THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
First Session, Thirty-eighth Parliament, 2004-05
Hearings: OTTAWA, Monday, May 30, 2005 4 p.m. - Issue No. 14 - Twelfth meeting on:
Examine and report upon Canadas obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children.
MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE
The Honourable A. Raynell Andreychuk, Chair
The Honourable Landon Pearson, Deputy Chair
The Honourable Senators:
*Austin, P.C., (or Rompkey, P.C.), Baker, P.C., Carstairs, P.C., Ferretti Barth, *Kinsella, (or Stratton), LeBreton, Losier-Cool, Oliver, Poy
*Ex officio members
Changes in membership of the committee :
Pursuant to rule 85(4), membership of the committee was amended as follows:
The name of the Honourable Senator LeBreton, substituted for that of the Honourable Senator Stratton (May 17, 2005).
The name of the Honourable Ppin substituted for that of the Honourable Senator Baker, P.C. (May 17, 2005).
The name of the Honourable Senator Baker, P.C. substituted for that of the Honourable Senator Ppin (May 18, 2005).
OTTAWA, Monday, May 30, 2005
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 5 p.m. to examine and report upon Canada's international obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children.
Senator Landon Pearson (Deputy Chairman) in the chair.
The Deputy Chairman: Honourable senators, we are examining Canada's international obligations in regard to the rights and freedoms of children.
Today, we welcome with great pleasure Ms. Cindy Kiro, the Children's Commissioner of New Zealand, who is appearing by video conference.
Ms. Kiro, please proceed with your opening statement, following which we will go to questions.
Dr. Cindy Kiro, (by Videoconference) Children's Commissioner of New Zealand: Honourable senators, my understanding is that you are particularly interested in the role of the children's commissioner in New Zealand, particularly in respect of how we enact the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I wish to go over some of the history of the Office of the Children's Commissioner a position that has existed in New Zealand for 14 years. I will include an overview of the changing nature of the role, because I think there are some good lessons in there about the kind of direction that Canada may choose to go. I will also summarize the statutory duties that I have as commissioner, some of my strategic plans and priorities, and some of the work of my office, to give you a flavour for the kind of work that we do.
New Zealand has had a statutory advocate for children since 1989. The position, which was originally called the Commissioner for Children, was established with our main piece of legislation around child welfare, called the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, 1989. In 2003, the New Zealand Parliament enacted new legislation that is called the Children's Commissioner Act, 2003.
To be clear, I still have particular regard and responsibilities for the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, which is still in force and remains the major piece of child welfare legislation. In addition, I have a specific piece of legislation in relation to my role. I am the fourth commissioner. The first three were men; I am the first woman and the first commissioner under the new act.
The new legislation strengthens the commissioner's primary role as a statutory advocate for children and also highlights the independence of the role of the commissioner.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is included as a schedule to the act because of its significance to my role. The commissioner has a statutory responsibility to have regard to UNCROC in exercising all his or her powers.
The change of name is quite significant. Under the initial legislation, the name was the commissioner for children; it is now children's, with an apostrophe Children's Commissioner. The change is intended to denote the ownership of the role by children. The change in name also signals an important shift in focus. The original intention of the role was very much around child welfare, in particular, around the functioning of our statutory child welfare agency. I still have responsibilities that I will speak about in respect of that, but the focus is now more clearly on children's rights. Thus, a shift from a welfare focus and, in particular, I would suggest, a reactive individual case-based focus to one that is rights based, which is more proactive and systemic and looks at how to intervene to stop things from happening. That is a significant shift over the course of the last 14 years.
There is a widened brief in the new legislation to include the rights, interests and welfare of children not only for government, but also for non-governmental organizations. My brief is not limited to what government does; it includes members of the community, family members, individual cases as well as other non-governmental organizations.
