregivers during difficult times. This benefit could be expanded to include those providing care for children or other family members who may not be gravely ill yet require caregiving for a specific period of time. We are thinking of children who might be hospitalized for a month or two months. Children here would more likely be hospitalized at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax; that can put considerable strain on their families, especially those in the labour force.
CAPC and CPNP programs Community Action Program for Children and Canada Pre-natal Nutrition Program on P.E.I. have been very successful in providing access to a range of programs and services for children, pregnant women andfamilies facing difficult life circumstances. The programs are very well-established and highly regarded in our communities.
Since their initiation in 1994 and 1995, demand for services offered through the programs has increased steadily. Funding, however, has remained static at 1994 levels for CAPC, and CPNP funding was enhanced only in 2000. Increased costs and staffing challenges make meeting service demand very difficult. CAPC and CPNP are invaluable resources to P.E.I. children and families and should be funded sufficiently.
The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, or NLSCY, collects very valuable information which helps to inform policies and decision making. For small jurisdictions, however, data is often not collected for a large enough sample size to provide detailed provincial information. Regional aggregates are informative, yes, but they do not necessarily reflect the P.E.I. population. From having the Understanding The Early Years project here, we have benefited from having an over-sampling of the NLSCY during that period of time; that initiative was certainly a great benefit and something we will miss.
As a final note, we would like to make the point that a policy for children is a policy for families. Canadians play many roles within their families and communities. They are parents, employees, employers, students and volunteers. As more Canadians delay their child-rearing years, more Canadians will find themselves caring for both their own parents and their young children at the same time. We need to consider ways that we can support all Canadians throughout their lifespan.
That concludes our remarks.
The Chairman: Thank you very much for the presentation. We will go now to questions.
Senator Poy: My first question is to Ms. Ployer. Could you expand on the Understanding the Early Years pilot project, please? You said P.E.I. is one of the first six communities. Who are the other five?
Ms. Ployer: My colleagues might have to help me on it.
Senator Poy: Could you expand on the project first? I would like to understand what you do in it.
Ms. Ployer: Well, again, my colleagues may help me out but I can start.
Senator Poy: All right.
Ms. Ployer: We came as a group; we support each other. We encourage partnerships and collaboration in everything we do. Understanding the Early Years is an initiative funded by Social Development Canada now, originally through Human Resources Development Canada, which was a community capacity-building exercise in collecting information and doing research about the children in specific communities in Canada and then engaging in a process to exchange knowledge with community members, hopefully to mobilize action for children.
Through the project here, data was collected from four sources. One of the initiatives was actually doing on-site observations to examine the conditions of the community. Is there a lot of graffiti in the community? Are the houses in good condition? Are the roads safe? Data was also collected through the Early Childhood Development Initiative instrument. That was a tool that was used by early childhood educators at the kindergarten level to measure various developmental aspects of the children in their care. The NLSCY also provided some data. What was the fourth one, colleagues?
Ms. Simpson: There was some parent data collection in the NLSCY. Janice talked about the community and the community observations that took place. As well, just to expand a little bit on that, we were also able to get, through early childhood educators, a snapshot of the child's first five years as opposed to an evaluation of where their development is specific to the time of kindergarten. It really is a whole lifespan what had been the resources in the community within that child's life, and so on.
Ms. Ployer: Actually, the fourth tool that I was thinking of was the mapping study. They took the data that was collected and presented it on maps of Prince Edward Island so that people were able to look at them and see that here, for example, is an area where incomes might be lower or employment might be less secure than in other areas. Then we looked at how children are doing developmentally in those areas so that people could see potential correlations between what was happening in their community and what was happening with their children.
Senator Poy: When you say "early years,'' it is below what age?
Ms. Ployer: It is zero to five years.
Senator Poy: But you do study the community. You mentioned roads, et cetera.
Ms. Ployer: Yes.
Senator Poy: It is a community study. Now you said there are policies formulated. What happened to those policies? What I would like to know is whether or not there has been execution of the policies.
Ms. Ployer: Well, one good example of something that happened recently is through the initiative of the Early Childhood Development Association. They did a number of presentations to the Municipality of Summerside in P.E.I. and later there was a decision made in Summerside to develop a playground specifically for the younger population, because they recognized that they were providing services for the older children, but not necessarily for the younger ones.
In engaging the community it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint specific results that come from the actual sharing of information but there has definitely been a general feeling in P.E.I. that people are talking about the early years, that more people are supportive of programs and policies for those years. In terms of implementing our own Healthy Child Development Strategy, we are frequently using the data that has been collected through the Understanding the Early Years project to help make our arguments for the recommendations we are making.
Ms. Simpson: To form our decisions.
Senator Poy: Would one of you have the answer to the question: What are the other five communities?
Ms. Ployer: Stephenville, Newfoundland. There is one in Manitoba that is a section of Winnipeg, I believe. North York. Initially there were six and that expanded to 12, and now the most recent announcement has been an expansion of the project to 100 sites across Canada. The original sites are not able to reapply for that funding, so while there is indication that a UEY presence across the country in each jurisdiction is something that we are striving for right now, because Prince Edward Island was one of the initial pilots, we are not in a position to reapply. That is why we are looking at a different way that we might be able to have a UEY presence on Prince Edward Island still, but do it a little differently.
Senator Pearson: I would like to follow up on that because it is an opportunity that we have not had yet to talk about some of the kinds of programs that have been initiated at the federal level.
I think it would be useful for us one day to have a whole set of witnesses to describe the research in child development that has been sponsored from the National Longitudinal Survey on Children and Youth, to the UEY programs, to what we have learned from CAPC/CPCN and all that kind of thing.
I think that one of the purposes of the UEY was the understanding that children will be ready to learn when the community is more involved more children will be ready to learn, which is the instrument that they use at the end when communities have rallied more around children, so one of the things was the mapping in order to see what kind of association exists between economic development and income and so on. Those maps are extremely interesting when we see the correlations that they discovered. That was part of what UEY was doing. I do believe that was part of the purpose and if you build on it, then you will have spurred community engagement. I think that was the intention, was it not? You start out the program of three years five years? Five years.
I wonder if you could give us some idea of what kinds of things, aside from the developments in Summerside, that have emerged out of that, that you think will last and work in some other way? Are there now committees and things? Because what we are looking for, all of us who care about early childhood development, is a seamless interaction between the various programs that are out there. And as you get more money for early learning and care and so on, I think you are a model of having a Children's Secretariat as a way of coordinating it. So could you elaborate on what you would envision as the ideal in the end, at a provincial level?
Ms. Ployer: One of the components of the UEY project was to identify some community champions UEY Community Champions they were called who are trained in understanding the data and are able to present it to members of their own communities. Those could be geographical communities or their employment or volunteer communities, or what have you. So those people are in place and are in a position to continue sharing the information.
Ms. Simpson: Our department, for example, takes our data to inform us as we continue with curriculum development. One of the findings in our province regards specific pockets of vulnerability, where literacy scores are not as high in particular pockets. Why? How can we support the early childhood educators who are supporting the children and families with family literacy? What does that mean? How can we continue to partner to expand on some of the literacy programs for families? What was in the community that is perhaps a barrier, and what is working someplace else that we could learn from? So linking community to community to support one another is also sort of a vision, if you will, in terms of how we can perhaps not be competitive for some of the municipal dollars, but how can we grow together and that sort of a thing. That has been incredibly valuable from our perspective.
Senator Pearson: Good.
Ms. Ployer: One of the successes of the UEY project was that initially the data showed that there was one part of the province that had some challenges with language development, and as a result the people in that community supported a project called "Little Expressions Mean a Lot.'' A speech language pathologist was hired to do some community capacity-building around speech and language, who worked closely with the early childhood educators in that area. It proved to be very successful and has spread across the Island. It is now a provincial initiative.
Ms. McCormack: The Early Childhood Development Association has been working also on language and literacy. I do not know if you have heard of "story sacks''? If Senator Carstairs were here, she would certainly know about that. The Early Childhood Development Association has partnered with the Women's Institute to actually make a bag of resources that goes along with a story so that it comes alive for children. That is happening all across P.E.I., because of our UEY data and low language level skills, as well as the Little Expressions Mean a Lot project, as Janice said.
Another example would be our three school boards in P.E.I. Our Eastern School Board looked at the mapping for all their seven or nine schools. They looked at all the schools and families and the results for children in those areas. Then they did some education with their teachers around children who were coming in with low literacy levels and maybe not as active as some of the other children; so we have been able to use our UEY mapping data like that. The maps have been an incredibly exciting venture. They are so visual and it just makes it come alive and makes it real for people.
Senator Pearson: I am pleased to have some sort of direct report from this project because we have supported it at the Ottawa end, but to see how it is actually playing out is very exciting.
Senator Oliver: As you know, the reason that we are here and the reason that we have been in Europe and other jurisdictions is to follow up on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yesterday we were in New Brunswick, the day before we were in Newfoundland, and we have been in places like Sweden.
One of the things that we have learned from all these places is that in order to coordinate the work of this convention, some jurisdictions have looked at having an ombudsman; others, a child advocate. What you seem to have done here on Prince Edward Island is that you have a Children's Secretariat and a Children's Working Group, so it is interdepartmental and you are bringing in all other kinds of groups.
Is there any one person in charge of coordinating it all? If so, what do you call that person? Are they an ombudsperson, a director, a chairman or a child advocate? Who is the person who ties all the work of your secretariat and your working group together?
Ms. McCormack: That is a very good question. Until two months ago, we had a Director of the Children's Secretariat. In P.E.I. we are going through some transition in government; that person took advantage of a package that was offered and she retired at the end of April. That position has not been filled yet.
Senator Oliver: She probably went on to become a child advocate somewhere.
Ms. McCormack: She threatened that, actually, before she left. She will keep us very accountable from the outside. We do not know for sure, but we think that position will be filled and there will be somebody else sitting here the next time you come.
Senator Oliver: What do you call that person? I did not hear.
Ms. McCormack: It's the Director of the Children's Secretariat. It is not really an ombudsman as other provinces have because they are truly an advocate.
Senator Oliver: Would that person be an advocate on behalf of children's rights? That is part of the mandate?
Ms. McCormack: Yes. It is actually written into our job descriptions in the Department of Health and Social Services. My job description says that I am an advocate for children. I do not know about Janice's job description but mine is fairly old at this point. I think it was Katherine Flannagan-Rochon who was the director and I am pretty sure her job description said that too.
Senator Oliver: When we run around to various jurisdictions and hear from many different witnesses, they all give evidence, we pack our bags and we move on to the next place. You may ask how we tie it all together. Well, we have researchers who prepare questions and so on. One of the questions prepared for your group concerns the fact that many of the witnesses who have appeared before this committee have expressed concern about the extent of children's rights training in government departments. Can you tell us about specific children's rights training and sensitivity initiatives undertaken in Prince Edward Island?
You told us something in your report that interested me. You said you have a Premier's Council on Healthy Child Development and that it is a one day get-together. Is there a report that is prepared on that? And is that used as a sensitivity training event or not?
Ms. Ployer: Each year the Premier's Council on Healthy Child Development does issue an annual report on children, and through that they highlight new and interesting initiatives that are happening for children. They present data that is available through the NLSCY as well as our own UEY data, for example, or other data that is collected, as well as reporting on our investments through the various initiatives and agreements.
Senator Oliver: Does it have anything specific to do with the UN convention?
Ms. Ployer: For the UN convention, no.
Senator Oliver: Well, what do you do about sensitivity training?
Ms. Ployer: It is a good question. I do not have an answer to that. I am not sure if my colleagues do.
Senator Oliver: Well, what is being done in P.E.I. to make the rights of children a priority? Everyone is jumping to the microphone.
The Chairman: If you do not mind, Senator Oliver, we are studying the Convention on the Rights of the Child and it is legalistic as well as practical and has social implications. It is a "rights-based'' convention, saying that these are the rights of children, that they have these rights. Some of them are rights that evolve. Some rights may be vested in others until they are capable of assuming them as full adults. We have been going across Canada, and certainly even in our hearings in Ottawa there does not seem to be the kind of awareness of the convention that one would expect 10 years after the implementation of this convention.
Our particular concern has been that children are not aware that they have these rights. The question I think Senator Oliver has very subtly put to you and I am putting very bluntly to you is this: Are you educating the young people about their rights under the convention? And if you are, what tools are you employing to do that? I will even give you a hint: If you are saying "not much,'' you are not alone.
How do you use the convention? Do you use the convention? Is it in the Premier's Council on Healthy Child Development? Those are the kinds of things we want to find out.
Senator Oliver: Now you know why there are not more men on the committee. It takes a woman's approach to put it so gingerly.
The Chairman: No, I put it bluntly. You put it rather gently.
Ms. McCormack: I understand what you are saying. In the past we have worked with the Canadian Child Care Federation and Sandy Griffin is quite an advocate for children and for the convention. Through the federation they have done quite a number of things: posters, workshops, and articles in their magazine, Interaction, which goes to all our early childhood educators.
Brenda Goodine, who will speak to you this afternoon, may be able to talk a little bit more about that from the Early Childhood Development Association perspective and what they've done through their educators.
In government, we probably haven't done as much as we could do and perhaps not as much as we will do after this.
The Chairman: Before I turn to Senator Hubley, maybe I can follow up. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, of course, is for children. It is not what we do for them. It is the rights they have and how they are reflected in society. One of the ways that the convention works is that the states have to report to the United Nations Working Committee on the Rights of the Child. We are told in Ottawa that we are having great problems finding out how that report is put together and who gets to say something about it. We are told at the federal level that provinces are consulted, that data is fed into the federal government about issues under the convention and then they go about putting together their report.
Who in P.E.I. puts the report together for Prince Edward Island and what kind of interaction do you have with the federal government on preparing these reports, the next one being due in 2009?
Ms. Ployer: That is a process we will have to start next year.
The Chairman: Yes, and it is a process that goes on. We have heard from groups that they do not have much input into it. Some have been consulted at the federal level but provinces do feed in their information to the federal government, in some way, through this continuing committee on human rights.
Senator Pearson: Actually, they feed in a separate report.
The Chairman: I am trying to find that out, because we have been told that from the federal government; we would like to know from the provincial governments just who puts this report together. Have you been consulted in the past about this report and the information that goes into it from the P.E.I. side?
Ms. Ployer: I participated recently in responding to a general report, but it was a United Nations human rights survey that Prince Edward Island was completing. There were some questions specific to children, but there were also questions specific to other areas; housing, for example. Again, that's specific to children as well. I do not believe it is the same report you're referring to, but I assume the person who has the lead on that will also have the lead on the report that you are referring to, and that is a lawyer based in the province's Office of the Attorney General. For the most recent report, he consulted with the various players across government who were knowledgeable about the specific questions and asked for their response. So there is a person identified, as I am aware.
The Chairman: In the Attorney General's department here?
Ms. Ployer: Yes, that is right, in their legal services section.
The Chairman: We have just had a report from the working group that made certain comments, and not necessarily good comments, about Canada. There certainly were supportive comments in the report, but others questioned how Canada is adhering to the convention. Have those reports ever been shared with you and have you been asked for your comments?
Ms. Ployer: Not in my time.
Ms. McCormack: They could have been shared with Kathy Flannagan-Rochon. That would have been the logical person to whom it would have gone, but I am not aware.
The Chairman: So that knowledge has gone with her?
Senator Pearson: What Senator Andreychuk has been raising is a very important question and it is one we will be exploring in all the provincial meetings we have because the obligation of signatories to conventions is to widely disseminate the information; not only to engage civil society in the preparation of the report and to engage children themselves but also, as the committee responds by making its concluding observations on presentations, to disseminate that widely.
We will be making recommendations out of our own report, and they may help you as you proceed, because you clearly care about it. Thank you.
Senator Hubley: Thank you, Madam Chair. I would like to say what a pleasure it is to be an Island senator and have the privilege of sitting on one of our committees that is meeting here on a very important issue. Just to follow up, perhaps the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child should be part of the curriculum of the young people who are being trained to go out to work in our day cares and in our kindergartens.
What are the qualifications required for early childhood educators and is that training available on Prince Edward Island? Several times you mentioned different courses that would be available to educators, I believe. Are there national standards for our educators? Perhaps I will let you comment on that first.
Ms. McCormack: We do have a training program in P.E.I. at Holland College. It is the Early Childhood Education and Care program and is a diploma program. We are presently negotiating with UPEI to have that diploma recognized and have people able to go on to get a degree, if that is what they so choose to do.
With the help of the federal government, through our Labour Market Development Agreement, in the past two years we have had accelerated training programs for people who are currently working in the field and want to achieve their diploma. As well, we have just negotiated with the Province of Quebec to come and offer an accelerated francophone training program, and three years ago we had an Aboriginal program offered. We have been trying to upgrade the qualifications of our early childhood educators community. Probably in excess of 80 per cent of our educators have at least a diploma at this point in time.
