THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
OTTAWA, Monday, March 25, 2013
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 4 p.m. to monitor issues relating to human rights and, inter alia, to review the machinery of government dealing with Canada’s international and national human rights obligations.
Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights has been actively engaged in studying and monitoring issues affecting children and their rights over the course of the past decade, producing the following reports: “Who’s in charge here? Effective Implementation of Canada’s International Obligations with Respect to the Rights of Children,” “Children: The Silenced Citizens. Effective Implementation of Canada’s International Obligations with Respect to the Rights of Children,” “The Sexual Exploitation of Children in Canada: the Need for National Action,” and “Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age.”
Today's meeting is to obtain an update on and examine the progress made in implementing Canada's children's rights and obligations since these reports were tabled. In particular, we are looking at the implementation of the convention and the two optional protocols, namely the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children In Armed Conflict and Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
We will also follow up on important events for those who are very interested in issues affecting Canadian children. In September 2012, representatives of the Government of Canada appeared before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child as part of its study of Canada’s record on children rights.
Today we are interested in finding out more about the preparations, the procedure and the survival mechanism in place in anticipation of this review, as well as some of the major issues affecting Canadian children that emerged from this review.
As part of its review, Canada submitted reports outlining the various programs, laws and other government initiatives in place for children, as well as a list of responses to various questions raised by the UN committee to learn more about Canada's efforts. Many civil society groups also made their own submissions concerning Canada's implementation record. These reports and all documents pertaining to the review are available on the UN committee's web page on the sixty-first session.
In its concluding observations, the UN Committee recommends, among other things, that Canada adopt a national strategy to develop an overall implementation framework in order to comply with the broad lines of the convention. This strategy should be accompanied by a coordination and follow-up mechanism to allow the provinces and territories to adopt their own plan.
The committee also recommends setting up a comprehensive national data collection system to facilitate the development of policies and programs that would strengthen the convention’s implementation.
The committee recommends adopting different strategies to reduce all forms of violence against children, reduce child poverty and overcome the distinctive challenges that are faced by many Aboriginal and Afro-Canadian children in their communities.
Today, the committee will be hearing from representatives from within key departments of government and also from non-governmental organizations. It is really important for us here in the committee is to find out how far we have come and what we have to do. We have asked the first witnesses to appear and to set the stage for us so that we can continue with our work on this issue of children's rights. As you know, the committee has been involved for many years in this matter.
It is with great pleasure that I welcome the first panel, David Morley from UNICEF Canada, and from the Landon Pearson Resource Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children's Rights, I welcome the Honourable Landon Pearson, chair, and Virginia Caputo, Director. At this point, I would like to recognize that Senator Pearson was with us for many years and the tremendous work that she did while she was a senator and continues to do on children's rights. She certainly was instrumental in this committee starting the work that we are now continuing. You have left a great legacy. We will never be able to do what you did while you were a senator on children's rights, but we are trying to follow your footsteps. It is a pleasure to welcome you again, Senator Pearson. We also have, from the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, Cheryl Milne, Chair, and Katherine Vandergrift who is no newcomer to this committee and certainly makes sure that the committee continues to work on children's rights. I welcome all of you and look forward to hearing from you.
We will start with you, Mr. Morley.
David Morley, President and CEO, UNICEF Canada: Thank you very much, senator, and good afternoon to all of you. It is a pleasure to be here today on behalf of UNICEF Canada and UNICEF to present on this important issue. You have received our written submission and, in the time allotted to me, I just want to highlight some key points from the submission.
Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments are making many laudable investments in policies, programs and services for children. However, if the review of Canada's implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was an opportunity to set these out for public view, it also revealed that our implementation and reporting processes could be improved, in some cases by making relatively simple and feasible changes.
At UNICEF Canada, we believe that the way ahead must include child-sensitive governance processes, and these have to be built into the adult-oriented decision-making mechanisms of governments. Three of these we want to highlight are the following.
The first is for a national commissioner for children and young people. UNICEF Canada recommends that the Parliament of Canada establish and appoint, through an impartial selection process, an independent national commissioner for children and young people to support federal departments and parliamentarians in developing and analyzing policies for their potential impact on children, to monitor the well-being of Canada's children, to help guide investments in our rising generations, to promote equitable public policies that affect children and to help coordinate federal, provincial and territorial action where necessary, including a particular focus on Aboriginal, immigrant and other vulnerable children. Differences in the protection and provision of children's rights between provincial and territorial jurisdictions and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children suggest that Canada's children do not have equitable opportunities to develop to their full potential. Children and young people need a dedicated champion at the federal level to amplify their voices and put their interests higher on the public agenda.
Second, we recommend that Justice Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada develop a standard approach for child rights impact assessment on legislative and policy proposals that could have significant impacts on children. Child rights impact assessments are a growing good practice used by governments around the industrialized world. The government of New Brunswick has led the way in Canada by developing a pragmatic and principled approach to child rights impact assessments. We encourage policy developers and influencers to join in a symposium that will be held this May at the University of Ottawa — here is more information about it, and it will be on May 14 and 15 — to learn more about this promising practise to ensure that decision-makers consider children and avoid the consequences of unintended costs and impacts.
A third child-sensitive governance mechanism is to establish coordinating bodies in government for child policy, programs and services. Children's conditions and rights cannot be isolated in one particular department. They cut across many departments. Some provinces have recognized this, and put in place coordinating bodies such as P.E.I.'s children's commissioner, and Manitoba's healthy child cabinet. Every jurisdiction should establish such a body with sufficient influence within and across departments to effect the changes to better coordinate and make coherent child policy. As well, we need a more effective federal-provincial-territorial working group on child policy that meets at the level of deputy or assistant deputy ministers regularly to share and advance good practice and promote a more coordinated approach.
One of the advantages of a federal country like ours is that we can identify good practices in different jurisdictions in different parts of the country. We need to take advantage of our federal structure, rather than use it as a reason not to act.