As the commissioner, I must also give serious consideration to the views of children, take these views into account, recognizing their diversity and having regard to the principles of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act. That is an important point. I have a specific statutory responsibility to ensure that I hear the views of children and young people. I try to the best of my ability to ensure that those views are diverse so that they include all children and, in particular, children whose views might not necessarily be heard, for example, indigenous or Aboriginal children or highly marginalized children such as children with a disability. I must ensure that there is a way that those children can be heard by decision makers.
I will now turn to my functions under the act. I have a number of general functions, and they are specified in section 12(1) of the act. These functions include the promotion of children's interests, rights and welfare; the advancement and monitoring of the application of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by the Crown, which is by our government; and the promotion of children's views and participation.
I have investigative powers given by the act. The only statutory limitation of these powers is the ability to investigate a particular case or to investigate something relating to groups of children that would allow me to look at particular systems and how they might affect children, such as school systems in relation to courts. I cannot do anything that cuts across the ability or the rights of courts. Obviously, if there is an investigation being conducted by the police, I cannot cut across a police investigation. Those are the limitations of my investigative powers. Apart from that, they are fairly general and they relate both to individual and system-based cases.
That is a brief summary of my role. We will talk in much more depth about the statute, the powers and the role of the Children's Commissioner. The vision of the Children's Commissioner is straightforward. In my strategic plan, I state that the vision of my office is that children and young people's rights and interests are recognized and widely supported in New Zealand. There are a number of implications to that. The promotion and advancement of the interests and rights of children and young people means that children and young people will be treated with respect, dignity and fairness. I work on that by advocating, monitoring, investigating and working directly with children, young people and other key stakeholders such as government, various communities and our indigenous people.
I have priority areas based on research as well as experience that shows that I believe that these areas have a massive impact particularly on the most vulnerable of our children that affects their well-being. These priority areas include: eliminating violence against children and young people; addressing poverty issues affecting children and young people; and promoting and raising an awareness of children's rights.
The research is clear and compelling: Violence and poverty have a significant impact on the well-being of children. Exposure to any form of violence obviously has ongoing effects on children that extend well into adulthood. Issues such as poverty, limited educational choices and employment opportunities impact on health, safety and the overall well-being of children and their families and help to prevent them from being able to make positive contributions to their own communities, tribal groups and to the country. In promoting and raising the awareness of children's rights, there is a pivotal role in supporting the work of addressing poverty and also in reducing violence against children.
These three priority areas are inherently bound together and quite deliberately chosen, both as opportunities, in terms of children's rights, but also as barriers in terms of poverty and the effects of violence against children.
There are some particular issues for New Zealand. Fortunately for you, Canada did not come out as badly as we did in the 2003 UNICEF tables for deaths from maltreatment against children. New Zealand ranked fifth highest, of 27 OECD countries, so we have an issue in relation to violence against children.
I need to ask particular questions about this. For example: What is needed to ensure that our children and young people are protected? What services, information and resources need to be provided to make this happen? How can I ensure that children and young people participate in decisions that affect their lives? I am happy to talk about this more.
There has been a debate about family court proceedings and about the extent to which parental strife and separation impacts on the lives of children and their ability to be part of those proceedings.
I came to British Columbia last year for a conference dealing with this issue. I am happy to talk about that as well, as it included people from right across Canada.
I ask these questions, recognizing the diversity of children and young people in our country. As part of this, I need to maintain a wide network of relationships. As I said earlier, I am not just focused on government. My focus also includes non-governmental organizations, indigenous communities and others.
I will now give some specifics about how my office is organized and about some of the roles.
I have a team of 15 people. It is a small office that covers the whole of the country. You probably know that New Zealand has a population of about 4 million. It is not as large as Canada, obviously. I have two offices. My main office is in Wellington, which is the capital city and is close to government, and I work regularly with government. I also have an office in the largest city, Auckland, to the north of Wellington. I have some staff here as well.
I have a diverse staff group, which is deliberate. My staff includes people who have been senior social workers, teachers, lawyers, medical doctors, journalists, community activists and, importantly, parents. A very diverse group of people works in my office in my small team. They bring an enormous wealth of expertise and breadth of experience to this role.