That is a great suggestion and it may already be part of the curriculum at Holland College; I am not sure. Carolyn and I are both on the advisory committee and we can make that recommendation, for sure. It is a great idea. There is no national accreditation of early childhood educators right now, although the Canadian Child Care Federation is looking at that. The federation does have standards of practice it has developed that it is trying to roll out across Canada as we speak, to give at least that level of accountability, and I guess that was a step before national accreditation. So I think we are doing pretty well.
Senator Hubley: For special needs children of a very young age, you must work very closely with the Department of Health. I think you mentioned that you were actually within the Department of Health and Social Services. Is there any special consideration given for children with special needs within the day care and the kindergarten system? Would that be part of the training that the educators would receive?
Ms. McCormack: Yes, it is. It is an important part of the training. We have had in the past a program at Holland College where people who had either their diploma in early childhood development or in human services, with one more year of training could get two diplomas one in each. We have about 220 children with disabilities who are in our programs. We provide a grant in order that those children can be included in the programs. We have a very specific program for children with autism. We support them also in our early childhood programs.
Senator Oliver: One hundred per cent?
Ms. McCormack: One hundred per cent, yes. I think we have currently about 17 children with autism who are preschool children and have been supported through that program. As Carolyn said, because we kept kindergarten community based, the Department of Health and Social Services provides the funding for children with disabilities in kindergarten programs as well.
The Chairman: Just to follow up on what Senator Oliver said, what happens at the age of five with autism?
Ms. McCormack: At the age of five they continue in our kindergarten programs.
The Chairman: They get 100 per cent funding after that in P.E.I.?
Ms. McCormack: After kindergarten, when they are in school?
The Chairman: Yes.
Ms. McCormack: Yes, if they need it they would have afull-time T.A. within our school system, and they can stay in our school system until they reach the age of 21. We also have programs, both at our university and this year for the first time at Holland College. The parents of a child whom I used to work with directly in the field of teaching kindergarten were telling me at the Champions for Children Award ceremony that he will go on to Holland College this fall.
Ms. Simpson: There actually is one student enrolled at the college right now.
The Chairman: You have zeroed in on early childhood educators, and that implies to me a more formalized system of child care. The province I come from, Saskatchewan, is a very rural province. One of our problems is that we cannot set up early childhood centres and so often we are looking to extended families to be caregivers and we are looking to support families in the home, to be able to look after their children, whether they are special needs or not. How do you approach that? The federal program seems to be zeroing in, if I understand this new program, to day care centres and to getting more excellence in them. What about the others or is your focus only on these centres?
Ms. McCormack: No, certainly not. The Department of Health and Social Services provides a child care subsidy program for parents. One example is that we do not havea lot of infant-care spaces in this province. We have only about 70. Parents who have infants, if they need to work or to take education, can access the subsidy program and have somebody either come into their home or take their child to another person's home. We try to set up family day care centres where we can in rural P.E.I. and we have been fairly successful in that. A family day care would have a maximum of seven children in a person's home, but they would still then have some inspection-type things and some resource help through the Early Childhood Development Association.
You are right: The new program is for licensed centres. We have been talking to the Early Childhood Development Association about how we could set up something that would give parents some information about what they should expect from their care giver, whether licensed or not. What kind of care and what kind of education should the child be getting, even if they are in somebody's own home? It does not have to be totally different. Even, perhaps, have some kind of a registry. Let the unlicensed care givers register with the Early Childhood Development Association and perhaps have to meet some standard that they would have emergency first aid or then they could access some ongoing training through the association. They would put them on a registry and then parents would know where there are care providers.
It is one of the questions I get asked all the time and I am sure Carolyn does too. People do not know where to go to find care givers even in their communities. It seems wrong, somehow, that you go to the grocery store and on the bulletin boards inside the door is where you find a care provider, so we are trying to do some other things to help parents. In P.E.I. we have spaces for about 59 per cent of our children from ages two to six. We have a very high percentage of people who want to access licensed child care and are accessing it.
The Chairman: I recall 20 years ago that all the juvenile facilities for long term holding not all, but some were in Nova Scotia; those specialized services for juveniles who were in conflict with the law were off the Island. What is the situation now regarding your ability to deal with those young people who have to be in custody? Do you do it on the Island and are the facilities totally separate from adult facilities now? Would any of you be able to answer that?
Ms. McCormack: It is certainly not in our area of expertise, but I will make a stab at it. Up until probably a year ago, we were still doing that. Our children were going off-Island if they had behaviour-type problems. We have tried very hard in the past number of years, and to be honest with you it was mostly because of the cost of sending them off- Island, as well as the fact that they had then no relationship with their communities or their families.
We have just taken over, I think about a year ago, one of our young offenders facilities in West Prince. That is the facility in which we now have our hard-to-manage youth who need some protection, both for themselves and for the communities. But at least it is in a small community.
My son lives in a community not very far away and he used to do some volunteer work at the rink; one of his friends worked at the centre. He said, "Why not bring the kids over?'', so they were able to access some ice time last winter and be with other volunteer members of the community in which they were living.
I think we certainly have a way to go because we are treading new ground, really. It is only a year that we have been doing this, but I am not sure; we need our Director of Child Protection to really talk about how successful we have been. But at least they are in P.E.I., their families can visit, they are getting out and having at least some community experience that I know first-hand. Other than that, I am unsure.
Senator Pearson: Was your question was about closed custody?
The Chairman: Well, all custody.
Senator Pearson: I have visited the closed-custody facility that is near Summerside, which is excellent. It was, when it was constructed, a state-of-the-art, completely separate facility. What I remember about it was that the population was not huge thank goodness but a large number of them were Aboriginal children, and one of the great successes of that facility was giving them the education that they had not had previously and getting them through high school in ways that had not been possible before. I presume it is still a good facility. It seemed to me there were 13 or 14 children. It was not a large number of children.
The Chairman: Perhaps whichever department is responsible the Attorney General's department could provide a letter, later, to indicate how you hold children under the Social Welfare Act, how you hold them under the Juvenile Justice Act and to confirm whether all the children are now being held within the province and are they being held separate and apart in all cases from adults?
That is part of what we have been looking at because it is part of the convention that has been part of our discussions. If someone could get back to us with that information, that would be helpful.
Senator Pearson: I really appreciate the comments that you have made. I did have another question: Has P.E.I. signed the Early Childhood Care Agreement yet?
Ms. McCormack: No, we have not. As I think Carolyn talked about, the base funding issue is outstanding.
Senator Pearson: That was the next point I was going to make. It seemed to me that between you and the territories, for example, where they also have very small populations, there is a lot of sense in breaking away from the numbers and getting the additional funding. We are glad to have that on the record.
My next question was about the involvement of children in your children's think tank. We talk about a children's think tank and then I see parents, educators, health care professionals, community organizations, and I think, are the kids there? And if not, why not? Or if not, please do.
Ms. McCormack: In our first think tank we also said the very same thing: "We should have children here.'' We did have some children who came. They made pictures about what they thought about, what they needed in their communities, what was important to them. They were probably part of the think tank for about an hour and snack was the most important piece to them, of course. They had balloons and cake and had their picture taken with the premier, and he asked one of them if they knew who he was.
"You are the important person in P.E.I.''
I do not know if the parents told them that or not, but the parents came with the children and they were quite excited that they were getting to meet the premier and eat cake.
We have not had children since. We had a great discussion, though, about how to include them in our think tanks without boring them, and how can they become a real part, but we haven't come to any conclusions really. We are fairly new to this and we have had only three think tanks, so it is still an issue.
One of our members from our children's working group, who runs Anderson House, which is a home for abused women, always makes us have an empty chair at the table for the child, so that we remember the child at all times. But no, we need to do a better job on how we include them in our think tank, for sure. It is a funny comment: a children's think tank and they're not there.
Senator Oliver: Maybe a place to begin is by asking the children how they feel they can best participate in a think tank. Maybe you could have a round table and put the very question to the children; you'd probably be surprised with the variety of responses you would get. It might be a good place to start.
The Chairman: No further questions. We would like to thank you for coming and I do apologize if we put questions beyond your expertise. We were trying to find out and this is one of our problems which ministries to call in which province, because nobody has the same system, and what we are looking for regards the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have miscued in some cases and obviously here we should have had the Attorney General's department. That is part of the problem; the Convention on the Rights of the Child should cover all departments and ministries because the convention is that broad. It has been very hard to see at first blush how each province handles the convention and the issues, so we are going around and it is a bit hit and miss.
So if we put too much on your shoulders it was because that was the best we could do at this point. To underscore, we believe that the convention should be the concern of all ministries, that child policies and children our clerk has just reminded me they go up to age 18 under the convention therefore should be something that all ministries are taking into account. I think if you see our report, we will be making some recommendations about how the federal government, and by implication the provincial government, should be taking into account the convention in its day-to- day work and particularly as it develops policies and laws.
So you are not different in that sense. I think we are all struggling to make the convention a reality. One of the questions that we haven't asked you, but you might give back to your lawyers and others, is that the convention is a convention that the federal government signed, but with some consultations with the provinces and certainly the implementation of the convention, many parts of it are within the exclusive domain of the provinces.
We are looking to ensure that, somewhere down the line, the convention forms part of our law in Canada, that we do not just sign an agreement over there with all these rights for children, but that those rights do not have an impact and that the children do not have the rights in reality in Canada. That is where we are coming from and it is an alert to all Canadians that we want to make the convention a real document for young people in Canada. You can be the messengers in this case, rather than having it all fall on your shoulders.
But we thank you for sharing your experiences here and hopefully you will look to our report. If there are any pieces of information in the coming months that you think would be helpful to our study and our work, please forward them to us. We thank you for coming today and sharing.
Ms. McCormack: Thank you very much. We are in the process of rewriting our own legislation and I promise you that we will certainly look at how we can include that. Also, we are on our way now to a meeting with our Children's Secretariat, so we will put that on the agenda and have a discussion with at least six of our departments. I think we have nine. We have nine departments and we have six of them covered, so we are close.
The Chairman: That would be good coverage. Thank you very much.
Senators, we have a special and unusual witness before us today. We have the Honourable Elizabeth Hubley, a senator from P.E.I., who will address us on culture and the rights of the child. We do not need to welcome you to P.E.I.; I am sure you will welcome us. We welcome you to the committee. The floor is yours and then we will have questions for you.
The Honourable Elizabeth Hubley, Senator for Prince Edward Island, Senate of Canada: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Again, welcome, of course, to everyone present. This is a different seat for me but I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on culture. At any time we discuss, necessarily we open up a very wide subject. I certainly do not pretend to be either an anthropologist or a cultural guru, but I will comment on what I believe to the challenges of cultural continuity and participation within our global community.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most universally accepted statement of basic human rights in history. Built on varied legal systems and cultural traditions, it sets out non-negotiable standards and obligations for peoples everywhere.
As set out in the convention, the rights of children include: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. The preamble takes into account the importance of traditions and cultural values. In the words of the international organization UNICEF, "Every right spelled out in the convention is inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of the child...''
Article 4 calls on governments "to undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights'' agreed to under the convention, but also recognizes the limited available resources of some countries.
Unquestionably, cultural identity is an essential force in our lives. Cultural traditions and customs, along with language and religious beliefs, define who we are, and we should celebrate our diversity. To put it simply, I believe that every child is entitled to be rocked in their own cultural cradle, to hear the stories of their own people, to acquire distinctive customs and ways to pass down from one generation to another; in other words, to be formed by the culture that has gone before them.
Article 20 of the convention points to this "desirability of continuity in a child's upbringing and to the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background...'' But cultural continuity and participation are not easily assured for many people. It becomes extremely difficult in a country racked by famine and starvation or disease or made unstable by civil violence and war. In fact, cultural development and transmission require social stability.
When a people are threatened and under siege, cultural rights necessarily take a back seat to more basic needs and to survival. How can anyone calculate the cultural loss and destruction caused by the AIDS epidemic in central Africa? How do the children of Iraq recover culturally from devastating wars that have turned much of their country into a wasteland, resulted in the looting of their natural treasures and crippled their educational system? How do the survivors of genocide in Rwanda and Darfur take pride once again in their culture and heritage?
These are questions we need to ponder in our hearts, and if we truly care about assuring cultural rights for children, then as an international community we need to first protect, feed and shelter them. If we are serious about cultural continuity, then we must avoid wars that destroy culture at its very roots and deny children every basic human right.
The second observation I want to make has to do with cultural isolationism. Inasmuch as we should promote and celebrate cultural diversity throughout the world and cherish the rich tapestry that is woven from people to people, we also know that culture can be a negative force when it turns in on itself, when it becomes isolated. The most vibrant culture is one that is confident and secure in its underpinnings and values, and is open to the world beyond its shores. The strongest and most enlightened culture is one that allows itself to be influenced by the ebb and flow of migration and trade.
Maintaining our own distinctive culture is important but we can do it without rejecting the mainstream, without closing the doors and windows to the world outside. Article 17 of the convention encourages "international cooperation in the production, exchange and dissemination of social information and material from a diversity of cultural, national, and international sources ...'' In other words, the convention recognizes that cultural isolationism is counterproductive and that children should be afforded the opportunity to discover and learn about cultures other than their own.
I strongly agree with this approach. My own province of Prince Edward Island has always been an outward-looking little society. In the 19th century, Island seafarers travelled to distant parts of the world. These days, we welcome hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, and in the words of an Island folksong: "They make us more than we have been, they keep our circle wide...'' No culture blossoms or flourishes if it is left unpollinated and uninfluenced by other cultures.
But if cultural isolationism is undesirable, perhaps a greater threat is the tidal wave of mass popular culture that is washing over the entire world, weakening indigenous cultures and creating a kind of homogenous cultural soup that is being consumed by a growing number of children everywhere. We do live in a global community increasingly stitched together by the Internet and other forms of mass communications. J.K. Rowling's books, Star Wars, Shania Twain, American Hip-Hop, U2, Batman, the television sitcom Friends Western popular culture is pervasive. Thanks to the commercial power of the entertainment and publishing industries, its cultural products enjoy a growing and truly worldwide audience.
From the Greeks to the Spanish to the British, and now the Americans, there have been cultural imperialists throughout history. The difference is that now culture is transported, not by railroad or by sailing ships, but in pockets of digital information moving at the speed of light. In this new electronic age, rural and urban cultural realities have merged. Geographical borders mean very little and it is quite possible that in the future all of us will share the same culture. To use scientific technology, I believe our cultural universe is contracting, not expanding.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a great achievement. It has been ratified by all but two countries. Cultural continuity and participation are vital processes, but how do we ensure that cultural rights are taken into account? How do we see that children everywhere have access to their own history and indigenous cultural traditions? How do we afford opportunities for artistic expression? And who is responsible for all of this?
First of all, when it comes to culture, I believe the best defence is a good offence. If a society has the necessary tools and instruments and resources, it will preserve and fortify its own culture. Indeed, the best way to combat or counterbalance the plethora of mass American culture I spoke about earlier is to make your own films, publish your own books, develop your own broadcasting system. We have done this in Canada. The effectiveness of Canadian content policies is somewhat debatable; however, as a nation we have certainly encouraged and supported and invested in cultural development.
The educational system, of course, plays a central role in cultural learning and transmission. I remember a Prince Edward Island Teachers Federation promotional advertisement a few years ago, in which the school curriculum was compared to a dinner plate of food. Mathematics and science and English were represented as the meat and potatoes of the meal, while the arts were the garnish, the salt and the pepper. As a dance instructor and artist, I still take exception to that kind of prioritization, this hierarchy of learning, for I strongly believe that the arts music, dance, theatre, creative writing, painting are foundation subjects essential to our personal growth and development. I also believe that we need to teach more Canadian history and geography in our classrooms and that regional communities from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic need to become better acquainted with one another.
Madam Chairman, culture is the fuel of the soul. Cultural rights for children everywhere need to be defended and made real.
I have attempted in my remarks to sketch out the changing world in which the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must operate. I hope these observations and thoughts contribute to your overall deliberations and I welcome any questions that you might have.
Senator Poy: Elizabeth, it is really nice to see you in your hometown.
Senator Hubley: Thank you.
Senator Poy: I agree with a lot of things you said. I have a question regarding what you said, that "every child is entitled to be rocked in their own cultural cradle.'' How effective is that in P.E.I. such as with the First Nations children? How effective is your educational system here in that regard?
Senator Hubley: I think we address that well on Prince Edward Island. One of the largest Mi'kmaq communities is on Lennox Island. Those students are educated on the reserve and then they go to West Isle High School. At West Isle they have History of Aboriginal People; that is one of their subjects. They also promote the handicrafts that they are very adept at. The Mi'kmaq community has a fairly strong presence on Prince Edward Island. It is well known. It is celebrated in their dance and their music at functions, not necessarily just taking place on the reserves; it is part of other celebrations. We have a pow-wow on Prince Edward Island that is a major event where we have Mi'kmaq from across the Maritimes, who mostly attend. That is a popular attraction for people to be part of nowadays, because it is a community event. It is well advertised. It is part of our entertainment during the summer on Prince Edward Island.