In terms of the process of reporting on Canada's implementation of the convention, UNICEF Canada believes that there is more that can be done on the part of the government to listen to Canadians and to demonstrate a willingness to take a few visible steps forward. We have reviewed the record of every other industrialized nation to have had a review before the committee in the past five years and have found in every case that some bold — if selective — steps to demonstrate responsiveness and progress for children have been taken. Last year, for instance, Australia decided to establish a national children's commissioner, following on its review by the committee.
In conclusion, I want to thank you once again for making the time and for your leadership to put children on the agenda. We have seen many government officials and parliamentarians taking principled steps within their capacities to use this process for the benefit of children, and we are not diminished by accepting that there is more work for us to do — rather, we are strengthened by it.
The Honourable Landon Pearson (former senator), Chair, Landon Pearson Resource Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children's Rights: Thank you very much for calling me here as a witness. I am delighted to be back. You can imagine that I feel quite nostalgic in this room, where I spent hundreds of hours as a long-standing member of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and as the chair of the committee on the commercial sexual exploitation of children that I convened at the request of then foreign minister Axworthy following a ground-making congress on the topic in Stockholm in 1996 and finally as deputy chair with my colleague here of this very committee as we prepared Who's in Charge Here?, the interim report preceding Children: the Silenced Citizens.
As many of you know, after I retired from the Senate, I took my passion for childhood and children's rights along with all my papers and documents that I had accumulated along the way up to Carleton to establish a research and resource centre there to further my work. Now is the moment to introduce my academic colleague and the director of the centre, Virginia Caputo, and her children, Melinda and Alexander. Melinda has been working with me as a volunteer, and we have developed an annotated list of child rights websites that I can connect to my own landonpearson.ca. I was forced, after I retired, to move into the digital world. I did not learn to use the computer till I was 75. I am doing fine just now.
The activities of the centre are various, but all are aimed at raising awareness of the convention in the hearts and minds of young people, in the hope that they will be able to instruct their elders in the ways in which they should promote the rights of children and young people in Canada and around the world.
In 2007, my centre was commissioned by the UNICEF in Florence to study Canada's implementation of the general measures that are set out in the convention to advance children's rights and our report, which was issued in 2007, on the same day that Canada submitted its combined third and fourth reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Our report is entitled Not There Yet. What else do I need to say? When given the concluding observations from the committee after Canada presented its update in 2012 that you have in front of you, it is clear that we still have a little way to go — a long way, probably.
I would now like to share my reflections on three distinct aspects of the relationship between a state party to the convention and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Other witnesses have already and will continue to testify about specific issues and recommendations related to the rights and well-being of children in Canada.
I would like to talk about process, and I have three messages to deliver. First, I would like to stress the real value of the process a country engages in when it ratifies an international human rights treaty. I think Mr. Morley has just highlighted one by saying how countries have changed as a result of this process. This applies to the reporting process in general but more specifically to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For those who care about the rights and well-being of the children, the obligations of reporting our progress on a regular basis to the international community, as embodied in the Committee on the Rights of the Child, is an invaluable opportunity. Most committee members have been chosen by the countries from which they come for their expertise related to childhood, child development, health, education and legal matters, among others. They are well prepared to question country delegations because they have listened to a number of civil society organizations prior to the session who provide them with reality checks. These are people who know the convention inside out and who have heard many other countries present, so they are able to make comparisons. As a result, country delegations can only benefit from being challenged, as we all can, when outside observers reflect us back to ourselves.
The committee is not a tribunal but an essential link in a positive feedback mechanism that should help all of us improve our practice.
My second message relates to the process itself. In my capacity as adviser on children's rights to the minister of foreign affairs at the time, I was asked to lead the Canadian delegation to Geneva in 2002 to present our second periodic report. We had done our homework quite well. During the regular interdepartmental meetings in preparation, I urged my colleagues to be less defensive. We had and continue to have many programs that we can be proud of, but we must be ready to accept that we often fall short and be eager for the suggestions as to how to improve.
The full implementation of the convention is a duty that we accepted when we ratified, and I can still remember the flourish with which then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed the instrument of ratification in the great hall of Parliament on December 13, 1991, in the presence of children and youth from every province and territory that I and my colleagues in the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children had brought together as witnesses. That was also the same day that the House of Commons unanimously passed the resolution to abolishing child poverty by the year 2000.
I told you why I think the process of preparing and presenting country reports is useful. Let me suggest how it should be managed for maximum benefit.
Needless to say, I watched Canada's latest appearance in front of the committee on the webcast with considerable interest. I could easily conjure up the conversations in the corridors during the breaks, remembering what they had been like a decade earlier.
Without casting aspersions on any of the Canadian officials, who certainly did their best, there were some real differences from the time before. One was the level of representation. Given the struggle the committee in Geneva has understanding our federal structure and which level of government is responsible for what, as far as young people are concerned, I was able to persuade the Honourable Iris Evans, who was then the Conservative minister for children’s services in Alberta, to join our delegation. We also had excellent representation from Quebec and from Newfoundland and Labrador.
I admit our second report was excessively long and cumbersome, but procedures have since been streamlined. I believe the bundled third and fourth report are a little more concise. However, the length of time the requested update took to reach committee members caused real concern and undercut their capacity to be constructive. It also raised some question as to whether or not the Government of Canada took its responsibility to children and young people as seriously as could be expected from a country as advanced as ours.
My third message relates to the importance of including children and young people in the process, as required by Article 12 of the convention. Prior to our second report, the government funded the Canadian Coalition on the Rights of Children to do extensive consultation with civil society and youth, which was very useful. In my view, collaboration of that sort is essential to have the best results for kids, and it just keeps reminding everyone involved what the whole proposal process is really about.
To the best of my knowledge, no young people were consulted in preparation of Canada's third and fourth reports. Somewhat to my dismay, the committee itself scarcely raised the issue. It is no excuse to say it is difficult to involve them. When I and some of my colleagues organized the North American consultation for the UN Study on Violence against Children, with the assistance of UNICEF Canada, we had no trouble bringing young people to the table and hearing what they had to say. When I organized Canada's response to the special session on children that we launched in 2004 and called A Canada Fit for Children, all of our regional consultations had a minimum of 30 per cent of young people present and I had an adviser group of young people who called themselves the child engagement experts resource team, who worked with me all along the way.