What do we work on? One of the key parts of the work of my office is around the young people's reference group, which was set up under the previous commissioner. The group, which is diverse, includes nine people from right around New Zealand. The group includes children who have been carers for parents, a young teenaged mother, people who have been active within indigenous communities and people who have been active in local government. The group also includes top students as well as, interestingly, people who are not such good students. It includes young people with a disability. It is the most amazing and talented group of young people I could imagine.
As an aside, one of the young people who was in my group until last year has gone on to become the lead singer in one of New Zealand's top rock bands.
We have a diverse group, indeed. They meet every six weeks and are involved in all the key parts of the work of the office. Last year, for example, they were involved with the Human Rights Commission in New Zealand and myself to write New Zealand's first ever action plan on human rights. I chaired the child sector advisory group, which wrote the section on children and young people, and my young people's reference group were half of that group; they constituted half of that sector advisory group. I will be happy to talk about that later.
They are crucial to the work I do in the office. They provide advice to me. They meet every six weeks and I meet with them every six weeks.
I hosted a symposium in February of last year that brought together 150 young people from around New Zealand. There were also 150 key decision makers present, including the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the key ministers involved the Minister of Social Development and Minister of Education. The symposium included the chief executives of all the major ministries that interact with children: health, social development, child, youth and family, and education. They were all present talking directly with the young people. In addition, the chief executives of the major NGO groups were present talking directly with the young people.
This was the first time this was done, the symposium, but it will not be the last time. Again, it was about bringing together young people, who were supported primarily by local government and other community leaders, with key decision makers to talk about the issues that were of utmost importance to me about the future of New Zealand.
One of the other bits of work that my office does is around advancing children's advocacy. My staff runs an intensive two-day workshop around the country. We go into isolated rural communities, as well as large urban centres, to run this workshop, which teaches people about child advocacy. I would be happy to send you any materials you might be interested in. We are happy to share everything we do with anybody who is interested. We have a number of community-based people who come to these children's advocacy workshops, but we run government ones also, teaching people about advocacy.
Basically, the audience is focused on how to improve outcomes for children using child advocacy, particularly in relation to things like the justice system, the welfare system, the education system and the health system. How do we make these systems more responsive within the local communities to the needs of children? We get involved in some interesting exercises. All the people who attend get a certificate and become part of a database, which is about us building a national network of advocacy for children. That is another project of my office.
I mentioned earlier the powers I have to investigate. In 2003, I published an investigation into the deaths of two sisters, aged 11 and 12. These two sisters were killed by their stepfather. There were a number of system and professional failures in relation to these deaths, and these failures were identified with a number of recommendations. These recommendations covered responsibilities for police, Department of Child, Youth and Family, for health, for education, for the Ministry of Justice, for the Ministry of Social Development. They were quite wide-ranging recommendations.
As a result of those recommendations, I now chair a quarterly interagency meeting with those key departments and organizations. We have a progress report on implementation of those recommendations. Again, it is very much about building the kind of support network needed to stop this from happening to children in the future. That is an example of the use of investigative powers and the bringing together of an interagency collaboration.
Another piece of work my office does is a joint piece of work with Plunket, the largest provider of well child services in New Zealand. Plunket provides services for children aged from birth through to five years. Plunket does checks of babies. It monitors how the baby is doing, weighs them, checks their developmental achievements, and talks to mothers and fathers about how to best look after their babies.
I have a joint project with Plunket called Littlies Lobby. It is a cross-parliamentary lobby group aimed at children under the age of five years and promoting their interests to parliamentarians.
Every three months, I host a parliamentary breakfast with Plunket. The breakfast is held at the Grand Hall at Parliament. MPs from all political parties, as well as other key agencies, are invited. There is a guest speaker, who shares information and prompts ideas and thinking about development and the need for investment in the early years. The last speaker was Dr. Bruce Perry. Prior to that, Dr. Joan Durrant spoke. Both of those people have a strong association with Canada, which I think is excellent. We get a good turnout of people, and it is a good opportunity to raise issues in a supportive environment cutting across the party political lines.