Educationally, I think there are always challenges and I am sure that there is always a better way of doing it; but I think that on P.E.I., especially within the community that I have described, we are doing quite well.
Senator Poy: Would they be the majority of the First Nations people on the Island?
Senator Hubley: Yes, they would.
Senator Poy: Are they taught in their own language?
Senator Hubley: No, they are not. Part of their curriculum includes storytelling in their own languages.
Senator Poy: So do you have the elders telling the stories?
Senator Hubley: That is correct. That the elders are included is very much part of the education system. It was actually a question that I asked. I think the preservation of their language comes mainly through their training and upbringing within their homes. When I asked that of the school system, they did say that bringing elders into the school system to speak the language, to be part of that educational program, is something that they have been attempting to do.
Senator Poy: What is the percentage of First Nations children compared to the rest?
Senator Hubley: I would think maybe 3 to 5 per cent. It would not be much more than that.
Senator Pearson: Thank you so much for a wonderful presentation. You have touched on so many important issues around the child's right to culture, the child's right to artistic expression and so on, that I think are very, very helpful for our study. I liked your image of the salt. I mean, I didn't like it, but I did like it. And the reason I did not like it is the way it was presented to you at that time; the arts were like an add-on. But if you go back to I forget what the exact Biblical reference is, but when you are the salt of the earth.
Senator Hubley: Salt of the earth, yes.
Senator Pearson: I would like to think of a child's right to art and culture as their right to have salt as you know, research has shown that participation in artistic and cultural activities is a vital part of healthy child development, and you have spoken to that. The children need opportunities for self-expression and play, and thrive when they get them. You know that from direct experience. Through participation and creative processes in a variety of media, including technology, children experience alternative ways of knowing and develop their imaginations, ideas, observational capacities and feelings. We also know, through some of the research through the Arts Smarts program at McConnell and so on, that the benefits of creative activities throughout childhood have been shown to include improved academic performance, improved health and social skills, improved higher order thinking and reduced involvement in crime. So I think that for all of us who are interested in the rights of children, increasing opportunities for artistic and expressive means and opportunities is really important.
I was wondering, from your experience, what you think would be a recommendation that would be useful for us to make as a committee around the child's right to culture and artistic expression?
Senator Hubley: I am not sure if I can word it, other than to underline what I have already said. I just wanted to share with you an art display that came to Prince Edward Island. It was put together by Jim Baker, who has now passed away. I believe it came from Africa and was an art display of young people's work when they were experiencing a civil war. It was so telling to see the images and how these young people expressed what they were going through at that time very, very young children. It would be frightening to most people to view. There were no butterflies and there were no flowers; but there were guns and there was blood and there was crying; and where those children were not able to express in words what was happening to them, they express in great detail through their ability to use colour and line and to draw.
The other fear that I have, regarding how important culture is, is that in countries that are in conflict, that conflict becomes the younger generation's culture. That is what they are learning. That is what they know. To replace that with what we think of as their history the foods they eat, their dances, their songs, their music takes generations to repair and that is what I feel that generation will be missing.
It is like being on a desert island. You will survive first. You will find out where you can find water and food. It is down the line that you start to express what is inside of you. I am not sure how you could decorate a palm tree, but that would be what you would do. That is when culture as we know it, as we define it, will come in.
Culture is really what happens to you from the time you are born, on up. If we cannot save children from miseries that conflicts bring to them, then I think we are creating a lesser world for ourselves. I think it is that important that culture be in place. I am not sure you can guarantee it, though. I would like to say we can go into a country but before we rebuild and put the educational and the health system back in place, I am not sure that their minds will be open to embracing their traditions and their culture, and I think that is where the challenge with this "Rights of the Child'' will be.
Senator Pearson: It makes me think of the drawings by the children in the concentration camp in Czechoslovakia that travelled around the world and the children's opera that was developed for that particular group that is now being done in Saskatchewan. It is the value of survival through art.
Senator Hubley: Through art, yes.
Senator Pearson: Not to lose that as a lower priority I am not saying it replaces the priority. As they say, you cannot live on song, but culture is to accompany it, because it gets left behind because people are not thinking of it. They are thinking only of the immediate things and so I really appreciate your comments. Thank you.
Senator Hubley: The only other comment that I would like to make is that probably in times of greatest despair it is your culture that will sustain you. So when these little drawings come out or big drawings it is perhaps that song that will bring some comfort, even though everything else in the world seems to be dropping away.
Senator Pearson: Or the poems that the prisoners in Soviet times said to themselves in order to survive long years of isolation.
Senator Hubley: We listen to those stories and we say how wonderful they are, but in many parts of the world today it is very true that perhaps all the people can do is to recall those sayings, scriptures whatever they have been part of. But children do not have that. They do not have the history of that as yet. We have to ask ourselves this: What will carry that little mind forward to be part of the world to come? I do not want to paint a dark picture here, but I think there is a concern that we have to replace their culture very quickly, the best parts of it. Thank you.
Senator Oliver: Senator Hubley, I want to thank you very much for a most excellent presentation. You said a number of things that I agree with and you outlined a number of cultural concerns that I share also.
The reason that we are here in Prince Edward Island now is because of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. You raised and then went on to answer this question: How do we ensure that cultural rights are taken into account? You talked about the cultural traditions and rights of many different peoples of the world and Senator Poy asked you about one particular group in P.E.I., the Aboriginals.
I want to ask you about something I have read about in the newspapers about Atlantic Canada, particularly Nova Scotia. The newspapers have said that with the inverted age pyramid and the change in demographics, in order for Newfoundland, P.E.I., Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to continue to grow, we will have to look at bringing in more immigrants because we are not producing as many babies as we used to on our own. In order to grow our economies we will have to look at immigration. You actually refer to that in your paper and I quote: "The strongest and most enlightened culture is one that allows itself to be influenced by the ebb and flow of immigration and trade''; that is, new people coming into your country.
In the newspapers in Atlantic Canada there has been a constant reference to the fact that we in Atlantic Canada are not able to keep the new immigrants in this region, that they want to move on to Toronto and to Vancouver and to some extent to Calgary. If that is the case, how will we train our children, under the convention, in the cultural traditions of the globalized world that you talk about? How will we do it if we cannot keep these new people here in Atlantic Canada? It was a long question and I apologize.
Senator Hubley: I think there are many ways of experiencing other cultures. I think on Prince Edward Island we have had immigrants from Lebanon and China and Japan. There is multiculturalism on Prince Edward Island. I think that people who share the same things have a comfort level with each other. I think perhaps immigration on a larger scale demonstrates that when people come, they do like to have a familiarity with other people and maybe by moving to larger centres not to mention our winters on Prince Edward Island. It may be opportunities too. There are realities; there is the need to have jobs to make more money. There could be many reasons. But I like the idea of embracing different cultures. I think your own culture becomes stronger when you share another culture. In ways it is integrated. I look at what is probably a really pure art form: one of the purest art forms that I see is in step dancing. It evolved maybe from the Industrial Revolution in Europe where they wore the clogs, the wooden shoes on their feet to stand on the cold floors. To entertain themselves they would start maybe on a Friday afternoon, to tap out little rhythms with these clogs and it would go through one person could start and another person could make it a little different, so there became a little step dancing routine taking place many, many years ago.
On Prince Edward Island, our step dancing, per se, has very strong Scottish elements because the Scottish step dancing developed in a certain way because they were isolated as were the Acadians, as were the Irish. And now we have all of that on Prince Edward Island and our step dancing reflects all of those. Then we see from time to time, as clogging becomes popular, that there are little clogging step slides into the step dancing steps. We have even had the Charleston influence in step dancing. But it always comes back to the original. It is always kept back to the original because the music governs it. The music is the disciplinarian in the dance so that if you can do it to the music, you may be able to slide it into the step dancing genre, but the music will keep it as pure as it can.
I do not know perhaps where I was going with that, other than to say that influences will come and go, but it will always bring new interests to your own traditions. It will add to them rather than take away. It adds another element to your tradition. It is not that you replace your own; it is not that you have lost your values. I think because you are born in a land, your land will define you, whether you are prairie or mountains or sea or Nova Scotia, or city. It tends to define you as a person as well. It has a great influence on how you grow up and on your culture. That doesn't leave you; that stays there.
Senator Oliver: My concern was, however, that since there has been a lot of media recently about the fact that new immigrants coming to Atlantic Canada, particularly from countries like Africa, the Middle East, the Muslim countries, China, Thailand, the Philippines and so on, do not stay here but they move on to Montreal, to Toronto, to Vancouver and so on. If our children in Atlantic Canada are not having the influence of growing up with new Canadians from the Middle East and elsewhere, will they not lose out on something very important? Yes, they can always click on the Internet to learn something about it there or they can go to a movie; but there is a big difference between those electronic means and meeting someone and playing with them and telling stories one-on-one. That is what I was concerned about. Will we in Atlantic Canada not be losing out as far as our children are concerned?
Senator Hubley: I would think we would be. I would think that would be an experience that they would not have and it is one that I think would be important to have. I am not sure how we resolve that. I could not agree with you more that first-hand, personal experience is absolutely the best way to learn about another culture.
The Chairman: I have read through your statement when you were presenting it and I have looked back at it. I wonder if you could expand on a couple of points. The same sentence that Senator Oliver read out, I want to bring to your attention under "Cultural Isolationism'' on page 3. You said, "The strongest and most enlightened culture is one that allows itself to be influenced by the ebb and flow of immigration and trade.'' I thought that was an interesting phrase that you put in. Then on page 4, under "The Threat of Mass Culture,'' you point out that "From the Greeks to the Spanish to the British, and now the Americans, there have been cultural imperialists throughout history.'' You then make the conclusion under "The Threat of Mass Culture'': "To use scientific terminology, I believe our cultural universe is contracting not expanding.''
I see a bit of a contradiction in what you are saying there, plus you have entered into the debate and I would like you to expand it. There is one school of thought, in the World Trade Organization, for example, that certain aspects of culture are in fact trade and it is to our benefit to commercialize it, to extend it. It is one of our survival tools and one way we put the face of Canada forward. You have put Shania Twain on the list; we could list a whole bunch of others there, too, including the Montreal Symphony, et cetera, that we benefit from both commercially and culturally when we go around the world.
There is the other school of thought, through UNESCO, where Canada has played the role of trying to stop what you have said is cultural imperialism. Which is it that you think is the strongest influence, because we are talking about children; we are not talking about the debate about trade commercialism versus culture and its protection. We are talking about children. You end up saying that you believe the "cultural universe is contracting not expanding.''
Children will argue that through their technologies they are developing their own culture and that they are becoming truly more universal citizens than we ever were, so that it is not imperialism from their point of view. It is a reflection of the child, of the children they are today, as opposed to the kind of children we were. We were influenced by our parents, by our neighbourhood, by our school. Young children today are influenced by all kinds of forces from around the world: some of them are very positive, that they are creating, and some of them negative because they can reach into chat rooms and get kinds of information they could not otherwise.
So that's a bit of contradiction that I saw here and you might want to expand on this trade versus culture. Where are you in that camp? And secondly, are children actually profiting from the new technologies and this new, expanded world that they live in?
Senator Hubley: There are a lot of questions there.
The Chairman: You put them on the table.
Senator Hubley: When we think of contracting versus expanding, I think what I would be referring to there is the diversities of culture that the world supported, as each nation had its own culture. We had many, many, many of them. Now, because we have such a universal system of knowing what is going on in other parts of the world, is that now replacing what might have been picked up at a different time? Is this electronic world that we are living in the best for culture? And if it is not and that is what we would have to decide what can we do, then, to enhance culture in other ways? How can we bring what is important to us as a people to our children? It is a competition; there is no question about it. Time may prove that this is a wonderful way to go or we may in fact have lost a lot of wonderful traditions and cultures that just will not be carried on because the children are so involved in Internet and chat rooms.
Having said that, and bringing it back to experiences, I tend to think that experience will become part of the culture also. I say only part of it. I do not want it to be the largest part but it will become part of the world as we know it from now on. This is what our children will see.
In one way, I see the culture contracting, in that it will be somewhat replaced there is no question about that rather than expanding. I think there will be more people in the world doing the same things rather than people doing a lot of different things, because of our ability these days to tap into any part of the world and watch what is happening there and the pervasiveness of one culture the Shania Twains or the U2s. It creates its own momentum around the world, and it is what is prevalent that will affect societies. I used to wonder when I would watch the television of Third World countries, far-away countries they all wore jeans and I thought, "Wow, isn't that something? It is just like our kids; they all look the same.'' They are all the same because that is the way they see other children dressing, not to mention that when we send packages and clothing abroad, they are getting what we would wear. A lot of their clothing comes that way. Blue jeans are universal now, as are baseball caps; that is all part of culture. That is how either the good or the not-so-good is spread around the world. Perhaps we do not think that is important, but it is culture. Now we have the suit and tie around the world. It wasn't at one time but there have been influences that bring dress what is appropriate, what is acceptable and what people are doing in other areas into play. Now a suit and a tie are for everybody.
The Chairman: Did you want to touch on the trade issues?
Senator Hubley: Well, I think you did. I will go back again to just touch on what was said previously, that a culture is a living thing. It will obviously be affected by migration, which I think would be wonderful, as Senator Oliver has pointed out. It is an experience we all should enjoy.
I find that very few children know the difference in cultures and the difference in they accept each other on a very basic, loving level. Biases are learned and having children experience other cultures is really important to understanding who they are, to acceptance, to tolerance, to all those good words that come out of it. I think that migration would be part of it and the sharing of your culture, too. Here on Prince Edward Island, culture is a commodity. It is what people come to see. They want to see Anne of Green Gables in the summertime. We send Anne of Green Gables to Japan because that has been a country that has embraced her, beyond all expectations. That is a sharing of culture, but the other thing about culture, and we are talking about the performing arts now, goes back to the small communities and their opportunities for learning the cultures, learning the music of their people. It has to start at a ground level. The fact that we can export it and use it then as a commodity is really a success story, I think, for culture, in that it flows around the world. It is very interesting, the trade aspect. When we trade cultures, we trade one of the purest forms of them in that we try to define who we are as a people and put our best foot forward when we trade our cultures and when we send those around the world.
I may not have hit your question right on the head, Madam Chair, but I am trying very hard to do that.
The Chairman: Well, it is a very difficult field. As you were talking about the technologies, I remembered when the I am old enough, and that is the wonderful thing about being in the Senate, that you can talk about the good old days when television hit. Elvis Presley was shocking on television and our newspapers were filled with, "This will destroy our culture and really do things to our youth that we do not want done.'' The Beatles, et cetera. Well, I think some of us turned out quite well, you know.
I am always worried when we judge what the influence will be of the new wave of wearing jeans, or chat rooms is it because we do not relate to those children from the same perspective, because we have already lived through our own era, breaking out of that? That is really where the debate is.
The other is something about being Canadian. There are immigration waves. I came from a Ukrainian wave. To try to inject the Ukrainian culture as a legitimate Canadian fact was difficult, so we all joined dance groups. The day I knew that we were part of the Canadian fabric was when the best dancer of Scottish dance in my city was Betty Chan.
Senator Hubley: Yes, exactly.
The Chairman: She won for her excellence. She kept her Chinese culture and she was identified with that, but she embraced another culture as part of being Canadian and I said, "Yes, we are on the right road.''
Senator Hubley: We are on the right track. Absolutely.
The Chairman: I think there are many layers and you have been trying to point them out to us. Senator Poy has another question.
Senator Poy: I would like to carry on the discussion, but we will bring the discussion back to Canada. You were talking about cultural imperialism and how we counterbalance in Canada with what is happening with American culture; that is, the effect of American culture on Canada. You talk about making our own films, publishing our own books, et cetera, and having our own broadcasting system, which we do have. What our chair was talking about was the Canadian culture. To me, Canadian culture is really multiculturalism because there is so much immigration into this country. I would like to hear from you whether you think the federal government is doing enough to promote the publishing of books written by people from different parts of the world say from Asia and the Middle East who are Canadians.
I am very involved with that. You have Asian Canadian writers, or films that are made by Asian Canadians about Canada and their experiences in this country. Is the federal government doing enough to promote that as part of Canadian culture? Because to me that is what it is: It is a mixture and it does not matter where we come from; it is Canada. We are talking about Canada and all our different experiences. What do you think and how would you make it better?
Senator Hubley: Is there ever enough money? I do not think so. You can always do more of that. Senator Poy, I believe there was a group of Asian Canadians who produced a film that made it to Cannes this year, if I am not mistaken. They wanted their own vehicle of expression and that is how they did it. Yes, we can do a lot more. Any government provincially, municipally we can all do more to promote ourselves and to embrace the arts. What you have demonstrated in what you said is that sometimes our recognition of who we are comes from being involved in our multicultural society.