Why does it matter? It goes back to the reason why children's rights matter and once we ratify a convention like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we, all of us, government, Parliament, public sector and civil society, have the duty to act together to ensure that it is implemented. We can talk about recommendations later, but those are my comments to begin with.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Pearson. We will go to the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children.
Katherine Vandergrift, Past Chair and Head of Delegation for 3rd/4th Review of Canada at UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children: I will begin because I led the coalition's delegation to Geneva and the preparation of the report, and through that process. Cheryl Milne will speak to our forward-looking agenda. She is the incoming chair of the coalition. I was the chair during the process; she is the chair now.
The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children appreciates the ongoing and consistent attention that this committee gives to the rights of children, from your consideration of general measures to very specific issues, such as your recent excellent report on cyberbullying. Thank you.
I would like to start with the central message that the CCRC brought into the third/fourth review of children's rights, both across Canada in preparation for the review and at the UN. It is the central message in our comprehensive report, entitled Right in Principle, Right in Practice: Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Canada.
The central message is this: Canada cannot afford to let so many children fall through the cracks of fragmented and inadequate support systems, even though the majority do quite well. In an aging society, like we are, developing the full potential of every child should be a top priority. The concluding observations and our report are evidence of many gaps that require attention by all governments. I would just note that the analysis in this report was subjected to critical review by officials, by academic experts, and by the UN committee, and it has held up very well. The UN committee members told us it gave them the best picture of what is happening to children in Canada.
Because of its critical importance for our country's future, the coalition has asked the Prime Minister to publicly present the government's plan to respond to those recommendations within a year, by National Child Day 2013. Your committee could also ask for such a plan. It would be a logical next step to your past reports. I think a copy of our letter was provided to your clerk, so you may have that.
I would like to focus on four areas that need attention, based on our experience of the third and fourth review. Ms. Milne will provide some next steps.
Number one is the need for systematic mechanisms to pay attention to the best interests of children in public policy decision-making.
Compare the high level of focused attention on seniors with the lack of concerted focus on children. Children are affected by policy choices as much as seniors and have much less power to influence decisions.
Other witnesses have spoken about the need for a child rights impact assessment, a children's commissioner, and youth participation. We agree with all those. You will hear from officials later that these are not necessary because now there is an Interdepartmental Working Group on Children's Rights, which was put in place as a result of this committee's 2007 report.
The working group does share information and does some training, but it has little influence in decision-making. To be effective, it needs to be at a more senior level, with a clear mandate and adequate authority to actually impact policy decisions. Your committee could build on your own past reports by asking about its record of concrete impact for children in the country and then recommending ways to make it more effective.
In 2002, at the second review, lack of progress was blamed on Canada's federal system of government. We heard time and again, we cannot do it because of the provinces. The UN committee and our coalition have said that that is not an acceptable excuse. This time, federalism was said to be an asset because it allows diverse responses to children, but the delegation could not provide basic information to answer questions about children across the country. There was no basis for an assessment that it is working well.
Asked about child care, one example, the government held up Quebec's program to show Canada is fulfilling the convention. There was no analysis of child care in other provinces, although the committee specifically asked for a comparative analysis.
When we discuss child care in Canada, we are told there are no plans to expand a Quebec-like system across the country. One answer is given in Geneva and a different answer in Canada. Our children deserve better than that.
More important, the government delegation could not answer questions about vulnerable groups and equitable treatment of children in Canada. This review confirms that current intergovernmental mechanisms need substantive reform, as your committee has recommended before.
The Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights, which is the federal-provincial body, has been the subject of review by your committee, but it remains the primary mechanism to advance children's rights across governments. It is a totally inadequate mechanism. You will hear about improved consultation. I can tell you what it is. It is two-hour meetings in which all human rights groups are asked to tell officials which issues will be raised in upcoming reviews. There is no response from officials, no report of the meeting and no follow-up.
You will hear that input on the concluding observations can now be submitted electronically. That is true, but there is no report on what is submitted, no report on what actions are taken, or why no action is taken.
If coordination works as well as it does, I just ask the question, why could Canada not provide the data the committee asked for? To me, that would prove coordination is not working.
There is no effective public accountability for children's rights in Canada, point-blank. This will be raised again in Canada's second Universal Periodic Review in April. A copy of our submission was given to your clerk. We recommend that your committee consider encouraging the government to bring forward a genuine proposal for reform this time.
I would echo what Ms. Pearson said. We do not need to be defensive. We can recognize we have problems, but then come forward with proposals for addressing those problems. I think that is what young people would like to see.
Second is data and analysis on the situation of children in Canada.
The government could not answer basic questions about children in Canada, such as accurate data about the number of children in state care across the country, a pretty basic fact, or complete data about indigenous children and the services they receive, which is an area of direct federal government responsibility.
Once again, government reports were long lists of specific initiatives with very little analysis of the impacts for children, and even less analysis of the actual situation of children in Canada. There have been promises for improving data for more than five years with almost no progress. The coalition is now recommending a multi-stakeholder group to address this problem.
Third is the need for consistent and comprehensive approaches to policies that affect children. You will hear about tougher penalties for child sexual exploitation, tax breaks to purchase hockey equipment, small anti-bullying initiatives, all as evidence of support for children and implementing children's rights. These may be good in themselves, but developing the potential of all our children requires a much more consistent and comprehensive approach.
Another example: The money allocated for a national injury prevention strategy in the 2011 budget was diverted to respond to concerns about concussions in hockey. Violence in hockey is a significant issue, but this could have been a strategy to prevent all forms of violence against children, which we still need badly in this country.
One value of the convention is its integrated framework for policies that affect children. Canada needs a consistent and comprehensive approach to reach the goal of developing the full potential of every child.
Fourth would be the equitable treatment and a focus on vulnerable groups. The concluding observations make a number of recommendations about equitable treatment and focused attention on vulnerable groups who are being left behind in our country.