I also publish and undertake research. Last year, my office commissioned and published some work called The Discipline and Guidance of Children. This is available on our web site, as is all our material. The Discipline and Guidance of Children summarizes all the international literature around discipline and the use of physical force against children. I am happy to talk about that.
My office publishes a quarterly newsletter, which goes out to 2,000 organizations. Again, I would be happy to put you on the mailing list for that. You might be interested.
In conclusion, New Zealand established the role of Children's Commissioner as an advocate for the rights, welfare and well-being of children and young people in New Zealand. There are specific responsibilities in respect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. These are contained within the body of my legislation and as a schedule to my legislation.
I have investigative powers that have led to recommendations for action and, in particular, pushed for the need for interagency cooperation. Obviously, I try hard to make sure there is a sound evidence base on which to build both the policies and the work of my office.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you. That is a clear description, and we are impressed with what you are doing. I have many questions, but I will let my colleagues begin.
Senator Carstairs: Good morning to you in New Zealand. I want to ask about the independence of your office. Do you report to Parliament? Do you report to a particular minister? What controls, if any, do they have with respect to the limitation of your powers and your ability to move forward?
Ms. Kiro: You have gone to the hub of an important issue and one that is central to the debate.
The role is an independent one. I report to Parliament through my annual report. I am appointed on the recommendation of the Minister of Social Development and Employment by the Governor General of New Zealand. My dismissal can only be done by the Governor General.
The Governor General is the representative of the Crown, which is similar to Canada. My role is independent of the minister, but having said that, the minister is a key person and has specific powers. He does not have the power to direct me, so he cannot require me to do anything other than to meet obligations in respect of administration. For example, the minister can review performance, but mainly around administrative and financial matters. This is a change from the previous legislation, and it raises the amount of information the minister can expect to receive about the operations of the office.
In terms of my ability to speak out on particular issues, the minister cannot direct me or stop me, nor can any minister, from being able to speak out. For example, if I wish to raise an issue relating to government policy, I am free to do that. I can raise that in public, and I can raise that in private.
The legislation includes my right to request directly a meeting with the Prime Minister of New Zealand and report a matter that I consider to be of interest to her in relation to the rights of New Zealand's children, and I do not have to tell the minister.
In summary, the legislation is quite clear about protecting the independence of the role of the commissioner, so that I can act as a statutory advocate for children. That includes freedom to speak out on any matter that relates to the interests, rights and welfare of a child, a single child, or children collectively.
In practice, that does happen. I believe that the New Zealand government is incredibly responsible about protecting that independence. In the agreement I have with the Minister of Social Development and Employment, we reiterate that statutory independence. In practice, I believe it has actually worked just like that. This is a recognition and an attempt by government to respect the intention of the legislation.
However, I am mindful of the fact that there is a relationship. I rely on government for my funding. This is not money allocated by Parliament as a whole. In my case, the funding comes through a vote in social development, which is also the welfare vote.
I am mindful of the fact that I need to be responsible in the way I raise what, for the government at times, are difficult issues. I need to be careful and responsible about how I do that. I need to ensure that I have good sound evidence and good advice before I do that. I need to respect the role that ministers and government have in making decisions around the kind of issues that I raise.
One has to be pragmatic about how this relationship and that tension, that ability and freedom to speak, are managed on a day-to-day basis. I hope I have answered your question.
Senator Carstairs: You have. That has been helpful.
The second question I have is with respect to your specific mandate on your Aboriginal people, your Maori people.
In our Aboriginal communities, whether Indian, Inuit, or Metis, the statistics are bad in terms of their life expectancy, suicide rates, and academic performance rates.
Can you give us an idea of what your office is doing with respect to your Aboriginal people and if you see that as a major priority?