As the chair just mentioned, I think Betty Chan was the highland dancing champion. It happens quite often, I think, that as Canadians we can embrace, we can move forward and be part of other cultures and learn about those cultures, while we still maintain who we are. That becomes part of us; it does not take part of us away. I think that is what the importance of culture is. You had another question, Senator Poy?
Senator Poy: I would like to hear your opinion of whether or not the federal government, such as Canada Council or CBC, is doing enough to promote multiculturalism in Canada, because to me this is Canadian culture, when you read books written by people from Japan or China who were born here and have written about their Canadian experiences. Is enough is being done? From my perspective, the people who are sitting on the boards of these government corporations are actually controlling how much money is given and what is being done in promoting "Canadian culture''; if you do not have enough people from different parts of the world on the boards, that will not happen, again and again.
Senator Hubley: So that if we do not have multicultural representation on boards, we will not enjoy what that body might present to us by the way of culture?
Senator Poy: That is right.
Senator Hubley: I would have to agree with you. Perhaps having said that, and it seems to be an area we have identified we can improve, maybe it could be a recommendation in your report that in order to sustain, develop and enhance our Canadian culture, we must ensure that at the table when decisions are made on funding for culture. It very definitely reflects in our boards; yes, very much so.
Senator Poy: Board appointments, very important.
Senator Hubley: Yes, I think there is more we can do.
Senator Poy: A lot more.
Senator Hubley: Yes.
Senator Oliver: I think Senator Poy is to be commended for raising an extremely important point.
Senator Poy: Thank you.
The Chairman: And I am sure Senator Pearson will raise an equally important question.
Senator Hubley: I might say that we have yet to have an Asian Anne of Green Gables, so until we do, perhaps we still have a way to go.
Senator Pearson: We are talking a bit on the same line because it is the right of all children in Canada, I think, if we are talking about the convention and Canada's implementation of it, to feel proud of their citizenship and their national identity and you have always mentioned that, and it is whether they are citizens by birth or by choice. You mentioned the need for a little bit more history and geography and so on; I agree with that. I am not sure that we are respecting adequately our right to learn more about ourselves in our manifold variety. On the other hand, I am extremely encouraged over the many long years, as Senator Andreychuk is talking about Elvis Presley. I go back further than Elvis Presley. When I say Frank Sinatra, I speak of the young Frank Sinatra. I think all that complaint about losing Canadian culture is very interesting for us to note in that many ways we have diverged more than I would have expected, in terms of overall Canadian values and culture, from our American neighbours. I think it is the richness of human beings, their capacity; you cannot define them by jeans. You know, that is a surface expression. There are other things going on and I appreciate very much your discussion about culture, not just as arts and so on, but as the whole environment that surrounds us. That is why it is so important that we respect the rights of children, because what we want to create is a culture of respect; it is another aspect of culture. Coming back to the convention and to the ideas that are imbedded in the convention, if you could make just a further comment on the culture of respect for children.
Senator Hubley: Children, like any human beings, know when they are respected. Well, I should not say that they know; I think presenting things to children education, health care, a safe environment gives them the assurance to go forward. I do not think that a child who is burdened with illness or poverty or famine has the mindset to dwell on what we might think as cultural issues. That becomes their culture. If we cannot alleviate that, if we cannot set that child free so that they can develop and become we use that old term "contributing members to a society'', if we do not present the child with a culture that is nurturing, then we are the ones who will be the worse off. There is such an extreme within the world. We look at our Canadian children and say how fortunate and lucky and wonderful this is to live in Canada. We look at conditions in other parts of the world and we say, on the negative side, that it must be terrible. I think it is wrong. I think it is not only terrible, but to be raising a society that is totally on that survival line is not a wise thing for a world community to tolerate.
Just getting back, you had mentioned our geography and history. Absolutely, we have to learn about ourselves, too. We always prided ourselves on knowing more about our country than did our other friends to the south, and we knew more about their country I think it is a global society that we are living in. As such, we as a people have to position ourselves; we have to feel part of that global society as well as part of our Canadian society and our communities and so on and so forth.
The term "respect'' is a term that, having learned it, you'll share it. If you treat children with respect, then I think you will be able then to expect that they will treat the other parts of their world with respect as well. But if we do not respect the children and if we do not engage them asking fiveyear-olds for their best ideas might be a challenge, but it is part of it. They are learning; they are given so much information so quickly these days from our media, from our homes, from our communities. There is so much information available to children these days that we have to be sure that we are giving them the best information. I think we have to be protective of that information as well. We have to have an eye to what exactly that information is.
The Chairman: Thank you, senator, for your presentation. You have ended on the note that the convention really was there for children. Self-esteem is a very important part of growing up, if you will be a contributor to society, and it was in that context that the convention developed the right of the child to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. If a child is afforded the right of some family, however that is defined; some culture and awareness, however that is defined; and some social life, which means the ability to grow; then I think their own self-esteem will grow and they will be part of a contributing community.
These terms are very general, they are very difficult, and so I thank you for trying to struggle with them. What we want to do is to encourage governments to start looking at these issues, not as issues of adults but from day one for children in our society; and we as adults need to look at children and their perspective. If we do the right things with children at the start, they will be able to tackle further some of the negatives that perhaps we see looming in the future.
On a personal note, I want to thank you for including children of Darfur and other areas. These children are not being afforded the basic right to life and all else starts from there, so I think we should remember the global context of the convention and you have done that also.
The committee adjourned.
CHARLOTTETOWN, Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 1:10 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: Welcome. We will start the afternoon session. We are the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, and we are tasked with the mandate of examining and reporting upon Canada's international obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children, in particular the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Our first witness this afternoon is Jamie Gallant, President and Chief of the Native Council of Prince Edward Island. She is accompanied by Paula Thomas, Chief Finance Officer.
The floor is yours.
Ms. Jamie Gallant, President and Chief, Native Council of Prince Edward Island: Good afternoon. Before I begin, I want to welcome you to Abegweit and the traditional territory of the Mi'kmaq Nation. I would like to thank the Senate committee for allowing me to address you here today.
My name is Jamie Gallant. I am the President and Chief of the Native Council of Prince Edward Island. My organization is provincially affiliated with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which is one of five national Aboriginal organizations. Representing Aboriginals nationally and provincially, we represent the off-reserve Indians, Mtis, status, non-status and other Aboriginal people who reside outside of Indian Act reservations or northern settlements.
On P.E.I. today there are approximately 382 Indians, according to 2001 census data, who live on the four reserves across the Island; approximately 960 Aboriginal people resideoff-reserve and are not necessarily from this Island or theseIsland reserves. Within the city of Charlottetown, there are about 735 people who self-identify as being Aboriginal.
Canada's previous report to the United Nations uses the terms ``Aboriginals'' and ``First Nations'' throughout the report, often interchangeably within the same paragraph. To us, this clouds the issue of representation of Aboriginal people throughout Canada that is inclusive of all indigenous groups, regardless of legal definition. ``First Nations'' are those people who have the legal definition of ``Indian,'' which is imposed upon them via the Indian Act and indicates someone who may reside on reserves. As I am allowed only a brief period of time, I will make my submission and I will not bother getting into that detail.
When I look at Canada's previous submission to the United Nations, under ``Federal Programs and Services,'' the majority of the information refers to ``Aboriginals,'' when in reality those programs and services are geared more towards Indians residing on reserves, now called ``First Nations.'' This gives the reader the wrong impression that Canadian Aboriginals all benefit from federal programs, when in reality the Indian children living on reserves receive a significantly different services from other children in Canada; urban children and off-reserve children, whether living in rural communities or not, are further marginalized by this disparity.
Heritage Canada has been very instrumental in supporting our organization's activities and is to be commended for that support.
Although article 44 states that the report will be provided to various levels of government and non-government organizations, to my knowledge neither the Native Council nor the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples has received Canada's report, and we have not received any indication as to where this report can be obtained.
My response to article 6, the right to life, survival and development, is that programming to alleviate post-colonial effects on Aboriginal societies has not reduced the suicide rate of Aboriginal youth, which is five times the national average. Although P.E.I. is such a small province, our communities are very tight-knit. A year ago, a young community member from one of the Abegweit First Nations committed suicide, and that has now created a chain reaction among our youth. We find more and more suicide attempts of community members, whether they live on or off reserves, and that greatly impacts our young people, children and families.
Regarding article 8, the preservation of identity, when it talks about Aboriginal self-government arrangements, these arrangements are only available to First Nations citizens. They do not allow other Aboriginals jurisdiction over civil procedures under the Divorce Act. The current system is detrimental to Aboriginal cultures where community supports for children are eroded through the adversarial mentality resulting from family court proceedings. Children become commodities within a marginalized group, which further diminishes Canada's fiduciary promises under treaties, off-loading Canada's responsibilities to Aboriginal children, in essence. Socialization of culture is lost when grandparents are denied access through custody arrangements. Children lose contact with their extended family.
The report talks about the Aboriginal child welfare program and my comment is that, once again, that is geared towards First Nations citizens. Social workers within the system have no understanding of Aboriginal cultures, which impacts negatively on our children.
Article 17, access to appropriate information and linguistic needs, talks about SchoolNet. SchoolNet is a program that is once again geared towards First Nations children and is not accessible to off-reserve Aboriginal children.
We also looked at Aboriginal language programs, which are delivered by the Assembly of First Nations to First Nations, usually the reserves. Off-reserve and urban Aboriginal children are at higher risk of losing their language because they do not have that connection to the culture that is provided through these programs.
Family law and alternative care would only be available to First Nations under self-government agreements.
I have taken information from the report on Canada's response, so if I am losing anyone, I apologize.
When I looked at adoption, under article 21, again the authority of family law and the adoption issues would only be available to First Nations under self-government agreements. This is not available, as per my understanding, to the off-reserve communities.
When I looked at article 19, regarding abuse and neglect and basic health and welfare, the design and delivery of health and welfare services and programs are available, once again, only to First Nations.
With respect to health and health services, in articles 6 and24, currently the Native Council of P.E.I. is investigating an Aboriginal Head Start program for urban Aboriginal children. There was one, I believe, approximately 20 years ago. I am not sure what took place with that program but we are told that the numbers are not high enough in P.E.I. That is discriminatory towards our children because our population is as high as that in downtown Toronto. Our children still need these programs and services so that they can excel and connect with their culture and their communities.
We acknowledge the disparity between Aboriginal child health indicators and those of the general Canadian child population. We applaud federal initiatives such as the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects Program, the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, NNADAP, and the Aboriginal Diabetes Strategy. We administer the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the Aboriginal Diabetes Strategy for our off-reserve people here within the province currently.
The transfer of health facilities, community health programs and resources is targeted at First Nations. We are supportive of the Aboriginal health research initiatives and are looking at ways currently to become more involved in doing research of our own.
Federal assistance for First Nations communities to assume responsibility for health services does not apply to off- reserve Aboriginal communities. Currently our people attend local care, and some of the services that are geared towards First Nations are not provided off-reserve, once again, which creates problems in certain cases, in certain families.
Regarding social security, child care and facilities, inarticles 26 and 18: To my knowledge, the Native Council of P.E.I. does not benefit from the frameworks to guide and implement national child care benefits reinvestment initiatives as they are, once again, for reserves.
Standard of living, in article 27: The Native Council of P.E.I. appreciates CMHC's rural and native housing program; however, this may not adequately serve the need for required housing units. The Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, or RRAP, has a First Nations component, most specifically.
Dwellings with lone female parents and Aboriginal households are mainly those on reserves. There are no adequate protections for lone female parents when evicted from reserve housing, as human rights violations are not addressed due to jurisdictional issues. Matrimonial property rights are the major issue for Aboriginal women who are forced to leave the reserve due to these types of decisions made by chief and council without consideration for women and their children. This contributes to further marginalization of Aboriginal women and children by subjecting them to live off- reserve or in urban environments where the aforementioned federal programs and services are no longer available.
This has actually happened here in Prince Edward Island, where chief and council made the decision to ban a single parent from the reserve due to circumstances beyond my knowledge. That person was then led to give her children to care services because of the assistance and support not being there.
Regarding article 34, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation: We feel that Aboriginal child welfare professionals lack the adequate cross-cultural sensitivity training required to really deal with these issues when it comes to Aboriginal children. Most alarming is the recent case of Judge Ramsay sexually assaulting young Aboriginal prostitutes in British Columbia. This case resulted in a couple of RCMP officers being investigated also.
The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres has questioned the prevalence of toleration. There are many unsolved cases of Aboriginal women in Canada who have been murdered, and numerous other women have gone missing. Young Aboriginal women are also included in this. Their destinations of street and drug life may be some of the post-colonial effects. That is where we applaud, as an organization, the national Native Women's Association and their Sisters in Spirit campaign. We think that is definitely a worthwhile project.
Speaking about provincial programs and services, the Native Council of P.E.I. is very grateful to the provincial government for providing us financial assistance in numerous areas, including economic development. We have a tripartite agreement and they assist in our drug and alcohol program as well.
Canada's previous submission indicated that P.E.I. was funded through the Youth Initiative Fund and provided a program called ``Help Every Aboriginal Learn,'' or HEAL, along with a teen mom workshop dealing with parenthood.
Our experience is that off-reserve and urban Aboriginal people realize more benefits and program delivery through the province, rather than through the federal funding to the First Nations and tribal councils. The Native Council of P.E.I. would support a new fiscal transfer to the province if it incorporated services and programs geared towards off- reserve Aboriginal people.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for allowing me to address your group here today, and I will answer any questions.
The Chairman: The Native Council of P.E.I. is off-reserve, but does it include people who could gain reserve status? Or does it include all Aboriginals who do not have status on the reserve? I come from the West and each province is different.
Ms. Gallant: The Native Council of P.E.I. is a community of Aboriginal people. I am non-status. My father is a registered Indian with the Lennox Island Reserve up in Lennox Island, in the western part of the Island. Our membership is a combination of people who have status from one of the reservations either here on the Island or from across Canada. We have members who are Cree, Saulteaux and Ojibwe. We include various nations along with people who have come from the Mtis settlements out in the western part of the country. We represent a variety of people as an organization. Paula is a status Indian from Lennox Island.
Senator Pearson: Thank you very much for your report and for having taken seriously the challenge of responding to the convention as the framework for your remarks. I think it does elicit the usefulness of the convention as a way of highlighting issues. I think you have raised, in my mind at least, questions that have been very useful.
The first thing I wanted to say was that I am interested in your comment about the definitions of ``Aboriginal'' and ``First Nation'', because you are perfectly right: The term ``First Nation'' is an Indian Act definition. We have heard before, in the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, that we need to do some thinking about what that term means, instead of using it as a generic term; that if it is used, it needs to be explained each time that that is the way it is being used.
So I am glad that you brought that back to our attention. It does underline the constant challenge, particularly in a small province like Prince Edward Island, of the problems of who has jurisdiction over what. As Aboriginal children move from one environment to another, it is as if they should themselves carry the federal fiduciary responsibilities with them, as opposed to somehow becoming defined differently as they move from one place to another. It is the same child with the same kind of background. This was the opinion that we put into the study on urban aboriginal youth that we did: You should not be defined by location. You can be self-defined in other ways, so you should be able to carry the privileges, or federal responsibilities, with you wherever you go and then work it out in arrangements with the provinces in ways that are fair.
I think the next point you made was about the unfairness of some children getting more services or fewer services, depending on where they live and who has been responsible for them. Sometimes that works to the advantage of a child on the reserve; sometimes it works to their disadvantage. It's the same thing for Aboriginal children living off-reserve. I think it is a question that the Committee on the Rights of the Child has brought to our attention twice with respect to Aboriginal children, so it is an ongoing question that we as government should be responding to, so thank you for laying that one out.
I am sure you must be acquainted with Cindy Blackstock from the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She and her group are in the process now of developing observations out of a day of study on indigenous children that occurred two years ago, based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. She was present when Canada presented to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. There was a day especially devoted to issues around indigenous children.
I wanted you to know about that because I think it is something you might have some input into at some stage. We are looking not just at the rights of the Aboriginal children in Prince Edward Island but basically all over the world, and there should be greater consistency in how they are defined. I think she is an Aboriginal from British Columbia and has been very good on these issues. I think that the Committee on the Rights of the Child is seized with this issue, and you will be hearing more about it; I will make sure that you are all connected.
The final point I wanted to make is that one of the things we are discovering throughout this inquiry is that there is an absolutely inadequate effort to communicate the reports, the results and the concluding observations from the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This information has not been communicated to Aboriginal organizations such as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples or the AFN or the others. Some of the recommendations we may be looking at include what the communication plan should be, what the government should ensure and how the different groups should be made aware of what is going on if we are going to make good use of the convention. That was a very helpful comment.
I do know that Ethel Blondin-Andrew and I made an effort to circulate a poster around the Convention on the Rights of the Child to all First Nations, in this case the First Nations by definition. We got a mixed response. Some of them took it and were interested and others did not take it. But that was a one-time shot. There should be something more consistent, because I do think that these are children's rights issues and the convention is a really good tool to help your population of young people.