We estimated numbers because we could not get accurate data, but approximately 120,000 children are in child welfare in the criminal justice system in the care of states. If this number were involved in a health issue, we would consider it a crisis; however, we are not doing very much about it. The number is much higher than other comparable countries.
The federal government is really the only government that can take steps to ensure equitable treatment across the country. It is responsible for Aboriginal affairs and immigration, two areas where there are major concerns.
The review, for example, was a good opportunity to put evidence on the table to show whether indigenous children were being treated equitably or not. Some data was presented to the UN committee, but there were big gaps. Perhaps this committee can finally get the information in response to the recommendations in the concluding observations.
As well as the numbers, there is an important principle at stake in the current focus on the Aboriginal child welfare. Lawyers for the federal government are defending the notion that the treatment of children under federal programs cannot be compared with the treatment under provincial programs. This is a direct violation of the convention, something this committee should pursue.
Before the UN committee, the government delegation stated that Canada is committed to full implementation of the convention. However, in Canada, lawyers for the government are directed to argue against convention principles in the appeal for equitable treatment of indigenous children.
If we take a positive approach, which I would like to do, children's rights are an asset to federalism precisely because they provide a foundation to ensure equitable — not the same but equitable — treatment across the country, and that is a core Canadian value.
The children in Canada will be well served if this committee would pursue these four areas to achieve the goal of developing the full potential of every child in our country. Thank you.
Cheryl Milne, Chair, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children: Thank you for give us this opportunity to address the committee on behalf of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children. I will focus on future steps to respond to and implement the recommendations contained in the concluding observations.
We have given you two documents. One was mentioned already, which was the letter to the Prime Minister requesting a formal response and strategy within one year; and the second one is our 10 steps document, which highlights priorities, such as the children's commissioner and improved data collection, as well as policy measures that the coalition believes are achievable without major effort or delay. We would argue these are the low-hanging fruit in terms of some of the recommendations in the 10 steps.
This document is a starting point and applies to all levels of government as well as civil society. We acknowledge that we all owe a duty to Canada's children. It is not just the federal or provincial governments but civil society. We are here on behalf of civil society and are doing the best we can, but we need more coordinated efforts.
A key point the coalition wishes to make is that the measures recommended, including the better data collection, are not aimed at producing a better report five years from now. The efforts to better implement and record progress in respect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are owed to Canada's children, particularly the most vulnerable who are falling through the cracks, as you have heard.
Accurate data and analysis are needed to assess whether public funds and community efforts are achieving the results for children, but the point is not about a better report; the point is about better efforts to help children in Canada.
National strategies, for example, to prevent all forms of violence against children are required to maximize the impact of smaller, local or piecemeal prevention programs that were brought before the committee as evidence of Canada's compliance.
As we have already noted, the equitable treatment for all children must be named as a top national priority with transparency and accountability. This is for all minority groups within Canada and those children who are falling through the cracks.
Canada's children need federal leadership through a commissioner and facilitation of interprovincial and federal information sharing, dialogue and development of model policies and legislation that better implement the rights that all children are entitled to, and these are contained in Recommendations 13 and 15 of the concluding observations.
Federal leadership can be clearly demonstrated in measures to improve the conditions of all First Nations children and Aboriginal children across the country, and also in terms of children who are caught up within the immigration system and children seeking asylum. This is an area of federal policy that the federal government can demonstrate real leadership in terms of assessing the impact on children's rights of guidelines and policies that are being put in place now as we speak.
Another example is the area of Bill C-10 which received some criticism from the committee. The Canadian delegation presented that there were some measures within Bill C-10 that were compliant with the convention but others demonstrated serious backtracking.
The review noted that the recent changes in Bill C-10 did not comply with Canada's obligation under the convention. In this regard, Canada reported on those two aspects of recent compliance but failed to acknowledge that there was significant backtracking as well. Requests were made through access to information to seek confirmation that the government had conducted compliance reviews of Bill C-10. However, despite the government's assertion that reviews were done, the response to the information request was that no such files existed. We would ask where the evidence is of any such compliance review being conducted, and we would suggest that your committee ask for that kind of evidence.
Similarly have such reviews taken place with respect to recent policy and legislative changes in respect of immigration and refugee proceedings and services. These are critical areas that are affecting children today, post Canada's report.
The responses to our letter to the Prime Minister, which was also sent to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health, suggest that there will be no formal coordinated response nor anything remotely like a national strategy any time soon, if ever, and that is one area that we have highlighted in our 10 steps.
There are other more specific recommendations in terms of specific policies that we think can be both implemented at the provincial and federal level, and we ask that you look at our 10 steps document in determining the questions you may be asking subsequent to our presentation here but also in any final report that you do. Thank you very much.
Senator Hubley: Thank you for being with us today and for the informative presentations, and I would like to welcome back the Honourable Landon Pearson. I knew her then and I am glad to know her now.
My question I think was touched on by Mr. Morley. UNICEF Canada, the OECD and a number of non-governmental organizations have released reports in recent years expressing concern over the high levels of poverty for children in Canada, particularly for those living in Aboriginal communities, and the effect that living in poverty has on children.
The question I would like to move to is about the role education will play as a child's right to an education. Where is that on the priority list? Can we look to education as a fact that may mitigate those poverty levels? We do know there are inequities within the funding to Aboriginal students now on reserve. Is there something we can do about that?
Mr. Morley: I am sure we could all go on for a long time about it. Certainly, we believe at UNICEF and I believe personally that education is an important mitigation against poverty, and there are a number of ways we can be working to ensure there is greater equity of educational opportunities for children. We are seeing issues that are before the Federal Court about child welfare and education services.
We believe that one of the important things that can come from having a national children's commissioner is that there is somebody who can focus on that, who can emphasize that this is an important issue, that it is a federal issue — although education is considered to be provincial — something that the federal government could be doing more on to make a difference.
Ms. Vandergrift: Thank you. Those are very good questions.