Ms. Kiro: Yes. There are parallels between the experience of your indigenous communities and the experience of the indigenous Maori population here. I should say that I am Maori, so I am the first ever indigenous commissioner in New Zealand. That is an accident. I do not think it was deliberate. I have a particular interest in this topic.
What happens to Maori children is a priority of my office, and it is a priority for two reasons. One is that the same kind of negative statistics and negative experiences that you have just described for Aboriginal or indigenous communities within Canada is very much a feature of what happens to Maori children here in New Zealand. I will talk about what I do around those issues.
The second reason it is a priority area for me and my office is that there are very particular rights and obligations that both the state and society as a whole have in respect of those peoples and communities. To be frank, there is nowhere else in the world where these peoples exist. The particular history, the particular development, and I think also the particular insights and richness of experiences that Maori bring as lessons for New Zealand, are something that we cannot afford to miss out on.
It is significant that the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act grew in no small way out of the experiences of Maori indigenous communities. The family group conference process is based very much on traditional Maori values and traditional Maori ways of reconciling problems within families. It is now an internationally respected mechanism for dealing with difficult situations around child welfare within families.
For those two reasons, what happens to Maori children in my country is a priority for my office. The way in which I work on them is two-fold. One way is by addressing what I consider to be the root causes of the barriers that Maori children and young people experience. In my country, those root causes are poverty and violence. They have to do with social alienation, loss of identity and the inability to access fundamental services or to get the benefits they need from the provision of those services in order to overcome the barriers they experience. Those are very real issues in New Zealand, as I believe they are in Canada.
There is another way in which I work on them, and that is by developing positive relationships with those institutions that have protective factors around Maori children and young people. Within our tribal structures, we have iwi, which are tribes, and hapu, which are subtribes. That would be similar to your clan groups and your band groups.
Our tribal structure has been eroded largely as a result of colonization, but it still exists. There are family groupings that are related by genealogy. My office is building relationships with the major tribal groups to work on issues of children and young people within their tribal groups.
That is not a straightforward task. There are a whole lot of complications and relationships that need to be built into that. Some of these structures are quite eroded, very under-resourced and stretched in trying to cope with survival.
It is also true to say that I am just as honest in challenging those structures as I am in challenging government. There are issues within these traditional tribal communities and perhaps a lack of willingness to confront underlying problems to do with violence and the attitudes and tolerance toward things like violence against our young children. I see it as my role to raise these difficult issues with those groups too, and that does not always make for an easy relationship. Again, one must be pragmatic about how we deal with this.
My work focuses very much on opportunities for development as well as an understanding of the realities of the experience of children within those communities. It is a priority, and I hope I have helped to answer your question.
Senator LeBreton: Thank you very much for a very good presentation, Dr. Kiro.
You said there was a name change, to Children's Commissioner, in order to give children more ownership. I should like more information on how that name change and attitude change allowed children to access your services more.
Ms. Kiro: First, I do not provide services, nor do I fund any services. I do not provide direct services to children, except in a limited way, which I can talk about; as well, I do not write policy for children. However, I advocate and influence all of those. I can comment on policies, services and professional practice in any of those areas.
The change from the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, which was a subsection of that major piece of legislation, into a separate stand-alone statute called the Children's Commissioners Act did a number of things, including making a requirement very explicit. I am now statutorily bound to consult with children, to seek their views, which was not the case under the previous act. Furthermore, I have to ensure that these are diverse views. There is a wording in the act that requires me to take account of particularly vulnerable children, so those children most likely to be marginalized or to not have their views heard. I have a specific statutory responsibility to ensure that in some way those views are brought into the public policy and the information and evidence that policy-makers and decision makers take into account when making their decisions.
That raises the bar quite considerably. It puts a specific obligation on someone to ensure that that actually happens. There are a number of ways in which I do that. I talked about the young people's reference group. More important than the group is the obligation I have to meet with children and to encourage, as far as possible, ministers, other government mechanisms and NGOs to also consult with children. There are a number of ways in which I do that.