I do not know if you want to comment in response to the things that I have shared with you, or if you would like to have more information or give us more information.
Ms. Gallant: Yes. In terms of the first comment that you made in regards to First Nations and the definitions that are being used, from where we stand as an organization and as a community, I think every child should have the right to access programs and services equally, regardless of residency or what category they fall into. I think that is where we are coming from when we talk about the different groups of Aboriginal people and the categories with which we have been provided. As a non-status person, although I am Aboriginal I do not have access, or my children would not have access, to the programs and services that status Aboriginal children would have. As an organization and community, those are things that we do not see as being fair, or as being right when it comes to the development of our children. We want every child to excel, regardless of where they live or what category they fit into.
Senator Poy: Thank you very much for your presentation, Ms. Gallant. You made the difference between status andnon-status Aboriginal people very clear. Are non-status Aboriginals the ones who do not live on reserves?
Ms. Gallant: No, not necessarily. Status Aboriginal people are people who are able to register under the federal government's Indian Act. My father's mother was a status Indian and that status carried on to him. My mother is non- Aboriginal. When my father and my mother got married, I was not in a position to receive status because of the way the Indian Act is outlined. It is the guide for how we as Aboriginal people are identified.
You do not necessarily even have to be Aboriginal to live on a reserve. A number of people enter into mixed culture relationships, so you could have an Aboriginal family where the mother is non-Aboriginal or the father is non- Aboriginal; but still their children are in a position to receive their status basedon 6(1) or 6(2) of the Indian Act. There are different categories; it is very confusing.
Senator Poy: In other words, you do not carry your father's status?
Ms. Gallant: No.
Senator Poy: Do you carry your mother's status?
Ms. Gallant: I carry no one's status. I do not have status whatsoever. I am non-status. I will let Paula explain a little bit more because she is status and she can probably fill you in.
Ms. Paula Thomas, Chief Finance Officer, Native Council of Prince Edward Island: I am status, which means both my parents were card-carrying members of a reserve. They passed their status on to me, which made me a 6(1) status Indian.
Senator Poy: When you say ``6(1),'' is that just a number?
Ms. Thomas: It is a category of the Indian Act.
My son's father is non-Aboriginal, so my son falls intoa 6(2) category. That means he cannot pass on his status; although he has full rights and privileges under the Indian Act as a status Indian, he cannot pass them on.
Senator Poy: I see.
Ms. Thomas: As a 6(1) status Indian myself, I can.
Senator Poy: So when you say you are Aboriginal, that has nothing to do with how much Aboriginal blood is in your body, in your veins?
Ms. Thomas: No.
Senator Poy: I am sure the other senators are clear on that. It is just that I am not. You mentioned that there is a very big difference between the benefits for Aboriginals who live on reserves and those who do not. Can you give a couple of examples?
Ms. Gallant: Sure. I guess I would not say ``benefits''; what I would suggest is programs and services that are provided. The programs and services for Aboriginal communities are developed based on First Nations or reserve communities. The Aboriginal Head Start program automatically becomes a reserve-based program, and it is very hard for off-reserve Aboriginal communities to access funding dollars to administer programs such as that to assist, whether it be children, youth, adults, or whatever the case may be.
One of the big areas is health care. On a reserve you have access to a health care facility right on your reserve. If you live off the reserve and you are status, non-status, whatever the case may be, you are then required to go to a public walk-in clinic. It is not as culturally sensitive as if you were to go into a reserve-based health clinic. There are various programs that are initiated more for on the reserve than off, such as the Aboriginal Workforce Participation Initiative. I could probably go on for a really long time.
Senator Poy: Even for education?
Ms. Gallant: Yes. Post-secondary university education is filtered through the First Nations, so that means if I live on the reserve and want to go to UPEI, I make my application and I then become a priority. However, if I am an off- reserve status member of that reserve and I want to go to the same course at the university as a person who lives on the reserve, it has been our experience that the off-reserve status people are put on more or less of a waiting list. Once everyone who is on the reserve has been served, then the off-reserve applicants are next. It is administered by the First Nation communities, so the Aboriginal people who choose not to live on those reservations are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing that program.
A lot of the programs that are geared towards First Nations communities are for the members of those communities. However, there are some programs where members of the band who have moved away from the band can still access those programs or services.
Senator Poy: Is the Native Council of P.E.I. working for the benefit of everyone on-reserve and off-reserve, or just thoseoff-reserve?
Ms. Gallant: We actually work with those who are off-reserve. We have a number of members who move from their reserve community into the city of Charlottetown, or Summerside, or wherever the case may be. We work with all Aboriginal people but we represent the interests of the off-reserve people.
Senator Oliver: We are interested in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I have your statistics on the number of Aboriginals and I would like to break themdown a bit. For instance, the numbers you gave were based on 2001 statistics, so today there are probably about 400 Indians who live in the four reserves, about 960 Aboriginals off-reserve, and within the Charlottetown area, there are probably 735 people who self-identify as Aboriginals. How many of them are between the ages of one and 18?
Ms. Gallant: I cannot give you the definite answer to that, but I would have to say at least 50 per cent.
Senator Oliver: Are the numbers of children on reserves increasing or decreasing?
Ms. Gallant: I think the number of Aboriginal people is increasing, in general. I would say that the number of children born to on-reserve families is increasing, but then those families move off-reserve very shortly after the child is born.
Senator Oliver: Why is that?
Ms. Thomas: I grew up on a reserve. I lived there for the majority of my life, but I moved off when I went to further my education. It was a very big surprise to me how different life was off-reserve and I quickly realized that I wanted to raise my children away from the reserve, due to the high prevalence of sexual abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and just the limited number of opportunities that would be there for me or my child. A lot of the decisions made on a First Nations reserve are unilateral and are very family-based on my reserve anyway so a lot of families feel they have better opportunities once they leave.
Senator Oliver: I appreciate that answer a lot; indeed, that was what I wanted to get to next. Once I found out the number of children, both on- and off-reserve, I wanted then to start talking about the rights, privileges and abuses of children, to try to find out from you if those rights are being violated. What types of things would you like to tell this Senate committee that is studying this, and what types of remedies would you like to see to the violation of Aboriginal children's rights?
Ms. Thomas: My personal belief is that especially people on reserves need to be educated, that you cannot keep it a dark little secret and just pretend it is not there and hope it goes away.
Senator Oliver: Sex abuse, you mean?
Ms. Thomas: Any abuse. A lot of people will just say, ``Well, my uncle drinks.'' They will never speak of him, and all his problems are over there. It is that type of thing that prolongs the cycle of all this abuse.
Senator Oliver: Jamie, you wanted to comment?
Ms. Gallant: We only have two communities, but the two that we do have in Prince Edward Island that are reserve- based are very secluded. They are away from cities or towns or even a store. Personally, I have never experienced life on a reserve. I have lived in a very small community, a very small town. But life on a reserve, as per my understanding, is very secluded and everything that happens, everyone knows about. There is a lot of abuse and the abuse is based on addictions to alcohol, drugs, prescription drugs whatever the case may be. I am not saying that that is happening only in reserve communities, because that is not the case, but it is increasing and it is starting to affect the children of those communities. As a parent, if I were to live on a reserve with my children growing up in that lifestyle, definitely for my children's sake I would want to move away from that. That is where I see the trend of individuals moving away from reserve life into urban or rural communities. That is my understanding as to the reason why this is taking place.
Senator Oliver: May I ask you this, then, in view of what both of you have said about life on reserves for children between one and 18 years? Where there has been in Prince Edward Island a history of various types of abuse, a lot coming from abuse of drugs and alcohol, and sexual abuse and so on, would you want to make a recommendation to this committee about the committee doing something about moving these childrenoff-reserve as soon as possible and back out into the community? Would you go that far or is that a viable solution?
Ms. Gallant: I think that is something that happened to us years and years ago when our children were taken from our communities into residential schools, and I am just using that as an example. When you take a child away from the community, then they lose that sense of culture and that sense of connection. I think what needs to happen is more support being provided to these children and these families on reserves.
Senator Oliver: Remedies you would recommend would be remedies that take place on-reserve, although Paula said she was happy to move off-reserve.
Ms. Gallant: I think in many cases there are supportson-reserve, but I do not think those supports are being utilized to their full advantage. I think where my comment would come from is that once those individuals decide that it is time to move away from this lifestyle, those same supports have to available when they move to the city of Summerside or the city of Charlottetown. In no way, shape or form do I think that those services that are being provided to the reserve community should be taken away, but one of my comments would be that those programs and services have to be increased so that, when people finally decide that this is not the way that they want to live their lives any longer, they have supports on the outside. Then it is not a situation where they have to decide to live on a reserve so that they can be supported. They would have that choice. In a lot of cases the supports aren't there once they make that decision to leave.
In some cases it is a life or death decision. When you look at a mother who lives with an abusive man who may be addicted to alcohol or drugs or whatever, and she decides she needs to leave for her own safety and her children's safety, what we are saying is that those supports need to be available for them outside of that reserve base.
Senator Oliver: Paula, do you agree?
Ms. Thomas: Very much so.
The Chairman: In your submission regarding standard of living, article 27, you state that ``Matrimonial property rights are a major issue for Aboriginal women who are forced to leave the reserve due to these types of decisions made by chief and council, without consideration for women and their children.'' You should know that the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights recommended to the government that it move immediately to apply the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is available to every Canadian, to Aboriginal women on reserves in these particular situations. Unfortunately, the government did not move on that report and we have had to file since a second report demanding, in essence, that the government do something about this immediately. Now we are waiting to see whether the minister and the House of Commons move on it.
I think you have put your finger, rightly, on the issue. It is between the federal government, which has a fiduciary responsibility, and the chiefs and the councils, who also have a responsibility to their communities. As a result, we are having trouble getting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to apply. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has rights for children, rights for the families of children.
Do you think that the chiefs and councils are aware of their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Would some recommendation from this committee, that the federal government begin to disseminate information immediately throughout Canada, throughout the Aboriginal community, on the rights that are there for children and families under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, go a long way in encouraging the kind of action on-reserve that is necessary?
Ms. Gallant: I would like to start by commending you for making that recommendation and then for going back and demanding that they follow through with the recommendation. First off, I would like to say thank you.
As per chiefs and councils and whether or not they understand their obligations when it comes to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the rights of children, I am not sure I can answer that question, because I have never experienced being on a reserve or being in such a position. I would suggest that it is not taken as seriously as other issues that are front and foremost when it comes to being a leader in a community.
The Chairman: In your own work as the youngest elected member here and I commend you for that have you thought about using the Convention on the Rights of the Child in your negotiations with either the provincial or the federal authorities, and have you used it as an education tool for your own citizens?
Ms. Gallant: I can honestly say that we have never used it in negotiations. I am relatively new I have been here for only approximately six months so it has not been taken advantage of by our administration as of yet, but I definitely think that it is a tool that needs to be utilized because I think that more public awareness is definitely needed when it comes to the members of our community. We have done some awareness sessions in regards to children and their rights. They have not been developed based on the convention but on the experience of local experts, but it is something that we as an organization will definitely consider and will definitely move on.
The Chairman: I remember when we never talked about urban Aboriginals. They were almost equated to First Nations citizens and so it was a problem between federal and provincial financing, unfortunately. We did not look at people; we looked at financing and whose responsibility it was. It is really only in the last 20-some years that we have come to understand the fact that so many of our Aboriginal communities are not on reserves. Then, of course, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we recognized the Mtis as part of the Aboriginal group and started to struggle with this whole issue of what is the fact of urban Aboriginals.
In your opinion, what are the key problems that urban Aboriginals face as opposed to all Aboriginals? That is another story about rights and about integration or assimilation and all those discussions we have had about how to go about making a fair relationship between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. What is the greatest problem urban Aboriginals face? We have heard from northern communities that their isolation has bred the teenage suicide and drug problem, the lack of education and resources. As urban Aboriginals, what is it you face in P.E.I. as your greatest challenge?
Ms. Gallant: One of our major challenges is definition. We find that we engage every day in a battle to define who we are. Those definitions are being imposed upon us by provincial and federal governments and other Aboriginal organizations.
Representation is an issue that is not spoken of when it comes to this province and our Aboriginal people. It is one of those things that we would rather not talk about, usually. That is not my opinion but it is the opinion. We definitely face a lack of resources when it comes to programs and services that are delivered to Aboriginal people. There is a disconnect when it comes to our communities and I think that that has a lot to do with the politics that are played on- reserve, off-reserve representation who gets money for which group of Indians. It is sad, but those are realities that we are faced with here in the province. Because we are so small and because I am so young, I guess these are things that we have no problem discussing openly with individuals. I know that they usually do not get discussed but these are some of the challenges.
When they leave the reserve, our people are also faced with, as Paula said, a completely different life, so we have to do a lot of work with individuals. We have had cases where people come to the city of Charlottetown and are just in amazement because there is so much. People struggle with the new lifestyles, the lack of cultural awareness or sensitivity when it comes to making the transition from one environment to another.
We also face discrimination major discrimination. I face discrimination myself because I do not look like an Indian. There are lots of challenges that we face as Aboriginal people in Prince Edward Island. I would have to commend the provincial government in terms of the work that they have done thus far with our organization. They have been very supportive. As individuals you can support an organization, but it is a lot harder to support individuals standing on their own. There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of people feeling comfortable in their own skin.
Senator Pearson: I think, Jamie, you are an example of the value of youth participation. As you know, one of the principles of the convention, the cross-cutting principle, is the participation of young people. I think, in my experiences working with Aboriginal peoples, this is the challenge: to get the voice of young people magnified to the point where they can have some impact on what is happening within the community. I say that because not only are you young now, but you talk about having your eyes opened at age 16, and of course there is the fact that both of you are women.
I wonder if you have some ideas or some thoughts that we could put into our recommendations, perhaps, about the engagement of young Aboriginal people the value of participation and what would be useful for us to recommend. Do you have some ideas for us? I think we want a confirmation from you.
Ms. Gallant: I think it is imperative that people listen to what young people have to say. Although I may look young, I have experienced more in my life than I ever anticipated, so a lot of young people bring experiences and stories that really can benefit different discussions and processes such as this. I think that when you are engaging young people you really have to give them an opportunity to wear your jeans and just have a conversation. I think a lot of people get blurred down in that, that it is not about reality. There needs to be reality when you are talking with young people, especially young Aboriginal people, because they will tell you their stories. They just want to make sure that you are listening and that you are listening for a reason.
A lot of our young people are provided token positions because it looks good, but that will not get them anywhere. We have a lot of dynamic, confident young Aboriginal people who can move mountains. It is just a matter of engaging them and ensuring that it is meaningful engagement, that it is not tokenism, such as I experienced at one time. I think that the words and the wisdom of young people definitely can be used to the advantage of this committee and other committees throughout the years.
Senator Pearson: In this structure under INAC First Nations, has the chief and council electoral process been counterproductive in terms of getting young people involved, or is it not relevant one way or another?
Ms. Gallant: I honestly could not answer your question, although Paula might be able to.
Senator Pearson: The chief and council model was imposed as a function of the Indian Act. Therefore, it is an imposed function, and it seems to be that young people have difficulty getting their voices into the governance on reserves.
Ms. Thomas: I know as a young person on the reserve you really do not have much say, but since I have moved off I have been dealing with the Native Council of P.E.I. We have a board of directors that helps runs the council. We have a youth board of directors that is a voting position and helps to make decisions. I find that we can engage youth a lot more strongly and with more passion and conviction in what they have something to say about, because they know they have a vote, a voice.
On the reserve there are functions for youth. Usually you go and tell people what they want to hear and have lunch, or do whatever it is that you are there to do, and then you go home and do not think about it again. I know that, when growing up, I never thought about politics because no one listened.
Senator Poy: Ms. Gallant, you are a chief. Is there a band of which you are chief?
Ms. Gallant: No.
Senator Poy: It is the Native Council of P.E.I.?
Ms. Gallant: Yes. I am the President and Chief of the Native Council of P.E.I. The Native Council of P.E.I. is a community of Aboriginal people from different First Nations: people from all across the country who have moved to Prince Edward Island and who have the need for representation when it comes to their issues, their concerns, their lives and their families. They then become members of the Native Council of P.E.I. and we as a community advocate on their behalf.
Senator Poy: Do they have to join or they are automatically part of your native council?
Ms. Gallant: When we speak on behalf of the members of the Native Council of P.E.I., they are members. But when we provide programs and services, those programs and services are provided to all Aboriginal people, regardless of membership within the organization, because we believe strongly that membership should not allow or disallow you having access to services that are provided for you as an Aboriginal person.
Senator Poy: Would you have a large number of young people on the Native Council of P.E.I.?
Ms. Gallant: Yes, very large.
Senator Poy: Are they very active?