I would point you to some of the work done by the Auditor General in terms of the equitable funding issues. As far as we know, there has not been a substantive response to that. We certainly argue that the child rights review is the time to come forward with that data. If there are questions as to whether there is equity or not, that is what a child rights review is about. We did not see that data. The UN committee asked for that data, and they did not get it. I think the Auditor General's assessment, in a way, stands in that there is inequitable funding, and it is of concern to us that there does not appear to be money in the current budget to address that.
I would like to make another point about poverty. The government's report to the Universal Periodic Review, which was just submitted, says that child poverty has reduced somewhat, which is good news, but even if it is 9 per cent instead of a higher number, it is still far too high.
I would quote from a social pediatrician who works with us. Given what we know now about brain science and how this affects children's long-term development, he said 10 per cent of children growing up in unhealthy circumstances is a silent crisis in our country. Because the results do not show up right away, we do not treat it the same way we do H1N1 or that kind of thing. With what he knows about the impact on these children's development, it is a crisis to have 8, 9 or 10 per cent of children growing up in what we know in many of these families is deep poverty. I think this demands more attention than we are giving it.
Ms. Pearson: One thing I have been doing at my centre at Carleton is to bring together young people to talk about various aspects of the convention. We had one session on child rights and education. They had some strong things to say. They all reiterated the importance of education in their lives, and these are kids from a whole variety of backgrounds, from child welfare to Aboriginal children.
The other thing they said, I think in the context of our discussion today, is that none of them had ever been educated about their rights. I wanted to put that out there. I think pressure needs to be placed — in this case, I am probably appealing to provinces — for further emphasis on education, in schools or so on, with respect to the convention and children's rights. They all know about the Charter, but when I ask them in classes — Ms. Caputo has had the same experience — you will not get more than four or five in the class who even know about the convention. We have been failing Article 42 of the convention badly.
Senator Andreychuk: Thank you. Welcome to all the panelists here. I will not cover a lot of areas, as the witnesses have put their opinions on the record.
Senator Landon Pearson and I have had many — she said hours and hours, but it was years and years — conversations about many of these issues. One of the things I have been reflecting on is that some of the tools we use to help children and to move the children's agenda may be in themselves outdated. We were talking about physically bringing children together into environments.
Nowadays, I find that four-year-olds are teaching me how to get together, but not physically. It is by using IT resources. When you say we should involve children more, I would like to see some of you start addressing the children of today, not the children of yesterday. Do you want to comment on that?
Ms. Pearson: I totally agree, and I am quite excited by the evolution of the child help line, which came in before this advance in electronic media. They find that the kids are now using more interactive media, and rather than using a telephone, which is anonymous, they would prefer to go online. Absolutely. We are trying to build our network electronically in order to get input from kids. It is the way to go. I agree.
Ms. Vandergrift: I will share with you that many of our members are doing that as well. With the review, we tried to make the information about web broadcast available to school groups in cooperation with UNICEF, and then we had bloggers who also commented on it so we could put it into more youth-friendly language, as the UN processes are not necessarily youth-friendly. We did have students listen in. I think that is a good example. Certainly we would like to do a lot more of that. We are also talking about a youth-friendly edition of the concluding observations.
Mr. Morley: I think there is much to learn from other countries, often poorer countries. I have had experience in Colombia where you have large distances, civil society cannot afford to bring children together, and sometimes it is dangerous because of the conflict. However, we have seen remarkable collaborations using online ways to bring remote villages together and children sharing their concerns, which can then be presented to the authorities. It is something that we do not only have to look to the wealthy countries for; sometimes the poorer countries can lead us.
Senator Andreychuk: When the Human Rights Commission turned into the Human Rights Council, there was a lot of discussion that there should be new ways to try to reach the citizen participation. With no reflection from those that are here, the committee continues to hear from governments and from organized communities. That dialogue is now becoming even more finessed but is not really attracting the people at grassroots. When I was there, the knock was, “you are only talking to national organizations; you are not really talking to the people on the ground.”
Therefore, the dialogue is not about how we obtain and implement policies; we are continuing to talk about what policies we believe are effective. I say that because national strategies are easy to put in place, much like national laws. We should increasingly look at what is being implemented.
On the international scene, it now seems everyone wants a national strategy on absolutely everything, and we are getting it. It is unbelievable how many national strategies there are.
My concern is how much is really being implemented and whether we are really following that as well as continuing to press for implementation.
Senator Harb: Thank you very much, witnesses. From what I can see, you all seem to agree that Canada is not in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Would that be a fair comment?
Ms. Pearson: That is too black and white. We comply a great deal, but we have slipped from full compliance.
Senator Harb: With respect to the provincial level, and specifically what Senator Pearson was talking about, education in Canada, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as anyone under the age of 18. In a provincial jurisdiction, in some cases kids who turn 16 can decide that they do not want to go to school any more. The police and the family cannot do anything about it. They drop out of school and fall into a cycle of poverty, because they have no jobs.
If the provinces were all to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and say that anyone under the age of 18 is a child, a child could not drop out of school before the age of 18. Thus, the police, the family or society can tell the child that, as they are still a child, they cannot drop out of school. In that way we might be able to deal with the issue that Ms. Vandergrift was talking about, that being an opportunity for the child to find a job.
To what extent have provincial governments across the land agreed that a child should be defined as anyone under the age of 18?
Ms. Milne: As a lawyer for children for many years, I know that we have very piecemeal policies across the country in terms of age for children. Some of that is consistent with the convention, because although the convention says that every child is under 18, it also speaks to the capacities of children, that is, rights and abilities to make decisions and choose things for oneself has to relate to the individual capacity as children mature. Some of those age differences do make sense in terms of child development.
However, federal laws need to be consistent, and they are not in terms of every child being someone under 18. Some provinces, including Ontario, have increased the age for mandatory attendance at school to 18.
A coordinating body and a better mechanism for provincial-federal cooperation can help set those kinds of model policies and model pieces of legislation and get everyone on the same page talking about the same thing with the evidence of how this is affecting children. Whether the condition of children has been improved by raising the age to 18 is a question that needs to be studied to see whether that policy works.