For example, one of the projects I work on is Children's Day. Every year in New Zealand, we have a Children's Day. I work on Children's Day jointly with a number of community groups and the Department of Child, Youth and Family. It is a day to celebrate being with children and having children in our lives, and a day for sending simple messages, primarily to parents, but also to other people who have children in their lives which is just about everyone about things like taking time out to be with your children, listening to children and enjoying their company doing the simplest things possible.
At least once a week I give a public speech somewhere, often at conferences, but also to small public meetings and professional organizations. I meet with the law society, medical professionals and social workers. I visit schools regularly. Every time I do that, I try to ensure that I get to speak to children and young people. As part of my role, I monitor the Department of Child, Youth and Family, which is a statutory child welfare agency. I have an obligation to visit each of the residences, the institutional homes, where the care and protection children and the youth justice children and young people are placed. When I visit them, I make a point of spending time alone speaking directly to the young people themselves.
In that way, information is not filtered for me by the caregivers or those responsible for running the institutions. I speak directly to the young people. This happens also at schools, speaking directly with children and actually hearing what they have to say about the matters that affect them.
That very public and proactive going out and being with children in a whole variety of settings is something I do that I think helps me fulfill that mandate.
I am also very careful to get information from a whole host of organizations about what is happening for children and to hear what they have to say about what is going on. For example, recently there was a Young Carers Forum in New Zealand. We do not have a Young Carers network in New Zealand like in the U.K., but my office has been very supportive in trying to set one up here. We funded the first-ever meeting recently. I met with the young people directly and spoke to them about their issues. I think they were very appreciative of that.
In a whole variety of ways, I try to ensure that I actually get out of the office. I am out visiting people, out talking to children, and I also have them come and visit me.
Senator LeBreton: You talked in your presentation about having a statutory responsibility to consult children and young people, and you talked about the young people's reference group. This is one group of nine young people aged 12 to 17, and you say you meet every six to eight weeks. Obviously, there is a turnover, so how long is the membership? I suppose when they reach 17, they no longer are eligible by age. How do you choose these young people? Who recommends them? How do you get nine people that can represent this group, and what is the turnover?
Ms. Kiro: The term is about two years, although some of the young people who are on the current group were on the founding group. This is only the second time we have done this, so they will have a term of three years. They are unusual because they are the first group through. The term is two years. It is by age, so once they reach 18, we rotate them off.
We have a selection process that is open. For example, we advertise in the youth media. We advertised in a national magazine called Tearaway, which many young people get. We advertise through schools. We advertise through a number of youth web sites. To be considered, one must actually apply. I received 300 applications this time around using this form of inviting applications, and basically we went through a process of prioritizing those who would be considered.
The current group were involved in the selection, and I must say that they were especially tough on other young people. I think the adults were far more forgiving. We have learned quite a bit about what sort of things to look for, what criteria we use. Obviously, one of the things we are looking for is diverse experience, but also people who have somehow shown leadership and courage.
We have a 15-year-old teenage mom. She certainly has had a hard road. She happens to be a young Pacific woman, which is also quite a marginalized group in New Zealand, yet she has taken the initiative and gone back to school. She is involved with other young mothers' groups. She struck us as someone who demonstrated a degree of leadership, who had taken some control of her life, and who had a passionate interest in other young women going through similar experiences. We thought that would really benefit the group.
There are particular reasons why some might stand out more than others. What we have done is asked all of those who have applied if we could make them part of a network. What we do not want, of course, is to discourage young people who have taken the interest and the time to want to be part of this group. We want to give them leadership roles, because they are just simply amazing. When we got down to the short listing and the final selection, it became increasingly difficult to choose one over another.
Our staff was involved in that selection. We also sought advice from some key external stakeholders about the kinds of qualities they thought we should have. Ultimately, I have to admit, I made the decision.
