Family Law and Children’s Rights

Proposed changes in Canadian family law are a big step forward for children’s rights in Canada.  If passed, Bill 78 will make the Best Interests of the Child the only principle for decisions on parental arrangements in divorce cases.  Criteria for determining the best interests of the child reflect Convention principles, including a legal requirement to consider the views of affected children.  This is the first time that the Article 12 duty to consider the views of children is being incorporated into Canadian law.  In addition to advocating for this, a CCRC submission argued that there are good practices available; they can become standard practice. Public legal education will be essential to implement the new law well.

In addition to making the best interests of the child a central principle, proposed changes will also:

  • require that judges and lawyers pay more attention to domestic violence, including impacts for children;
  • encourage use of less adversarial legal processes to settle disputes;
  • strengthen financial support tools to help reduce the high levels of poverty for children after divorce; and
  • expand the use of unified family court processes to reduce delays and costs for families.

While more detailed examination of specific provisions is required, the CCRC welcomes this initiative, which puts children at the center of the law and responded to most of the recommendations in our earlier submission.  The bill will now be considered by parliament.

The CCRC notes that this is a culture change in family law.  A strong program of public education and cooperation by all parties will be important for effective implementation.


Save The Date: Nov 21-22

In July 2018, the federal government will file its official government report on the state of children in Canada. The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children (CCRC) will host national conversations prior to the United Nations Committee Review on the Rights of the Child in 2019.

CCRC invites you to join the conversation in Ottawa, November 21-22! Your feedback will inform dialogue with government leaders and provide input into the international review process.

Download the poster and share it with your network!

A Step Forward for Youth Justice

The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children (CCRC) welcomes proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, contained in Bill C-75.  The proposed changes increase the likelihood that extra-judicial measures will be used in more cases; they fit with the principle of using imprisonment only as a last resort, as articulated in Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.   The changes also give greater priority to the rehabilitation and reintegration of a young person in conflict with the law, as articulated in Article 40 of the Convention.  They will allow greater consideration of the relevant circumstances of the individual young person involved in each case, to develop meaningful consequences.

This is progress; it brings Canada’s youth criminal justice system one step closer to fulfilling Canada’s obligations under the Convention.  The Coalition had recommended removing denunciation and deterrence as principles for sentencing in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, making it more clear that rehabilitation is the primary objective.  The proposed amendments achieve part of that objective.

The Coalition hopes these amendments will be passed by parliament, as part of Bill C-75, and fully implemented in every provincial youth justice system to achieve better outcomes for young people.

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.