Leadership is needed in terms of a central message that we honour the convention as to the children being defined as everyone under the age of 18, but we have to remember the developmental stages of children, especially as they reach adolescence, and ensure that the laws make sense in that regard. Again, leadership and consistency is required at each level of government.
Mr. Morley: As Ms. Milne said, you have to provide age appropriate education. You can have a strategy, but that is not sufficient. There are reasons why many 16- and 17-year-old adolescents choose to leave school. Saying that they have to be in school until age 18 is not sufficient unless you have the proper strategies to allow those youngsters to want to stay there and keep learning.
Senator Buth: Mr. Morley, you used Australia as an example. How is Canada doing relative to other countries?
Mr. Morley: Australia has a National Children's Commissioner. It has been said that it is impossible to have a national children's commissioner in Canada because of the different jurisdictional issues, which you know about more than I. However, Australia is also a federation, so we were very encouraged to see that they had children's commissioners at the state level, as do we in almost every province and territory, and that they felt it was important, as a result of their dialogue with the committee, to have a National Children's Commissioner as well.
They also have similar issues with indigenous and immigrant children, and they saw it was necessary. It is too early to tell what the results are because they just put that position in last year, but it is something that we see as a positive step on the part of Australia.
We also see, in all of UNICEF's reports over the last decade, indicators that, albeit not necessarily our programs, our results for children as a country are failing. We are comparatively as wealthy as we were, but our results for children are failing, and we feel that Australia's move is a sign that they want to tackle this. That is why we view it as an interesting thing for us to look at and to copy.
Senator Buth: My next question was going to be what the result is, but you said is it is too early.
Mr. Morley: It is too early to tell. We do see positive results from some of the Scandinavian countries. They are always the highest rated, and there are issues of equity there as well. Then we will be challenged because they are small and not federations in the same way as we are.
Australia was learning from the Scandinavians and they decided to implement it. At UNICEF we feel that simply saying we are a federation is not a good enough reason not to have a national children's commissioner.
Ms. Vandergrift: We know that a number of countries are making gains through the use of things like children's impact assessments, and we have asked some of them to the come to the conference in May to tell us about what they are doing, and that is a range of countries. Australia has also now outlawed detention of children seeking refugee status, and that was as a result of a significant study showing the detriments of that policy. That is something we look to as a good example.
In terms of the process, we have seen countries coming to the table with proposals for improvements in specific areas. It is that attitude we would like to take into Canada. That is why we decided to ask for a report in a year on what things you think you can move forward with. It is not about saying we are perfect or not and getting defensive; it is about what improvements we can make.
That relates to your concern about compliance. The healthy principle in children's rights is progressive realization. You keep moving forward. You try not to move backward and you keep moving forward. That is the way we can make progress in Canada as well.
The Chair: We have run out of time. There are other senators who wanted to ask questions. Maybe we will get them next time.
Thank you for your presentations. We will keep what you have said in mind. We certainly appreciate your continuing cooperation in working with the committee.
Thank you very much.
First, I want to thank all the various departments that work on rights of children who are here and made the effort for all of you to be here. It is very much appreciated by the committee. Issues dealing with Aboriginal children will be covered in our next panel and the department will appear in our next panel for Aboriginal children.
I want to thank you all for being here. I know these issues that you work on are not easy issues. Senator Pearson said that very clearly: It is not an issue of black and white. They are difficult issues that you work on. We appreciate you making the time to be here today. I understand that Justice Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will make statements on behalf of all of you. Obviously we want to hear from you. I would ask that you keep your remarks as brief as you can, as we are all very anxious to enter into a conversation with all of you.
May I ask you to start? When you speak, if you could introduce yourself and say a bit about what you are doing, that would also help.
Jodie van Dieen, Director General and Senior General Counsel, Human Rights Law Section, Justice Canada: Good afternoon. I am Jodie van Dieen, Director General and Senior General Counsel, Human Rights Law Section at Department of Justice. My colleague is Margaret Gillis, Director, Childhood and Adolescence at the Public Health Agency of Canada. I will begin with a brief statement.
Our departments are the co-chairs of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Children's Rights and we are pleased to have the opportunity to address this committee today with colleagues from the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Public Safety Canada, all of which are members of the working group. Between the five departments before you today we will be happy to respond to the committee's questions.
First, I would like to thank the committee for its ongoing study of the implementation of Canada’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We recognize that your work forms an important part of the process for strengthening reporting and monitoring of the convention’s implementation, as well as for providing an important forum for public input, education and awareness-raising on children’s rights.
In addition, the committee reports, including the most recent one on cyberbullying and on sexual exploitation of children, have and will continue to provide important guidance for policy discussions.
As demonstrated in its most recent reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and during its appearance before the committee, the government remains committed to promoting and safeguarding the rights of children. As the committee is aware, Canada's international human rights treaty obligations are implemented through constitutional protections, as well as laws, regulations, policies and programs at all levels of government. As such, the protection of promotion of human rights in Canada is multi-faceted and a collective and collaborative effort.
Children are a priority for the Government of Canada. Through a wide range of investments and initiatives, the government helps to ensure that all children in Canada receive the best possible start in life. Canada has taken progressive steps to help ensure a child's right to survival, healthy development, protection and social participation, but recognizes its work is not complete.
In addition, Canada has robust laws to protect children from various forms of child sexual exploitation, including child pornography, child sexual exploitation on the Internet, child prostitution, child sex tourism and human trafficking.
Canada has taken action to protect children from these crimes through national initiatives. For example, on June 6, 2012, the government launched the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which provides new initiatives to address human trafficking in all its forms, including the trafficking of children.
The committee acknowledged in its 2007 report, entitled Children: The Silenced Citizens, that in addition to these various measures, effective mechanisms must be in place to ensure the ongoing implementation of international human rights treaty obligations. In this regard, the government is taking steps to enhance its existing mechanisms and procedures in two interrelated areas: Intergovernmental and interdepartmental coordination and engagement with civil society.
With regard to intergovernmental and interdepartmental coordination, the effective implementation of children's rights is neither the domain of any one federal department nor, in our federal system, of any one government. It is the responsibility of all departments and all governments.