Ms. Gallant: Very active, yes. As Paula said, we have a Provincial Youth Council. We structured our organization so that our youth could have a voice and so that they would have a decision-making body. Our council is made up of two people from each of the three counties within the province. They have a Youth Annual General Assembly where they come together, very similar to our organization, and they make recommendations to our board and to the members of our community. We also ensure that our youth are participants at our organization's Annual General Assembly and that there is a platform for them to engage and to provide direction to the organization for the next year so that they can be involved and so that we are meeting their needs, as well as those of the community at large. We have a very strong youth structure, and they are very active, believe me.
Senator Poy: Paula was saying that as a young person within the reserve you really have no voice. There must be a lot of competition between the chiefs and the councils of the reserves and your organization because young people would want to leave and be part of your organization. Is that right?
Ms. Gallant: I am a strong believer that everyone has a choice. Everyone has the choice to live wherever they choose to live within this province and within this country. So those are not really arguments that we have ever engaged upon. We had said, ``You receive money for these individuals based on structure or whatever, and we would like your support.'' But we have never really engaged in discussions or arguments regarding where someone lives. It is more about representation.
Senator Poy: I am talking about the leadership. Is there conflict with the leadership of the reserves? Would they try to take money away from you, funding and so forth?
Ms. Gallant: We do not get any money. I think there is always a conflict when you work in politics and you live in politics.As Aboriginal people you are borne up in a political society and that's just the way it is. I think that the conflicts that come between the two communities are more about representationthan about conflict between actual individuals. You can gohead-to-head with someone regarding a program, but at the end of the day, when it comes down to making a decision on an individual, that is when you take the gloves off and start to talk as people. I think we all represent our own interests. We all have our own characteristics and needs when we do get into arguments, let's say, but, all in all, we are all here for the same reason. That is the way I look at it.
Senator Poy: Thank you very much.
The Chairman: Thank you. I think we have gone over our time. We appreciate that you have come and been so forthright and frank about the situation in Prince Edward Island. I think you are also good politicians for your cause and diplomatic in the way you describe the relationships. I think that will speak well for P.E.I. and your organization and the children here.
We hope that you will continue to look at the Convention on the Rights of the Child and what role you should play as leaders within your community in furthering the rights that children have under that convention. Hopefully, you will look to our report for valuable suggestions that will be of benefit to you.
We thank you for coming. If you have any other thoughts you want to share with us later, this study will continue for some time, so if you have anything else you would like to add, I would appreciate hearing from you.
Ms. Brenda Goodine, Early Childhood Program Consultant, Early Childhood Development Association of Prince Edward Island: Senators, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today on behalf of the Early Childhood Development Association. The work of your committee and inquiry to support children's rights within Canada and abroad is timely. The last decade has been a very exciting time for individuals who care and educate young children within the early childhood system.
The federal government's leadership in allocating resources and developing programs has provided Prince Edward Islanders with an opportunity to develop new services and supports for young children in our province. Here in Prince Edward Island we have seen children and their families receive much needed support and access to services like the development of family resource programs and the implementation of the publicly funded kindergarten system.
The Understanding the Early Years, or UEY, research project has provided valuable information to support decisions and planning to ensure that our children are among the most prepared for the challenges of the public school system.
In many ways we can take pride in how things have progressed. Collaborative partnerships and working relationships between the federal/provincial/territorial governments and community groups working on behalf of young children have been strengthened and further developed. However, are we truly assuring the rights of every child on Prince Edward Island? We know through valid research that high quality early childhood care and education programs support optimal development of all children regardless of their social and economic circumstances.
Although in Prince Edward Island we have one of thehighest rates of availability to licensed child care, there are only 4,000 licensed child care spaces for approximately 10,000 children. We know that more than 80 per cent of mothers with children under the age of six are attached to the workforce. We live in a time of social and economic circumstances that require families to have two incomes, where possible, in order to assure themselves of the basic quality of life we have come to expect in Canada. It is under these circumstances that the importance and role of high quality early childhood care and education programs becomes most apparent. Early childhood care and education programs are a critical support system and partner for families in supporting the care, education and healthy development of children.
What are some of the critical indicators of a high quality early learning and child care system or program? We know that the training and education qualifications of early childhood educators directly impact on the quality of the program that children receive. We know that the type of environment and resources accessible for children to learn through play-based experiences is another strong predictor of quality. We know that the support and commitment of other stakeholders and partners contribute to that quality.
In Prince Edward Island, we have a dedicated, committed group of 400 educators working in our system; however, current working conditions impede resources to post secondary training. In the last three years, an innovative partnership with the SRDC Social Research and Demonstration Corporation through the employment training programs has provided access for early childhood practitioners with three or more years of experience in the sector to achieve an early childhood care and education diploma. In spite of this program, many individuals working in the system are untrained.
Wages and working conditions within this sector remain a barrier and impact the ability of individuals working as early childhood educators to provide and support quality services. A high percentage of individuals working with and without training credentials in the early childhood system are reliant on two jobs to ensure a basic quality of Canadian living. When the adults who care for our children are struggling to meet their own basic needs and maintain a Canadian quality of living standard for themselves, this affects their ability to meet the care and learning needs of children. This has an impact on the quality of the program delivered to children and subsequently, I believe, on the children's right to a quality care and learning experience. We do not have a solid system of well-trained early childhood educators, and those who are well trained are overburdened with the current working conditions. Our most skilled early childhood educators continue to leave our early childhood system for other employment options.
The development of a mechanism to recruit and support the talents and expertise of qualified early childhood educators is critical to ensuring high quality programs. Federal and provincial governments must continue to work together for the ``professionalization'' of early childhood educators by developing quality standards of practice and mechanisms for accreditation and of course by providing the appropriate fiscal resources to ensure a quality-of-living wage.
Individuals, programs and communities have been creative and resourceful in order to provide the best quality of environments possible. In my day-to-day work through the MIKE program Measuring and Improving Kids' Environments I have had the opportunity to work with many full-day licensed early childhood care and education programs and stand-alone school-age programs. Through this program, educators have assessed their environments, identified their strengths and barriers, and continue to work daily on improving and achieving a higher standard of quality. However, creativity and resourcefulness only take us so far in achieving quality learning environments for all children. Few spaces or facilities have been purpose-built with universal design principles for the inclusion of all children. Development of regulations and legislation addresses the basic health and safety needs of the children, not the standards of quality required to achieve optimal child outcomes.
The rights of children are not well considered in the economic development of our communities, large and small. I believe that legislation and guidelines are required to support the accountability of municipalities and municipal developers in their responsibility to consider the rights of children. This could be demonstrated by becoming active partners in their responsibility for healthy child development and by supporting families through allocation of green spaces in developing areas and that these be play and discovery centres, not typical playgrounds necessarily and design and completion of purpose-built facilities of which the community has some ownership.
Research supports the importance of well-trained early childhood educators and environments as indicators of quality. As I understand from the OECD review, we lag behind other nations regarding our allocations as a percentage of the GDP. In fact, as a nation we allocate 2.6 per cent for our children in the public education system, 6 to 18 years of age, as compared to 0.2 per cent for the preschool years. Lack of financial resources has a direct impact on the ability of communities and provinces to develop and support an early childhood system.
The Early Learning and Child Care Agreement poses an opportunity to strengthen our system; however, it will not assure the rights of all our Island children. The funding levels, as set out under the guidelines of the Social Union Framework Agreement, or SUFA, are based per capita, providing Prince Edward Island with too little funding to create the change required to increase accessibility and availability, address quality concerns and needs, and create a strong early learning and child care system. In the allocation of resources, consideration of a fair and equitable formula is required to ensure that a base of resources is available, regardless of where children live.
Perhaps when we as a nation reconcile the right to make a living with the rights of children, and truly act to support the family of today, we will assure the rights of children today and in the future. Ongoing education is needed on the rights of children and the vision the rights create. Decisions that will impact on the rights of children need to be made because they are in the best interests of children, rather than merely due to political will. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, within 10 years, Canada has created such a strong system of early learning and child care in support of children's rights that we are called upon to mentor and support others at the international level?
I thank you for your time, attention and care for Canada's children.
Senator Pearson: Thank you for coming and for making your presentation. I do not know if you were in Regina a couple of weeks ago when I spoke there on the rights of children in early childhood.
Ms. Goodine: No, I did not have the opportunity.
Senator Pearson: My personal belief is that we should have a system that is available to all, as is the health care system, but not imperative, in the sense that you do not have to send your child for child care. I feel very strongly about children's rights and that children have very different needs in early childhood. Once you hit the school system, the door closes behind you. I think flexibility is needed up until that time in order to respond to the needs and rights of children at that stage.
Children's rights are ``all rights for all children.'' The rights are interrelated, and I feel strongly that the child's right to a family, for example, is extremely important in connection with their rights to early care and learning.
Could you make some comments about the degree to which your organization incorporates the parents, and the child's attachment to his or her parents, within the system?
Ms. Goodine: In a high quality early childhood care and education program, you should see day-to-day interactions between early childhood educators and children's parents. I think that is one of the things that make our system a little bit unique and different from the public education system. Every morning and every evening there is opportunity for parents and educators to develop a rapport, a relationship, and to work together around the care and education of these young children.
I think that when the system is well resourced and people are able to work on that critical partnership and relationship, parents are actively involved in a child's day-to-day education and care in a number of ways, whether it is through special events oropen-door policies that encourage parents to come by at any time. Educators work really hard at being respectful of each individual family unit and responding accordingly. I am not sure if that answers your question.
Senator Pearson: It is part of your policy. I also think that many of your child care workers are parents themselves, of course, so you have this sometimes ironic situation that their children may be in another child care setting than the one in which they are working. I am not criticizing that because I know it is one of the realities. There were two things that we discussed in Regina. The other one was the absence of males from the profession. Do you have any reflections on that?
Ms. Goodine: I think we have two of 400 workers that are male. That would be our ratio.
Senator Pearson: When you talk about the training and so on, I think that is another thing that needs to be taken into consideration: How can you attract more men into the profession as you professionalize it?
Ms. Goodine: I think that is directly linked to the wages and working conditions, which are barriers that the sector experiences right now. I am not sure we have always attracted the most talented and skilled of individuals to the sector due to the conditions of employment. People may come to it and leave it very quickly in order to sustain a lifestyle level that they prefer. I think that I see early childhood care and education programs as a very strong partner with today's family. I am a parent myself and was extremely and forever grateful for the early childhood educator who was part of our family life for an eight-year period. When my youngest child thinks about the important people in his life, she is one of the people at the top.
Senator Pearson: I do not think it is necessarily contradictory, but I think we have to remember that we are talking about all rights for all children.
Ms. Goodine: Yes, all rights for all children. My concern is that in the regulated sector we do have some standards and guidelines, but I suspect we have a lot of children being cared for in unregulated care; and that is not to say that those caregivers are not skilled and very high quality individuals, to some extent. At the same time, I do not think they have a support system to do the best they can and so I have a concern about those unregulated situations where people who are unaware of local regulations may be caring for more children than they should be. What does that impact on, then, and how do parents understand what to look for in terms of quality?
Senator Pearson: A lot of that goes to education.
The Chairman: You say there are 4,000 licensed child care spaces in P.E.I. for approximately 10,000 children. The 4,000 licensed care spaces do not take into account all kinds of child care that may be informal; is that correct?
Ms. Goodine: That is correct.
The Chairman: Those spaces are provincially regulated?
Ms. Goodine: Yes.
The Chairman: So any care outside of that having a friend or a mother or grandmother care for your child would not be in those 4,000 spaces?
Ms. Goodine: That is right.
The Chairman: You say about 10,000 children require spaces. Is that the number of children in that age category or have you done some sort of survey to prove there is that shortage? In other words, I am trying to figure out how many children are between ages one and five in P.E.I., and how did you come to the number of 10,000?
Ms. Goodine: We have approximately 10,000 children, as I understand from the last Stats Canada results, between the ages of one and five. The 4,000 licensed child care spaces include our kindergarten system, licensed family child care, as well as group licensed care. All I am saying is that there are 80 per cent of our mothers with children under the age of six, approximately. More than 80 per cent are in the workforce, but we do not have 80 per cent of the children because those 4,000 spaces also include school-age care and after-school care.
The Chairman: I guess that is where I find it a little confusing. You are saying that 80 per cent of the mothers with children are attached to the workforce. How do you come to the conclusion, then, that those 80 per cent of mothers require licensed day care? That is what your submission leads to and I am wondering how you came to that conclusion.
Ms. Goodine: Well, that would be a bias on my part, obviously. We know that not all families have a choice and access to licensed child care. Do we know for certain that parents do not want licensed care for their children? I think that is another question that we need to ask of parents.
The Chairman: It has been a long time since I have heard someone refer to the Social Union Framework Agreement. We heard a lot about it when it was being negotiated. I have just looked at some research that came out recently from one of our think tanks in Canada saying the Social Union Framework Agreement is dead, in essence, is not being used by governments, that it is time to move on to something else or not.
You seem to still put some weight on it, but in a negative way, because you are saying that the Social Union Framework Agreement had a bias against you to start with; is that correct?
Ms. Goodine: Well, that is my understanding and interpretation of agreements and covenants in trying to understand why we only get this much of the pie when resources are allocated. They changed the social transfer system and we now have the Social Union Framework Agreement, although when you read the agreement it is hard to shake out what it really says or does not say. As a community organization, we are told these are the reasons why we get the resource base we get.
Senator Oliver: We are a Senate committee and Senate committees do a couple of things: One of the things they do is develop new public policy; another thing they do is look at possibilities for new legislation. The thing that caught my eye in your presentation was when you were talking about the third level of government. We have the federal government, the provincial government and the municipalities; you are making certain suggestions for legislation for municipalities. We are a federal committee representing the Parliament of Canada, and under the Constitution Act there are some things for which the federal government has the powers, and other things, the provincial government. I would like to look at your proposal for legislation and guidelines that are required to support accountability of municipalities and municipal developers in their responsibility to consider the rights of children. You say, ``This could be demonstrated by becoming active partners in the responsibility for healthy child development and support of families through allocation of green spaces for play and discovery.'' Would that be a federal power or would that be more the property of civil rights under a provincial power?
Ms. Goodine: I would expect that you would know better than I where it fits. I was looking at it in terms of having to put all ideas on the table. As a community group we rely on the support of others to help us identify how to translate this information. It seems like at a federal level we can articulate certain things, but it rarely trickles down to the local level. We still have some work to do to help municipal governments understand what their role and responsibility is. You hear in the media about federal transfers coming to help with infrastructure of communities and that kind of thing, so as a Senate committee, do you have any influence on how those resources can be allocated? That would be my question back to you.
Senator Pearson: I understand your point fully. The second part of what you say concerns design and completion ofpurpose-built facilities. Can you tell me a little bit about a purpose-built facility? What does that entail?
Ms. Goodine: It means taking our young children and child care programs out of the basement of buildings or off the second floor of buildings and giving them facilities that are built with them in mind. Such facilities have lower windows, are barrier-free so that a child, whether developing in a typical way, physically, or having some mobility challenges, can access the environment with ease. We have a lot of facilities. Again, communities have been well intentioned and owners of programs have made the best use of the facilities to which they have had access. Very few programs have been developed in Prince Edward Island for a facility created with them in mind, so we have a lot of physical structures that have been adapted, and they have not necessarily been adapted to be accessible and universally inclusive of all children.
Senator Pearson: I am interested in the phrase, ``purpose-built facilities.'' Would there be booklets and brochures that would actually list and define and elaborate on purpose-built facilities for children, which recognize the needs and rights of children?
Ms. Goodine: A specific publication does not come to mind, but I know of other provinces in Canada that have done a lot more work than we have here on Prince Edward Island. The first province that comes to mind would be British Columbia, in the City of Vancouver. They have done some work around some design principles. I know there are some building architects, as well as landscape architects, looking at creating play spaces and building structures with young children in mind, regarding how spaces can most meet children's learning and play needs.
Senator Pearson: That is really fascinating.
Senator Poy: I would like to ask a question about the early childhood educators. You said you have a committedgroup of approximately 400, but you also said that wages and working conditions within this sector remain a barrier and impact on the ability of individuals working in this sector.Do these 400 individuals have teaching diplomas and are they recognized as teachers?
Ms. Goodine: Not all of them, no.
Senator Poy: Only some of them?
Ms. Goodine: Only some.
Senator Poy: So their pay would be very different from those with teaching certificates or teaching degrees?
Ms. Goodine: That is part of the challenge of our sector. There is not a great deal of difference between the hourly wage received by somebody who has training and qualifications and that received by somebody without training and qualifications.
Senator Poy: They all get the same?
Ms. Goodine: Pretty close. It ranges. There would be maybe $1 or $2 difference in the hourly rate of pay.
Senator Poy: Can you give us a comparison between the pay of someone in early childhood education and someone who is teaching, say, in the kindergarten system?
Ms. Goodine: The kindergarten system is part of our early childhood system and I think their hourly rate is somewhere around $12 an hour, bare minimum. However, if you teachfour-year-olds and you have an Early Childhood Diploma, your wage may be $8.50 to $9.50 per hour. There has been an allocation of resources that has allowed people teaching certain age groups to receive more pay than others.