We have learned a lot. I have a staff member who is dedicated to this role, and she is a lawyer. She is a very experienced policy analyst. She worked for our Ministry of Youth Development for seven years. She is a wonderful person, and I am sure she would be happy to explain in detail the process the criteria for selection and the kinds of questions that were asked of the young people. She sat with the young people's reference group while they debated the candidates, and sat with me while I debated the candidates as well, and she sat with staff. She was part of the whole process, and I would be happy to make her available to any of you if you wish.
The Deputy Chairman: Do you have a telephone line that children can phone?
Ms. Kiro: We do. It is a free phone number, and it is 0-800-KIDS.
Senator Poy: You mentioned that you have the powers to investigate. I am interested in that. Are you contacted by the police and the social services, or do you contact them?
Senator Pearson just asked whether children can phone you directly. How easy is it for them to access someone who can talk to them? There are the 800-lines where you just get an automatic answer. How often do people in your office call them back?
Aside from phoning you, can the children come to your office and tell you they have a problem, that their parents are not treating them right or that they have complaints against their teachers? How do you deal with that?
How do you execute your powers? You do not make the laws. Can you tell social services what to do, or can you give orders to parents vis--vis what they should or should not do?
Ms. Kiro: The phone contact is actually 0-800-OUR-CHILD.
I have a group of advocates in my office. Their job is to deal with those public phone inquiries, including those that come through on that 0-800 line. There is someone on duty at all times to respond to those calls. I have to say that it is very rare that a child phones the office. It is more likely to be a parent or a grandparent who phones the office about a child.
We are trying to look at ways to actually encourage children to phone directly. A child can come into the office, and I have to say it is great because I do in fact see quite a number of children in the office. They tend to be related to staff members primarily, but there is a regular flow of babies and children coming through the office. Any child can come in off the street into the office.
In terms of making us more contactable for children, there are a number of national child-friendly phone lines, help lines, youth lines, et cetera. They receive millions of calls a year from children and young people. I have tried to be very supportive of those lines. For example, I have written letters for funding so that those lines actually are made available for children and young people, because I recognize that children often want to speak to other young people. Children often want to speak to someone more of their own age. There is a need for those kinds of services. I make sure they regularly provide me with reports about the kinds of issues that children and young people are actually raising with them.
There are a whole range of issues, and bullying features quite high on that list. Children telephone those lines because they are worried about someone being bullied at school, for example.
I do not see myself as a service provider so much as someone who needs to make sure that the service is provided. This will become clearer when I talk about my investigative powers and how I execute them.
Regarding my investigative powers, if I could just come to that point, there is a specific responsibility in my legislation for me to monitor the policies, practice and services of the Department of Child, Youth and Family. I actually do have a role in monitoring the department.
The department has 3,000 staff. It has a massive budget, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and is a national role. I have 15 staff and $2 million, and I have to be realistic about what it means to monitor. The way in which I do it is that I have a memorandum of understanding with the department. That MOU specifies what information I require to be provided to me. For example, any death of a child in care must be notified to me within five days. Any serious event relating to a child in care, particularly in institutional care, must be notified. Any use of section 47 of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, which is a place of safety warrant or an uplifting warrant, must be notified to me. This includes not just the name of the child, but in some cases the circumstances around the decision to uplift that child.
There are certain types of information that routinely are provided by the department, and they act as triggers. I have a manager of investigations who monitors these reports. If there is an issue that we identify or a pattern, for example, police notify Child, Youth and Family, who then notify me about young people kept in police cells. If we notice an increasing number of young people being kept in police cells, I can be in touch with the police commissioner or with the chief executive of the Department of Child, Youth and Family, and ask to talk about why this trend is happening. I can ask for an explanation of why a particular region is experiencing this trend.