The government agrees with the committee that coordination and cooperation within and among jurisdictions is essential to ensure that children remain a priority.
Key mechanisms to facilitate coordination, and ultimately the effective implementation of Canada’s international human rights obligations, include federal, provincial and territorial committees and interdepartmental committees concerned with specific human rights issue areas.
Federal, provincial and territorial governments continue to consult and coordinate their actions on issues relating to children through these mechanisms.
Ongoing dialogue within our federal system is a crucial part of ensuring compliance and effective implementation across Canada. One federal, provincial and territorial committee of which you have heard discussed in the past is the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights, or the CCOHR. The role of the committee is one of coordination and information sharing with respect to Canada's reports to and appearances before UN treaty bodies. With regard to the children's convention in particular, the CCOHR is the vehicle through which federal, provincial and territorial partners prepare their periodic reports to the UN committee, prepare for their appearances and discuss follow-up to the committee's concluding observations.
Another coordination mechanism is the federal Interdepartmental Working Group on Children's Rights. It was created in response to one of the recommendations of this committee and coordinates activities, policies and laws relating to children at the federal level. Co-chaired by the Department of Justice and the Public Health Agency of Canada, the working group brings together 18 departments with direct responsibilities related to children and families. Members are policy and program officials with expertise on matters relating to children, whose work is supported by senior officials within their respective departments and the Deputy Ministers' Committee on International Human Rights and Domestic Law and Policy. The convention is the underlying foundation for its work.
To promote a whole-of-government approach to children's rights, the working group provides an invaluable forum for ongoing dialogue between federal departments, to exchange information and resources on developments and best practices relating to children's rights issues and to discuss new and emerging issues related to children's rights.
The working group has been looking at its operations and its work in advancing children's rights across the government and is continuing to explore opportunities to work collaboratively. The working group has begun to focus discussions and presentations on best practices on key child-related issues to encourage collaborative work in policy areas of various federal departments connected with the implementation of the convention, including violence against children and data collection. The working group aims to align departments to work cross-functionally on shared outcomes and to provide them with information, support and resources, while respecting individual departments' diverse priorities and mandates.
To increase awareness and understanding of the obligations under the convention amongst the federal officials, considerable work has been done, both in terms of training and information-sharing. Since the government-wide full day conference on children’s rights in 2009, departments have extended their efforts by routinely providing training geared to the work of their officials who are involved in policy and program development.
For example, the Department of Justice provides training on the convention to departmental lawyers to build their capacity to advise officials across government on Canada's treaty obligations. The Public Health Agency of Canada also provides training on children's rights to program and policy officials. In addition, the working group has created a reference guide of documents and resources on children's rights to assist officials who work on child-related issues to keep them informed of new developments, including with respect to the scope of rights relating to children.
I already mentioned that one of the enhancements to the mechanisms related to the implementation of international human rights obligations is in relation to engagement with civil society.
In response to Canada’s 2009 Universal Periodic Review, the government is striving to build on its progress to date in improving the process for civil society and Aboriginal organizations consultations, both in terms of openness and transparency.
In this regard, the CCOHR membership list is being shared with organizations to provide a point of contact in the provinces and territories for questions related to international human rights obligations, including with regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CCOHR is also now holding regular meetings with representatives from civil society and Aboriginal organizations at the time of its own in-person meetings. These meetings are proving to be a useful mechanism to hear the views of non-governmental organizations and to inform intergovernmental discussions.
The Interdepartmental Working Group on Children's Rights has also engaged with representatives from civil society. Two meetings have been held. One was in May 2011 with representatives from the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children to present their draft shadow report to the UN committee and one in February 2012 to provide feedback to the coalition on the draft report. The working group's follow-up to these meetings included the preparation of meeting summaries to inform departments' consideration of civil society concerns and recommendations in their policy development and the identification of key issues for future interdepartmental discussions.
Federal departments routinely consult with Canadians and civil society organizations for feedback on the development of new laws and policies, programs and regulatory frameworks. This is the primary way in which civil society can interact with the government and provide direct input into government policy development.
Individual working group members have held meetings with civil society to discuss substantive child-related issues relevant to their departmental mandate and means for addressing them. For example, the Public Health Agency of Canada has ongoing working relationships with UNICEF Canada and the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children. Since Canada's appearance, the agency has been working with these organizations to discuss priorities for action under the health mandate, including in the areas of mental health and bullying.
The government recognizes that understanding the views of civil society contributes to informed decision-making and enhances both implementation and reporting.
To improve public input in Canada's periodic reporting to United Nations treaty bodies, the government is now undertaking broad consultations on a draft outline of the reports that Canada submits to the United Nations. This includes periodic reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. A draft outline of the report is shared with civil society and Aboriginal organizations, which are then invited to identify any additional key questions and to help prioritize the issues that could be addressed in Canada's report.
I would also note that the UN reporting process specifically provides for reports to be submitted by non-governmental organizations on a country's treaty implementation. For Canada's appearance before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child last year, 14 NGO reports were submitted.
During the process of preparing for Canada's appearance before the UN committee, the CCOHR invited non-governmental organizations to meet with federal, provincial and territorial officials to hear their views on priority areas of concern relating to the situation of children in Canada. Many of the issues that were raised, including independent monitoring, child poverty, and the health and well-being of Aboriginal children, were addressed in Canada's response to the UN committee's list of issues, and later in Canada's presentation before the same committee.
I will now turn to my colleague, Margaret Gillis, from the Public Health Agency of Canada who will speak to you about Canada's appearance before the committee and follow-up to the committee's concluding observations.
Margaret Gillis, Director, Childhood and Adolescence, Public Health Agency of Canada: I would like to share with you our reflections on Canada's appearance before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that took place September 26 and 27, 2012. Our last appearance was in 2003. As an international leader in human rights, Canada supports the reporting process of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, viewing it as a forum for dialogue and an opportunity to highlight our ongoing commitment to meet our international obligations in respect of children's rights and to share best practices between the state party and the treaty body.
