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Bill C-69 and Children’s Right to a Healthy Environment

Bill C-69 is an opportunity for Canada to show that it takes the rights of children seriously by including assessment of impacts for children in the new environmental review process. The Convention on the Rights of the Child includes the right to a healthy environment, as well as requiring states to give the best interests of children high priority in all areas of law.  Canada also received related recommendations in the last review of how it implements children’s rights.

The CCRC provides analysis and recommendations for amending Bill C-69 to better protect the rights of children to a healthy environment.

 

Children’s Rights Matter: the Abdoul Abdi Story

Abdoul Abdi faces a deportation hearing this week.  He is an adult now, but he would not be in this position if the government of Nova Scotia had protected his rights as a child.  This case illustrates how implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Canada could prevent children from falling through the cracks of our fragmented support systems for children.

Abdoul Abdi came to Canada as a young child, in the care of an aunt, survivors of the armed conflict in Somalia. He was taken into care by the child welfare system in Nova Scotia, lived in 31 different foster care settings, dropped out of school, got into trouble with the law as a teenager, was convicted of assault, and spent the last five years in prison.  Now he faces deportation back to Somalia because his substitute parents did not apply for his Canadian citizenship.

The Convention states that no child should be left stateless, in Article 7. Until this year, children could not apply for Canadian citizenship themselves.  As Abdoul’s substitute parent, child welfare authorities in Nova Scotia should have protected that right and applied on his behalf.  A class action lawsuit in Ontario is now addressing the same failure to protect the rights of children in the child welfare system in that province.

The Convention protects the right of children to grow up in a family context, in Article 9 and several other articles.  If separation from a parent is necessary, it should be for the shortest time and as a last resort, with support for the family unit a preferred option.  If separation is long-term, then finding a permanent home is a top priority.  Thirty-one different placements raises questions about permanency planning in his case.

Abdoul was affected by the war in Somalia.  Under Article 39 of the Convention, states agree to take “all appropriate measures to promote the recovery and social reintegration” of children who are victims of armed conflict.  Canada once led an international campaign to better protect children affected by armed conflicts.  The Abdi case challenges us to practice it at home.

Supreme courts have ruled that children’s rights are Charter rights.  In the case of Omar Khadr, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it was a violation of fundamental rights “that he had not had access to counsel or to any adult who had his best interests in mind.”  In the polygamy reference case, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that governments, including provincial governments, have a positive duty to prevent violations of the rights of children.  Child protection systems across Canada need to take seriously the implications of these rulings.

The Convention provides a useful framework to integrate policies and programs for children.  A full review of the Abdi case is needed, using the Convention as a guide; hopefully it will lead to a remedial plan instead of wiping our hands of responsibility and sending him back to Somalia where he has no family or support system.

This situation could be prevented.  Hopefully both federal and provincial governments will see the value of putting in place systems that protect the rights of children across Canada.   Canada ratified the Convention more than 25 years ago.  It is time to get serious about implementation.

Kathy Vandergrift, Chair of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children

 

Youth Policy for Canada

The CCRC welcomes the development of a national youth policy and supports the initiative to consider the views of young people in its development.  This is one step toward realizing the rights of young people.  In a letter to the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister of Youth, the CCRC recommends two strategic directions:

  •  Use the principles of the Convention as a framework for Canada’s first youth policy, including consideration of the views of young people, respect for the right of young people to develop their full potential, and respect for the evolving capacity of young people.  Using the Convention as a framework will help to integrate all policies that affect young people and take an important step toward fuller implementation of the Convention across Canada.  The letter cites the experience of CCRC members to show that young people want to learn about their rights and how to exercise them in Canada, and highlights that the Convention addresses important issues identified in a survey of young people done by Statistics Canada.
  • Complement the new youth policy with a national policy framework for children under age 15, which is now a major gap in Canada.  Incorporating the Convention into Canadian law and policy-making would help to bridge gaps and integrate policies by all levels of government that affect children and young people.

The CCRC letter also points out that the new youth policy is an opportunity for Canada to respond to recommendations Canada received during its last review of children’s rights.

Criminal Justice Reform and Children’s Rights

Children in Canada have less protection against violence than adults do.  Current plans to reform Canada’s criminal justice system provide an opportunity to make the right of children to be free from all forms of violence, Article 19 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, part of Canadian law.    Stated plans to transform the criminal justice system to better reflect human rights is also an opportunity to respond to recommendations Canada received in its last review to better protect the rights of children involved in the criminal justice system.  In addition, a CCRC submission supports the stated objective of expanding the use of restorative justice options within the criminal justice system.

Family Law Reform and Children’s Rights

Children are affected when their parents go through a divorce, but their rights are not well-protected in Canada’s current family laws.  The CCRC welcomes plans to modernize the law and expand the unified family court system.  Stronger protection for the rights of children should be central to this process.  It is also an opportunity for Canada to incorporate the Convention into Canadian law and decision-making processes, something Canada was asked to do in the last review of how it implements the Convention. The CCRC submission makes several recommendations.