Senator Poy: This is because of the provincial government?
Ms. Goodine: The publicly funded kindergarten system runs for three hours a day. If I am working in the system and I am teaching kindergarten for three hours in the morning, I get $12 an hour. But if I am working in the afternoon with a group offour-year-olds, although I am using the same teaching abilities, for a different age group, I probably earn less.
Senator Poy: Are these facilities licensed by the provincial government?
Ms. Goodine: Yes.
Senator Poy: You were saying that there are inconsistencies in the facilities, because some would be better than others?
Ms. Goodine: Yes.
Senator Poy: Because of availability?
Ms. Goodine: Based on availability. As well, a lot of programs are privately operated and would be renting facilities available within the community. Very few have been purchased and built. We have very few non-profit programs in Prince Edward Island. I know that is a little bit of a national debate: Should the system be all non-profit or should it be private sector?
In Prince Edward Island, in reality everybody is non-profit. In a lot of communities, if the local church has space, they have rented their space out for the child care or kindergarten program. It is not that the church hall is a bad thing; it is just the program is often in the basement. It is often down a flight of stairs. Often there are no windows. Children do not necessarily have access to the typical things that they need.
I live in the largest growing town in Prince Edward Island and we just went through a core development vision for our downtown area. When planners were asked the question, ``What about the early childhood care and education program?'', because they had envisioned a new junior high, a new senior high, a new church and all sorts of things, their first response was, ``Well, that will be in the basement of the church.''
Senator Poy: ``Early childhood'' means age four and under?
Ms. Goodine: Early childhood care and education in Prince Edward Island is for children of age five and under.
Senator Poy: Age five and under.
Ms. Goodine: Kindergarten is part of our early childhood care and education system.
Senator Poy: But then kindergarten would be under the provincial program?
Ms. Goodine: The funding, yes. Parents do not pay for kindergarten. Parents are still required to pay for care for children of age four and under.
Senator Poy: What is the percentage of private facilities compared to government-funded facilities? You mentioned that some of these are privately run?
Ms. Goodine: Most of our programs on Prince Edward Island are privately run.
Senator Poy: They are licensed by the government?
Ms. Goodine: They are licensed by the government, and those that offer a kindergarten program are provided with funding from the Department of Education to support the kindergarten program.
The Chairman: When you say ``private'' and then I think you used the term ``not for profit'', by ``private'' do you mean someone who either opens their home or hires a space?
Ms. Goodine: Yes.
The Chairman: They could or could not make money on that, I guess. Would not-for-profit facilities continue to turn the money back into the facility?
Ms. Goodine: I guess I see it a little bit differently.``Not-for-profit'' here tends to be a program that is operated by a board of directors in a non-profit entity; whereas ``private'' or the commercial sector would be an individual who often is an early childhood educator and has decided to open their own program, rents a space, hires people and offers a program after they go through the application and licensing process.
The Chairman: So the 4,000 spaces would include both, then?
Ms. Goodine: Yes.
The Chairman: All right. Because I think you made the comment ``not-for-profit'' and then you said something about ``private'' and you said, ``Well, I do not think they make much money.'' Is that the point you were making?
Ms. Goodine: That is the point I was making, yes. I think they are all in a non-profit state, if you were to look at their books.
The Chairman: Is there much discussion in the community as to child care and whether or not there should be more incentives to help families at home or to improve the day care? In other words, is it the topic it used to be in some communities? Or is it more difficult for you to capture the public in a debate? You just told us about your town going through a whole redevelopment. When you asked the question about where the early childhood development program would be, they answered, ``In the basement.'' Is that indicative that early childhood education is not high up in the public debate, that perhaps health and other issues are debated more in the community?
Ms. Goodine: I am not sure we have done a great job of connecting with parents of preschool children, to hear their voice and what they think. Part of it is the circumstances they find themselves in. They are busy working every day. Most of these public meetings tend to be held in the evening, after-hours, when parents still have child care issues. We have a sense from our affiliate organization in Ottawa, the Canadian Child Care Federation, which has done a parent poll, that the majority of parents want access to licensed child care for their children if they have to be engaged in work or in the education system.
I would expect the same is true on P.E.I. Does it mean that people want a variety of options? Most definitely, because a large child care program may not be the option for every community. We have fishing communities that require more access to child care spaces from May to October than they do the rest of the year. We still have not done a great job of meeting the seasonal needs of families and wrapping supports around them, in terms of their situations.
The Chairman: Just for the record, could you tell us what the minimum wage is in P.E.I.?
Ms. Goodine: I will need help with that it is $6.80.
The Chairman: One of the other issues that we have run into is the whole issue of mental health in Canada. We do have another Senate committee studying the issue; but Senator Pearson and I, for example, sit on the legal and constitutional affairs committee, and as we change criminal law and as we deal with youth, we find that a lot of the problems are mental health issues that are not addressed until these young people grow to the extent that they come in conflict with the law. Then, of course, they get trapped in the system or they get in a criminal system, when in fact the roots of their problems were, in many cases, either behavioural problems or mental health problems at the front end.
We were told recently in a piece of legislation that there simply are not the resources and the support systems to identify the problems of children early; or in other cases, when schools and caregivers identify the problems, there certainly have not been the resources for children. Yesterday we heard that we seem to tend to view drugs as an answer, rather than all the other behavioural and mental health solutions there could be. Can you shed any light on whether P.E.I. is facing any of these problems? If not, what is the greatest child care issue regarding the child, as opposed to the system, which you have told us about quite adequately.
Ms. Goodine: In my day-to-day work with programs, certainly their challenge is to meet the unique needs of children. We view every child as having a special need. We have mechanisms of funding in place to support us in caring for some children with special needs, but children who may be exhibiting some behavioural or emotional difficulties challenge programs. Do they always have adequate resources and support systems to follow through with that? I do not believe so. A lot of development and work has been done in recent years. P.E.I. is a small place and that is an advantage for us. Once relationships are forged, we can work together pretty quickly. But I would say that is an area where we are still trying to find adequate resources to help educators provide the best support possible.
The Chairman: Do you have a problem with fetal alcohol syndrome that is sufficiently noticeable to be a cause for concern?
Ms. Goodine: I would consider it a hidden problem. I am not sure that we always get clear diagnoses. Sometimes we have to operate on the premise that this might be one of the contributing factors to the child's difficulty. It is more within a spectrum; a child may have subtleties of behaviour that challenge people. We have had access to some information and training, and that is building. Certainly more could be done.
Senator Pearson: I am interested in the fact we heard this morning, and you mentioned it again in your report, that Prince Edward Island had been an Understanding the Early Years site. Did it cover the whole Island?
Ms. Goodine: Yes.
Senator Pearson: You must have received some very interesting data from that. I think one of the things they were intending to do was to demonstrate what kinds of programs and community supports were in place for children.
Ms. Goodine: Yes.
Senator Pearson: I think a child care system is still unclear in many people's minds, but I think you are looking at a whole variety of things, ranging from the drop-in centre for parents to the full-time group day care. Is that not right?
Ms. Goodine: Yes.
Senator Pearson: It is across the whole spectrum and I think that is an important thing to emphasize. I think that is what fits best to the varying needs of children. We have just heard from the Aboriginal community about the Aboriginal Head Start,on-reserve and off-reserve programs, the Community Action Program for Children, the Canadian Pre-Natal Nutrition Program. How do they figure into your data about licensed spaces?
Ms. Goodine: They would not be considered licensed spaces. The family resource programs are not licensed child care spaces, so any work that they do with families would not be included in those 4,000 spaces. The on-reserve Aboriginal program right now would not fall under the provincial legislation, although we are collaborating and working together.
Senator Pearson: The off-reserve Head Start program was funded by the federal government. Do you have any of those programs for Aboriginal communities?
Ms. Goodine: No.
Senator Pearson: I got the sense that you did not.
Ms. Goodine: We have a Head Start program. There has been a Head Start program for a lot of years, but it is universal to all children.
Senator Pearson: It is not an Aboriginal Head Start program, although I know there had been some funding for those kinds of programs. With the new monies that are coming with the child care agreement, there is also a large amount set aside $100 million, I think for Aboriginal programs. I think it is exciting to have an opportunity to be able to map everything, because I think that it points out that when we are looking at early childhood we are trying to put in place a whole variety of pieces. One would hope that there would be coordination among them. When you talk about working mothers, it may be that they have husbands at home or men at home who are looking after the children. There is a bit of a role change here.
Ms. Goodine: Actually, in the Understanding the Early Years research, there are some pieces of data that point to the fact that children who have fathers home seasonally, caring for them part of the year, are actually achieving higher scores on the EDI scale than those who do not have that access and support.
Senator Pearson: That is interesting. I like to think that we are actually moving ahead, even though I know there is a whole lot left to do.
Ms. Goodine: It feels like it is standing still sometimes.
Senator Pearson: There is a whole lot left to be done but it is an opportunity to educate the public. You were saying that you do not actually know how many parents really want child care. You can say it generically, as the Canadian Child Care Federation does, from a survey; but if you look at Prince Edward Island, and some of us look at our own children and grandchildren, we know that there are some parents who do not particularly want it. What you want is access for all who want it.
Ms. Goodine: That is right. As a province, we are looking at how to maintain the Understanding the Early Years kind of data, because this project is coming to an end. It is done as of July 31. It has been valuable and in many ways it feels as if we are just to use Jamie's phrase ``getting comfortable in our own skin'' and learning how to use the information. The way it has been delivered to us will change, so, hopefully, there will be some way to do that.
Senator Pearson: I commend the Early Childhood Development Association of P.E.I. and the Canadian Child Care Federation for having developed so many materials that actually relate to and incorporate the convention and help people to understand their part. It is always a little harder when you are working with very small children to help them understand what their rights are and to remind the workers in their training that this is something at which they need to be looking. It is certainly something that we are encouraging, but I know that the federation has already done an excellent job. Hopefully, all its members are using their materials.
The Chairman: Thank you for coming this afternoon and giving us a picture of Prince Edward Island from the early learning perspective. I hope you will follow our work and our recommendations about the Convention on the Rights of the Child and, in a broader sense, the needs of the children in Canada. So thank you for your input today.
Ms. Michele Pineau, Prince Edward Island Association for Community Living: I would like to start by thanking you on behalf of the Prince Edward Island Association for Community Living and also on behalf of the Autism Society of Prince Edward Island. On behalf of my colleague, Bridget Cairns, I would like to thank the standing committee very much for this opportunity to present our perspective on where Canada is in terms of children's rights and freedoms. We appreciate opportunities such as this in democratic countries such as our own to have a voice and essentially to take on a bit of a voice for those who do not have as much of a voice as some of us are fortunate enough to have. So thank you very much for this opportunity.
To get into the content of what we are here about today, it is our position that Canadian legislation has progressed considerably in addressing its obligations towards children with disabilities. I will name a couple of examples: Tax initiatives such as the Child Disability Benefit have been a welcome relief for families of children with disabilities; and the development of a national early learning and child care strategy that has universality and inclusion, among other major guiding principles. At the same time, there are numerous and varied challenges in evaluating whether or not Canada's legislation is truly meeting its international obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children with disabilities. We feel this is mainly due to jurisdictional and ministerial boundaries. However, this has a particular impact on monitoring obligations on key issues such as education, health care and service delivery. We feel effective collaboration between federal, provincial and territorial governments is essential in ensuring that these obligations are being met in an inclusive, comprehensive and consistent manner.
To speak to these challenges, we are finding that a lack of consistent and current data, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, itself, and Canada's reporting and monitoring present particular challenges for conceptualizing, if you will, and meeting the obligations of children with disabilities. Further, the gap and when I say that, it is sometime a narrow gap and sometimes a rather large gap between legislative policy and actual practice is an issue for children with disabilities and their families. This, too, varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from ministry to ministry.
Next, we have some items on data and statistics.
Ms. Bridget Cairns, Director, Prince Edward Island Association for Community Living: One of the things that is really hard to monitor is how well Canada is doing. When research is done, it is really hard to compare one methodology to another. It is very difficult for us to determine that. It is also the definition of a disability; ``intellectual disabilities'' sometimes merge with ``learning disabilities'' and with ``mental health.'' To monitor that I think we need to come up with universal definitions of certain disabilities so that we can then monitor them through different types of research. That one definition would definitely help everybody. That suggestion has been made but I guess it has not yet been followed through. I believe that the concluding remarks in Canada's second periodic report requested that we provide more comprehensive data in regards to programs and services. Unfortunately, that has not happened, so if the Senate would consider that, it would help us greatly. I think it gets difficult when you consider what other countries determine to be an intellectual disability or a learning disability. It is a big challenge but it would definitely be a lot easier to monitor our progress.
Article 23 is where we would fit in as the Association for Community Living, though if we are looking at monitoring the rights and freedoms of all children, I would hope that we would not be excluded from all the other articles.
Regarding article 6, despite the commitment to respect the life of each child, genetic testing is still happening for children and if they are diagnosed, or there is a prognosis of a disability, there are opportunities for terminating the pregnancy. We really need to put some kind of emphasis on the rights of the child in article 6.
Article 9 states that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will except in cases of abuse. Unfortunately, children with disabilities are institutionalized, and I think we need to protect the rights of those children under article 9 as well. So if we could help families and/or caregivers where the rights of the child prevent them from being led them into an institution, I think that is where we need to go.
I would hope that we would emphasize article 28, the right of the child to education, including children with disabilities. ACL's primary goal has always been inclusive education, so if we could somehow get that in there, that would be wonderful. There are some articles where disability is excluded. Basically, we fit into article 23, but we would like to see disabilities incorporated somehow into all articles of the convention.
Some key issues here on P.E.I., more specifically, include families being means-tested, so if they have a moderate family income, usually they are not eligible for disabilities benefits, which then leads to exclusion and poverty for families, alongside the disability. There are lengthy waiting lists for children's services. Children do not seem to be getting the support or the early intervention necessary to provide them with the opportunity to lead a full life as best they possibly can. There is age discrimination for children's services. Once you attain school age, you basically lose all services; children stop being able to have a full, inclusive life in the education system.
Even though we are in Canada, there is a huge gap of language capacity. A lot of therapists and support staff do not have bilingual capacity in Canada. We really need to promote that, because there are francophone families who are not getting support in the language of their choice.
On P.E.I., the Department of Health and the Department of Education seem to conjoin as the child comes of age and it is a battle of who is responsible for the child. It really affects families and the rights of children.
Do you want to jump in with your specific recommendations?
Ms. Pineau: Yes, I will comment on the lack of bilingual capacity, in reference to official languages. Albeit we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which secures public school education, without early intervention as a basis for the foundation years, public education is almost inaccessible, even though it is a guaranteed right. We are also seeing sometimes a deterioration of the collaborative model in that early intervention is a team approach, but sometimes we see the team eroding away, bit by bit; that is a concern and we do not know how to remedy that. Looking at consistency of services across departments may help.
We also hold the position that early childhood educators, in general, and special needs assistants and IBI therapists for children with autism spectrum disorders, in particular, are grossly underpaid. I think the national child care strategy will address that, at least to a certain measure. But we feel that the labour injustice needs to be looked at. It is not only a labour injustice but a disservice to our children with disabilities, as well.
Further specific recommendations for improved respect for children, particularly children with neurological developmental and intellectual disabilities, would be periodic and independent auditing of services. By that I mean service delivery models and also the effectiveness of the services themselves. If there could be some kind of mechanism put in place for a periodic and independent review process, then that would be a tremendous benefit.
In respect to autism, diagnoses are increasing at an alarming rate in that the prevalence of autism in Canadian society now outnumbers Down's syndrome, childhood leukemia and diabetes combined. We feel that there needs to be a national strategy developed to address this phenomenon and that this strategy must look at causes and research, cure, or improvement protocols. But it must also strive for forthright and consistent sharing of best practices, continually revisiting our service delivery models, because this is a field of rapid change in learning and theory. We have to keep up and we have to continually strive for excellence in a pan-Canadian approach, seeking to include the expertise of international professionals.
Here in our own jurisdiction, we feel that children are being denied their rightful universal access to Canadian health care. A number of human rights complaints remain unresolved on the table, some of them dating back a number of years three years that have not yet been heard. Most children are facing one- to two-year wait lists. We know the value of early intervention, and early intervention is not happening, essentially. When a child receives an initial diagnosis and then is told to go home, well, the parents obviously are told to go home and read and, ``We will be in touch with you in a couple of years' time.'' That is where we are.
I would also like to speak for a moment on minority linguistic rights in terms of general education as a right, and also in terms of the education of children with disabilities. I am sure it is similar throughout all of Canada, but in Prince Edward Island it is our position that there must be comparable infrastructure programs and services for both official language groups. This is an issue as much for preschool children as it is for schoolchildren and, in fact, for communities in general.
