In June, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released their Concluding Observations for Canada in relation to the 5th/6th Review. The CCRC has written a letter to all government ministers asking them to take seriously children’s rights in Canada, report on steps already underway, and develop a comprehensive public response to all recommendations.
Read our full letter below:
CCRC Call to Implement COs from 5th/6th review
Taking children’s rights seriously is the most effective way to end all forms of abuse against children that continue across Canada. Federal and provincial governments can show their commitment to end child abuse and neglect in Canada, along with ensuring the full potential of children’s rights, by implementing the recommendations in the 5th/6th review of children’s rights in Canada. The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children calls for tabling a preliminary action plan at the upcoming fall federal-provincial meetings on human rights in Canada. The plan needs to report on steps already underway on the urgent matters, specific plans to develop a comprehensive public response to all recommendations in one year, and a public, interim progress report on the substantive issues in 2025, the half-way point to the next full review in 2027.
This approach is warranted by the seriousness of current violations and past failures to take obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child seriously. It also fulfills a Ministerial commitment to show improvement on the implementation of all human rights in Canada in the way the recommendations from this review are implemented. “Governments in Canada,” said Kate Butler, Chair of the CCRC, “can no longer say children have rights but do nothing to change identified policies and systems that ignore or violate those rights. Recommendations from this review show what needs to be done; if implemented, the reality for children in Canada would be much improved before the next review; and all Canadians benefit when we develop the full potential of our children.”
Urgent Action Calls are Major Factors for Healthy Child Development
The final outcome of the 5th/6th review calls for urgent action in Canada on major areas of child policy to address the serious violations presented to the UN Committee. Canada lags behind other comparable countries more than 30 years after ratifying the Convention. Each report on Canada raises the level of urgency and the specificity of more than a 100 recommendations, while repeating past recommendations because they have not been implemented. Areas requiring urgent action include the following:
- Children need access to effective complaint mechanisms that will investigate and redress abuses (Recommendation 13). Indigenous children and children, like Amanda Todd and Ashley Smith, should not need to use extreme measures and lengthy processes to access justice in Canada.
- Disparities in children’s access to services in Canada (Recommendation 18) leave some children behind, causing life-long harm to individual children and also reducing Canada’s future potential.
- Children are not protected from all forms of violence by law, which contributes to high prevalence of multiple forms of violence against children (Recommendation 27)
- Child welfare systems across the Canada are failing to protect children’s rights (recommendation 32); and
- Children are going without basic needs, such as water, nutritious food, and housing, even though Canada now has a poverty reduction strategy. (Recommendation 39)
Specific actions that need to be taken now to show Canada is taking this seriously include:
- Table long-overdue, full response to first five TRC Calls to Action in the fall as a first step toward frequent reporting and full transparency on resolution of Indigenous children’s rights claims, e.g. TRC and MMIWG reports (Recommendations 18,21, 32,39,45)
- Add child-focused actions to National Action Plan on Suicide Prevention (Recommendation 35). While suicide rates are highest among adolescents, the current policy framework has no focus on children. This inconceivable situation reflects the systemic failure to consider children’s rights at all levels of government. Recommendations on this have been repeatedly made, leaving no excuse for the failure to act earlier.
- Introduce legislation to prohibit all forms of violence against children (Recommendation 25 and 26). Children are the only group in Canada without full protection from violence, which contributes to continuing high rates of abuse. The evidence on the importance of this is clear and 56 countries have acted. Governments cannot say they follow evidence-based policy and excuse inaction on the basis of vague measures of public opinion. Canada cannot be a Pathfinding Country in the global End Violence Against Children Initiative and lag so far behind at home.
- Make the Best Interests of Children a priority criteria in eviction policies to reduce homelessness and inadequate/unaffordable housing for children (Recommendation 39d).
- Establish ambitious annual targets for reducing child poverty, as part of the National Poverty Reduction Strategy (recommendation 39b). This has been recommended before as an effective tool to ensure more progress on access to nutritious food, adequate housing, and other basic needs. Children can’t wait until 2030; earlier action is feasible and warranted.
- End detention of children of asylum-seekers (designated urgent in Recommendation 42b), repatriate Canadian children from prison camps in northern Syria (Recommendation 47b) and protect the rights of children incarcerated with their parents (Recommendation 32f). Taking these steps now would signal serious intention to give priority to the Best Interests of Children, which is named in several recommendations.