In answer to your question, I can initiate of my own volition any investigation into any particular case. That could be triggered by information that I receive, for example, on the death of a child from the department, or it could be, as has happened recently, because of what I witness as a series of events. For example, at the moment I am conducting an investigation into children who are hospitalized with suspected child abuse, who are reabused while in hospital. This investigation includes police, Child, Youth and Family and our health services. I want to know who was responsible for ensuring the safety of a child when there is suspected child abuse and they have been admitted to hospital. Who is actually responsible? Who is going to take responsibility for the care of that child so the perpetrator, who may be their father, stepfather, mother or other family member, cannot have access to them and reabuse them while in hospital?
That investigation was spiked by three cases within close proximity to each other, all around different parts of New Zealand where precisely the circumstance had occurred. Now I am conducting an investigation, and I can require information to be provided by district health boards, by police, and by Child, Youth and Family.
I have to say that each of those agencies has been immensely cooperative in respect of this investigation. I think that is partly because they want to see these issues resolved too. It provides them with a degree of certainty about who is responsible for what at what point. There is actually the power to be helpful by clarifying what the protocols, policies and responsibilities are in respect of cases such as this.
In answer to your question about investigative powers, if I am conducting an investigation and a court proceeding begins or a police investigation is under way, I must suspend my investigation. I cannot do anything that cuts across those in any way. If a court matter was under way in respect of an investigation, I must allow the court process to be completed before I can comment on or proceed with an investigation. However, I can still conduct my own investigation.
Senator Losier-Cool: Ms. Kiro, Senator Carstairs spoke of New Zealand's aboriginal children. Do the rights of aboriginal children include language rights? I'm also curious as to how the Commissioner for Children is appointed. I understand that you were appointed by the government, but how in fact were you selected for the position of Commissioner of Children?
Ms. Kiro: New Zealand Maori children have language rights. New Zealand Maori is an official language of New Zealand.
How I was appointed, I applied for the job 75 people applied for the job. There was a very full and robust appointment process conducted through the government. I had to be interviewed for three hours, which I thought was a little excessive. I was interviewed by one of the most senior and experienced public servants in New Zealand, interviewed by a previous chief judge in the youth court, and interviewed by someone who was a senior practitioner and community leader in New Zealand. They were the panel of three when I was shortlisted.
I had to be recommended on the advice of their independent panel, which made a recommendation to the Minister of Social Development and Employment. He was then able to say yes or no to their recommendation. Fortunately, he said yes. He then recommends to the Governor General, and obviously there is a whole heap of things that go with this.
I had to, for example, have a police check. I had to have a court check. I had to have a fiduciary check, check my financial position. I had to make certain statutory statements about the accuracy of everything I had said throughout the process. I had to provide legally notarized evidence of all qualifications, of all publications, of all previous work that I had done. I thought this was incredibly tough, actually, but this was the standard that one had to meet.
Fortunately, I came out at the top of the list, and fortunately both the minister and the Governor General accepted the recommendation of the independent panel and I was appointed.
Senator Losier-Cool: Thank you very much. You have convinced us that they have made a good choice.
The Chairman: I just have one quick question, relating to the role of your office with respect to reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Ms. Kiro: My office does not have a specific responsibility to report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. That is an obligation on the state, so therefore the government reports.
I did attend the second periodic report, and I also attended your second periodic report, because Canada was the day before New Zealand.
The Chairman: I remember. I was there, yes.
Ms. Kiro: I have no specific responsibility, except that I can actually meet with the committee and I did manage to meet the committee informally. I met the New Zealand rapporteur, for example, on the committee, and I met the chairperson, obviously. However, I had no official role except as an observer to those proceedings.
The Deputy Chairman: As a final comment, tying everything else we put together, is we would like the next time Canada reports to the committee this is an observation, it is not a question to ensure that somehow children have some input into our report. I do not know whether you are able to persuade your government that they would do the same thing; if so, tell us how you did it.
Ms. Kiro: I will try. Thank you.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you. This has been useful for us, and your offer to share your materials with us will be taken up. We will share anything you would like from what our study is producing, certainly the final or interim report. Thank you very much.
Ms. Kiro: You are very welcome. All the best in your deliberations.
The committee adjourned.