We are always struggling to find how we can guarantee these rights for the preschool group. They do not quite seem to fit into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or we haven't found a way that we can sell that. All too often the Association for Community Living finds that the linguistic minority is required to sacrifice either infrastructure programs or services, or both. Adequate infrastructure and programs are essential and they need to be there. A linguistic minority group should not have to choose either/or, is what I am trying to say. The intent of article 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not that minorities must choose which they want: education in their official language of choice or adequate facilities and comprehensive and varied programs of study and services.
We are seeing two alarming phenomena, really, out there in the community. We are seeing parents having to fight, and I mean fight, for linguistic rights for their children, oftentimes having to go as far as the Supreme Court of Canada. We are also seeing parents choosing the option of the linguistic majority rather than their first language, so as to have access to adequate infrastructure and high quality, varied and comprehensive programs for their children. This is especially so in order to access supports for their children with disabilities.
Ms. Cairns: Currently we are meeting our obligations under the CCRA, but as Michele said, theories and practices are two different things, and it depends on the jurisdiction. So we are saying we are headed in the right direction, but we still need to make improved steps to meet the needs of our children.
Senator Pearson: Thank you so much for coming. We are really pleased to have someone representing the rights of children with disabilities. It is a very challenging and moving area. It is fast moving as well as being emotionally moving. It has evolved a great deal in my lifetime and in the right direction, I must say. You have pointed out that autism and things like fetal alcohol syndrome are disabilities that have increased in the last few years and present special challenges.
I have a question to Michele about the French language population of Prince Edward Island.
Ms. Pineau: I am thinking that it is in the vicinity of 6 per cent. Maybe not quite. I should have verified that. At the same time, we have had a very effective assimilation process in Prince Edward Island due to anglophone dominance and due to what I colloquially refer to as ``systematic and institutional assimilation.'' There are a great many Islanders of Acadian and francophone descent who no longer speak the French language, unfortunately, so it does somehow depend upon how you qualify it. I am thinking of the French-speaking population, however, and we are somewhere in the vicinity of between 4 and 6 per cent of the population.
Senator Pearson: Do you have a French language school board?
Ms. Pineau: Yes, we do have a very effective French language school board here on Prince Edward Island. It is a provincial board, so it covers the Island tip to tip, which presents various challenges in its administration; but it is doing a wonderful job and I am very, very pleased with the services that we have received at the school-age level through the French language school board.
Senator Pearson: Is that relatively new? Has it always been there?
Ms. Pineau: It has been in place. We have gone through a period of consolidation and the closing down of small schools. Through that process a great many of the French language schools closed and were consolidated into larger, English-speaking school facilities.
The French language school board, as we know it now, has been in existence since the 1980s. Education evolves over time, as we all know, and the Minister of Education makes periodic changes. For instance, I can remember when we had five school boards on Prince Edward Island and we are now down to three: two English boards and one French board. We went through a period of time when there was not a French school board, and now we do have one again. It was before my time of having children that they were very effectively established, but I am pretty sure it was in the 1980s; I can certainly look that up and report back to you.
Ms. Cairns: I will jump in here to be the advocate and take the other side. Families with children with disabilities are now choosing to enrol their children in French school. Unfortunately, the schools do not have the capacity to support that. They are willing but they just do not have the capacity. Because of not seeing the need for our children's therapies and whatnot, unfortunately, they just do not have the bilingual capacity. We have a lot of children who are in a French school where there is legislation to state that they can only speak French in that school. The school has to make an exemption for the student and have therapies and programming in place in English, so parents have to make the sacrifice of doing that. It makes it a very hard relationship between schools and parents because they are so fixated and the number one policy is that it is French only. We have to fight for and advocate for the parents.
The Chairman: Are all services for disabilities now available in Prince Edward Island? You no longer have to go off the Island to get them?
Ms. Cairns: Some parents do continue to go to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
The Chairman: They do, still?
Ms. Cairns: They do. There is a shortage of physicians. Retention is very hard for us in Prince Edward Island, so we have a bit of an issue with our therapists and speech therapists. We have a lack of speech therapists on Prince Edward Island. It is an issue of staff retention.
Senator Oliver: I think you have given a very good, comprehensive paper with some very practical directions to the committee on things that we should look at putting possibly in the form of recommendations of one kind or another. To quickly summarize, you said that there is a lack of current and consistent data and that is something that we as a committee can look at. You said there is a lack of consistent monitoring of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is extremely important; that there is a serious gap between the legislative policy and the practice for the disabled; and that we need to have a national strategy and to look at our service delivery model, particularly for the disabled. Those are some of the concrete things you have said.
What I want to ask you to elaborate on is the very last sentence in your paper and your very conclusion, and it is a bare-bones conclusion. I would like you to give us, as a Senate committee, something specific to hang our hats on. In particular you say, ``The federal government must take a more active role in coordinating a national effort to realize the rights for all children that are secured under the CRC.'' What specifically did you have in mind by a more active role in coordinating a national effort?
Ms. Cairns: In terms of that, we take the word ``inclusion'' as a key word.
Senator Oliver: I did not hear what you said.
Ms. Cairns: The word ``inclusion'' seems to be the word that is used in policies, to include children with disabilities and other minorities. Unfortunately, the policies and practices are not focused on the inclusion of children with disabilities. We were hoping to have a national inclusive disability agenda from the federal government that would then be monitored and coordinated through transfer payments and policies and practices of provinces and territories.
When federal dollars are allotted and transfer payments are made to the provinces and territories, it is then up to the minister responsible to take that money and assume where it is going within that realm.
Senator Oliver: Are you saying you want to have conditions put on that? You tell me; I like your words.
Ms. Cairns: I think, politically, you said it better.
Ms. Pineau: I think putting on conditions is a tricky area to go into but direction is what is required. Direction and guiding principles are what I think may bring us more consistency across jurisdictions and a true pan-Canadian approach to include children with disabilities and family support in policy in future legislation or in revisiting current, existing legislation.
Ms. Cairns: Right. For example, we have legislation that says all children will go to neighbourhood schools with their siblings, which is basically inclusive education. Unfortunately, there are cases where you can get into the definition of ``inclusion,'' or ``inclusive,'' where the child is in the school but not participating with their classmates in the school system. They are being pulled into rooms and segregated and there is not a lot of direction to bring them back into the classroom at the appropriate time. So even though policy states that children with disabilities should be included in the regular classrooms with their classmates in their neighbourhood schools, the actual practice of that is not happening because the policies, procedures and resources available are up to the principal at that school.
Senator Oliver: In the education example you have just given, is that not a provincial right under a provincial education act and, if so, are you saying that the only way that the federal government can have some say and give some direction, to use your word, is in relation to the transfer payment?
Ms. Cairns: I think that could be one way. There needs to be a federal/provincial/territorial agreement on the rights of children in terms of inclusive education, employment and whatnot, not just, ``Okay, this is for education,'' and the money is transferred and then it is up to the provinces and territories. If we are looking, nationally or internationally, at the rights and freedoms of children, we need to really focus where the resources and funding are going, because children are being segregated. Parents are pulling their kids out of schools and developing home-schooling opportunities, so there are kinks in the system that I think the federal, provincial and territorial governments can and need to sit down and iron out.
Senator Oliver: Do you know if there are any federal/provincial groups or agencies looking now at the drafting of the very thing that you two are talking about?
Ms. Cairns: The Canadian Association for Community Living has been working for 50 years with the federal government, and then we have our provincial and territorial bodies that have been working with our government bodies on this.
Senator Oliver: On drafting some language for direction?
Ms. Cairns: On asking the federal government to lead the way in coming up with a national disability agenda.
Ms. Pineau: To just add to that, I think the approach that our national federation is taking is submitting position papers and that type of thing, so I do not know if we are quite at the point of drafting legislation so much as still basically advocating. That is the level that we are at now. Just to add to what Bridget was saying, my own perspective is that I will be the first to admit I do not necessarily have the answers. It is far easier to pick holes and find where the gaps are than to come up with concrete solutions. Maybe that is for another day, a day that we do not have eight meetings back to back.
Senator Oliver: It is part of our job as a committee, and because you are the experts, we are asking you to give us some direction, that's all.
Ms. Pineau: I think a really good example is the national child care strategy. I think that is a perfect example of the type of approach that we would like to see, in that it is all encompassing; it is pan-Canadian in its approach; it is inclusive. We are drafting agreements between the federal government and every province and territory, and that is really something to be celebrated and something to be built upon as well.
Senator Oliver: I did want to say that Senator Poy and I have given several speeches in the Senate of Canada, trying to raise awareness of autism, so it is not something that has gone unnoticed in the Senate. I just wanted to add that and I am sorry she is not here.
The Chairman: On the first page of your brief, the last sentence, you say the CRC, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is the first and only legally binding document to address the rights of children within the UN framework. Well, as this committee has found out, it is not legally binding on Canada as yet. We have signed and ratified the treaty, but it has not formed part of our law; parts have and other parts have not. It is a very legal argument. I heard you say to Senator Oliver that you thought it was a legally binding document and that you could see the government taking the lead for all the provinces.
Our committee will be struggling with whether the government should take all steps with the provinces to make it legally binding, or whether at least they should be more consistently applying the convention, so we are in that kind of a debate. I think one of the difficulties is that Canadians have not understood what ``ratification'' means. Could that be where you were trying to answer Senator Oliver, saying that is where the lead is, because it is a binding document, where in fact it is not?
Ms. Cairns: Duly noted. I learned something today.
The Chairman: Based on that, have you spent much time within your association discussing the Convention on the Rights of the Child? I laud you on starting your discussion, which is one that I am very much taken by, and on looking at the international perspective and judging that Canada is doing quite well. However, for a developed country, we should be doing better, both externally and internally.
Have you spent much time within your association on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and speaking to the government as to why they haven't put it into full force and effect? You said you have pulled out article 23, so you have been working with that article, as opposed to the whole convention?
Ms. Cairns: The dynamics of P.E.I. are such that because we are so small and there is a lack of resources, we rely heavily on our federal group, the Canadian Association for Community Living, for statistics such as this because we are more concentrated on the day-to-day stuff and supporting families, in a reactive mode. Michael Bach, our executive vice-president, has been working closely with the federal government, as well as Diane Richler from Inclusion International. That is a body that supports us and actually educates us on more of the expansion outside Prince Edward Island walls. We do work and we meet quarterly, so that is when we then get educated on the bigger picture of children with disabilities' rights and freedoms.
The Chairman: How long have you been working on identifying autism? Have you taken that up in the last couple of years because of the increasing caseloads or was it signalled earlier than that? In other words, is it a five- to 10-year problem to you, or is it a five-year problem?
Ms. Cairns: I guess we can just age our children and then know where we are at. We are both parents of children with autism.
Ms. Pineau: To my knowledge, the first diagnosis in Prince Edward Island was in the vicinity of 12 years ago. We have had rapid growth since then. I think the alarm has been going off during the past five years, for sure, here on Prince Edward Island. Having said that the first diagnosis was 12 years ago, it is without question that there have been many non-diagnosed children now adults living in Prince Edward Island institutions who have autism spectrum diagnosis and therefore did not receive any intervention services.
Ms. Cairns: Or they had received a diagnosis of mental retardation only, with no identification or diagnosis of autism.
Ms. Pineau: Along with building capacity in terms of intervention services, we have also gone through a process of building capacity in the diagnosis of different disabilities. There was a lack of capacity up until a certain point in time.
The Chairman: You said autistic children in the past probably were not diagnosed and now, as adults, are institutionalized?
Ms. Pineau: For the most part.
Ms. Cairns: We do have institutions on Prince Edward Island. There are other people in community care facilities, which, as parents, we call ``mini-institutions.'' Currently, others are being placed in manors when they are age 40, because we just do not have the vision any more, I think, to buy into community living. We need to rejuvenate that so that the other is not a practice. The legislation says that people have the right to live in their own community, in their own home; unfortunately, institutionalization is still happening across the world.
Senator Oliver: Have these people, the 40-year-olds, been re-diagnosed scientifically, recently, where it was determined that they are autistic?
Ms. Cairns: I do not have numbers on that. I would say the diagnosis would have stayed as a mental retardation or developmental delay.
Senator Oliver: But you know that they are autistic?
Ms. Pineau: Just in layperson's terms, we feel strongly that that is an occurrence.
Ms. Cairns: We could have to convince the families of that individual or convince that individual to get re- diagnosed, and I think that would be onerous.
The Chairman: In some cases we were told, under the area of mental health problems, that perhaps they could be in a more ``community'' setting if there were housing for them. Is lack of housing part of the mental health problem or is it the fact that they need the kind of supervised, institutional care that leads them to the more closed kind of setting?
Ms. Cairns: I think there is a lack of planning for the individual.
The Chairman: Planning?
Ms. Cairns: Yes. Some of them do not need support; some do need support; some do have mental or emotional disabilities alongside of intellectual ones. I think, because it is soperson-centered, that it would have to be lack of planning. Obviously, there is a lack of housing options to support an individual's personal needs.
Senator Pearson: I worked a fair amount with Michael Bach and I have huge respect for him and his capacity to conceptualize. I know that Sherri Torjman of the Caledon Institute is working on the Advisory Committee on Disabilities to the Minister of National Revenue. They are looking at tax benefits and those kinds of things, so there is movement to develop a national disability strategy. I think it is something to put into the Public Health Agency's discussions.
There is quite a lot of open discussion going on now around public health goals in Canada. It is supposed to be a national discussion and therefore each province is having a chance to put in something like that. I think one of the obvious goals would be the inclusion of children with disabilities, in the ways that you have been describing. It is a process that I encourage you to take part in, and one way you can take part in it is logging on to the Public Health Agency website. I am not sure of the exact details, but you are probably better on websites than I am.
One of my opportunities with the Canadian Association for Community Living was to attend their meeting in Ottawa a couple of years ago where young people were self-advocates, so I wanted to make some comments about the participation of young people with disabilities in decisions about them.
Ms. Cairns: On Prince Edward Island we do have P.E.I. People First. They have their own board of directors and support staff. That is basically what every parent of a child with a disability wants: their child to have their own voice, and if they do not have the capacity to speak, that they are supported to express their views. It is essential that self- advocates actually have their voices heard.
Prince Edward Island is looking at school improvement and student achievement and I thought it was just great, everybody was basically saying the same thing. Then a student stood up and said, ``Why aren't you consulting with youth and the students if you want us to achieve?'' It is so essential. You can consult with us on student achievement, but you really need to speak to the students. In terms of adults with disabilities, I think it is essential to speak with individuals. When we are talking about our children, I guess the families would be the main focus there. I think self- advocates will bring a great perspective on what it was like back then, and where we are now. They can probably actually do some measuring for us, in a more general sense, of where we are and what we have achieved so far.
Senator Pearson: When these young people speak, they do a lot to break the stereotypes.
Ms. Cairns: They do and they actually surprise us a lot. They understand it a lot more than we give them credit for, so it is great. I know that the Canadian Association for Community Living has put together a Youth Speak group. It is made up of youth, with and without a disability. It is nice to see today's youth who are without a disability willing to participate and to take time to commit to disability issues. We have some great leaders coming up.
Senator Pearson: Your association deals primarily with children with developmental or
Ms. Cairns: This is where we get into the definition of an intellectual disability. We usually advocate for families of children with Down's syndrome or autism. There is a Cerebral Palsy Association; but their P.E.I. executive director is not well currently, so we have taken on that capacity. Children with epilepsy did not exist, but now they do, so we do not turn families away.
Senator Pearson: Do you have any version here of the association called PLAN, Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network? It is a wonderful organization based in Vancouver that has been developing family networks. It is a whole way of developing the network for parents with children with disabilities who are getting older. The parents want to make sure that various things are in place for their children, for when their children are no longer children, obviously, for when the parents are no longer there. I highly recommend it. It is a very imaginative approach.
Ms. Cairns: We are actually planning on meeting with families for a two-day family networking, starting September 25. P.E.I. has a huge number of aging parents still caring for their son or daughter at home. We have identified up to about 400 individuals. Unfortunately, there is no plan in place.
Senator Pearson: I am sure that PLAN must also have a website. I am trying to think of her name Vicky. She just received a meritorious Canadian award for the work that she has done with her disabled child. Her child is what set her off, as it often does. It is a very good plan. It has been supported by the McConnell Foundation, so if you cannot get the information from PLAN, get it through the McConnell Foundation, which is easily accessed.
Ms. Cairns: We are trying to change legislation for families because we cannot leave trusts or wills to our sons or daughters currently. We are trying to do some stuff for our seniors.
Senator Pearson: They may have already developed some best practices and can give you some ideas.
The Chairman: Thank you very much for your brief. As I said during my intervention, I am pleased that you are putting your difficulties, your organization, in a world context, and I thank you for bringing the particular perspective of P.E.I. to us.
It has been very helpful because we try to touch on different areas of the convention, and you have helped us focus on the disability issue in a way that we have not before. We thank you for that and for the work that you are doing here.
The committee adjourned.