- Name an interim focal point for monitoring implementation and investigating complaints (Recommendation 13 and 52). The urgent need for improved monitoring could be met by designating an interim focal point, while serious steps are taken on the long-standing call for a national children’s commissioner or alternative system for accountability. This national body could be focused on what is within their power to affect, as well as a research function to ensure children in different parts of the country are treated equally. The interim mandate, overseeing implementation of these recommendations, would provide practical learning and momentum toward achieving a long-eluded effective system for children’s rights.
The CCRC recommends that the federal Minister for Children be mandated as an interim focal point to ensure effective implementation of these recommendations, including recommendations for more permanent systems for accountability.
Intermediate areas for actions with measurable progress by 2025, midway before next review
To show seriousness, implementation plans this fall can lay out steps to achieve measurable results by 2025, and full implementation or explanation by next review. Governments cannot repeat the cycle of waiting until a year before the next review to start serious work on implementation. If early review of all recommendations identifies some that cannot be done or are deemed inadvisable, a full explanation or alternative approach should be tabled to ensure accountability to children as rights-holders. Examples of areas for early attention and interim progress reports include:
- Data and analysis (recommendation 11)
The need for improved data collection and analysis is a long-standing issue that can be addressed, with benefits for all parties. Specific steps in an improvement plan need serious engagement with civil society partners to ensure more progress this time.
- Human Rights Education (Recommendation 41)
Mapping current practices by all provinces in the first part of this review period would allow for implementation of improvements and measurable progress on this essential area for action.
- Access to Education (Recommendation 40)
All provinces could do analysis and present findings during first part of this review period, e.g. data on access, access to sex ed, and discipline practices, to allow improvements and progress before next review.
- Best Interest of the Child and CRIA (Recommendations 19, 10b, 42a, and others)
Use of Child Rights Impact Assessments (CRIAs) before adopting child-focused policies and legislation is a long-standing priority, also for CCRC. This report calls for the use of “ex-ante” and “ex-post” CRIAs to assess potential impacts before adoption of new policies and evaluate outcomes more effectively. Early progress on the use of CRIA to assess potential impacts before adoption could allow for some progress on “ex-post” use of CRIA before next review.
- Children’s Rights and Climate Change (Recommendation 37)
Revision of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, currently underway, provides an opportunity to incorporate a focus on children and children’s rights in many areas of environmental policy. The CCRC has made recommendations to integrate children’s rights in policies specific to the environment. In addition, implementation of existing climate change framework legislation could include measures to implement this recommendation before 2025 and show progress by 2027.
Longer-term Actions to Implement Recommendations before next review
A longer implementation plan may be needed for some recommendations. These should start early to be able to show measurable progress before the next review. Examples include:
- Introduce a comprehensive law to ensure equal implementation for all children (Recommendation 7).
Earlier the CCRC recommended adoption of general legislation that incorporates the CRC into Canadian law, with a 10 year timeframe for review and revision of all relevant laws. In the last review Canada was asked to develop a pathway for full incorporation of the CRC into Canadian law, but nothing was done. One example, incorporation into a new divorce act, was cited as progress without addressing all the other areas of children’s rights.
This time, governments need to start early, perhaps through a platform of discussion with the CBA Children’s Rights Caucus and others, to seriously advance incorporation of children’s rights in Canadian law, with tools to ensure equitable treatment for all children.
- National strategy for full implementation with provincial plans (Recommendation 8) and other calls for national strategies on specific aspects of children’s rights, e.g. violence, ILO 138)
Implementing this long-standing recommendation is inter-related with progress on other recommendations. The CCRC recommends starting work early and treating it as a working document through this review period to ensure genuine progress this time.
- Children’s Rights and the Business Sector (recommendation 16)
This area of children’s rights is very important but continually fails to get adequate attention in Canada. Perhaps the existing Ombudsman office could be asked to pursue both previous and this year’s recommendation to make substantive progress before the next review.
There are many other recommendations that also deserve attention. The examples in this call to action show how implementation could be taken more seriously so that genuine progress could be made before the next review. In addition to the benefits for children in Canada, this approach would allow Canada to demonstrate good value for the resources invested in human rights implementation and reporting processes. Most importantly, it would show children that their rights are more than fine words.
If government officials have objections to this approach, the CCRC invites them to table an alternative plan for implementation at the fall meeting. Hopefully the stated commitment to also improve the participation of young people and engagement with civil society organizations will lead to regular, open discussions at all stages from now to the next review.