Overall, the appearance was quite positive. The Canadian delegation had representatives from numerous federal departments as well as from the province of Quebec. The Public Health Agency of Canada acted as head of delegation and was supported by the permanent mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva. We have made good progress since 2003 in protecting and promoting the rights and well-being of children and we presented a number of initiatives to the committee that reflected Canada's commitment to children's rights. Canada's dedication and leadership on children's rights, both domestically and internationally, was recognized throughout our appearance.
During the appearance, Canada took the opportunity to highlight some of its achievements in implementing the convention. Those achievements include significant investments in early childhood development, early learning and child care; the adoption of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking; the establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada; amendments to the Criminal Code to create two new offences to prevent child sexual exploitation; and the adoption of the Framework for Action to Promote Healthy Weights, which makes childhood obesity a collective priority for action across governments.
The committee responded positively to these and other initiatives that effectively demonstrated Canada's commitment to the rights of the child.
Through the interdepartmental working group of federal departments and agencies, we were able to capture the work of federal government departments and highlight significant achievements in implementing children's rights. Additionally, through the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights, we were able to successfully collect and demonstrate the efforts of the provinces and territories in implementing the convention in their respective jurisdictions.
The committee members indicated from the outset that they perceived Canada to be a long-standing champion of human rights, including children's rights, and thus they intended to hold Canada to a higher standard. As such, our appearance was characterized by robust exchanges on issues of substance and by a push from the committee to see Canada extend itself further and to be a standard-setter on key issues to pull other countries forward. The Canadian delegation rose to the occasion and responded to all issues raised, and gave the committee the information it sought.
Finally, we also embarked upon a process of strengthening our relationships with civil society in the lead-up to the appearance. We engaged with civil society through formal mechanisms during the preparation process, as well as informally in Geneva, to better reflect their concerns during our presentation. We will continue to work with our partners and stakeholders as we move forward on the concluding observations.
During its dialogue with the Canadian delegation and those other initiatives, the committee raised concerns related to the protection of children as victims of trafficking, the need for additional measures to combat bullying and the need for more active measures to systematically disseminate and promote the convention.
Allow me to address other concerns related to the committee's understanding of the federal context. In that vein, the committee made several recommendations that suggested that the federal government could or should be more of a director in its relationship with provinces and territories, despite the division of powers and provincial and territorial responsibilities.
Recognizing the need to provide the committee with a greater understanding of Canada's relationship with provinces and territories, in January of this year Canada submitted its updated core document, which forms part of all treaty reports submitted to the United Nations and describes Canada's system of government and human rights framework in greater detail.
There are additional observations related to the quality of information and data collection. This remains an ongoing challenge, and we are mindful of the need to work more closely with our colleagues in provinces and territories so that, as we lead up to Canada's next appearance, we can systematically collect information in a way that better captures progress and achievements.
While we are pleased overall with the outcomes of Canada's appearance, we acknowledge that there is still work that remains to be done. Canada takes the view that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and its work is very serious and gives careful consideration to the concluding observations and its responses to them, as well as how it will be reporting on these in the next periodic report.
To this end, the federal government has begun to initiate discussions at both the interdepartmental and the intergovernmental level. The concluding observations have been distributed to all relevant federal, provincial and territorial government representatives, who advise their ministers and governments on appropriate actions in following up to the UN committee's recommendations. Preliminary discussions on the UN committee's concerns and recommendations were held in November 2012 at a meeting of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Children's Rights and of the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights. To inform these discussions and our ongoing assessment of the concluding observations, the CCOHR met with civil society organizations in November 2012 to seek their views on the recommendations.
The federal working group on children's rights will continue to lead interdepartmental meetings and meet with the CCOHR over the coming months to coordinate discussions on the concluding observations.
Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable senators. We will be pleased to take any questions you might have.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I want to clarify two things. One is your meetings with civil society. From what I understood, you had two meetings, one in 2011 and one in 2012. You said that there were 14 groups that appeared in Geneva. Is my understanding correct, and what plans do you have to have ongoing meetings? Have you formalized the meetings with civil society?
Ms. van Dieen: The two meetings that I referred to in my remarks were of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Children's Rights with the Canadian Coalition on the Rights of Children, and the 14 NGO reports were submitted to the committee by the NGO organizations. There were some NGOs present.
The Chair: Have you met with the 14 NGOs? Have you made an effort to meet with them on an ongoing basis?
Ms. van Dieen: The meetings that have taken place with NGOs on an ongoing basis include the meetings through the CCOHR mechanisms, where there is a broad invitation list to a wide range of NGOs, and also through electronic means to consult on the draft outline of our report.
The Chair: Have you had more than two meetings?
Ms. van Dieen: The interdepartmental working group has had two meetings.
The Chair: I was a member of the Legal Committee when Bill C-10 was looked at, and I had a very firm understanding that there had been a study on the impact on children's rights before that bill was introduced. I am very concerned that when there was an access to information request, no files were found. Is that correct, and why was that?
Ms. van Dieen: My understanding is that there was an analysis of compliance with the obligations under the convention for Bill C-10, as well as other legal obligations that Canada has. It is possible that such a request yielded solicitor-client privilege materials for which the Access to Information Act provides an ability for the government to not disclose those materials.
The Chair: I might be wrong, but my understanding was that it was not that a privacy issue but that no files existed.
Ms. van Dieen: I cannot comment on the actual response to the access to information request. I can only tell you that in general terms that may be a reason for why documents were not provided.
The Chair: May I please ask that you inquire and let the clerk of the committee know what was said?
Ms. van Dieen: Certainly.
The Chair: I would also like to know if an impact study was done of recent policy and legislative changes in respect to the immigration and refugee proceedings and services on the rights of children.
Ms. van Dieen: We can also undertake to get back to you on that.
Senator Harb: I have two questions and both of them to the Department of Justice Canada. First, thank you very much for your presentation and for being here.
Now that Canada has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is it your understanding that it becomes a legally-binding document on the Government of Canada or just a guideline?
Ms. van Dieen: Canada is a state where the incorporation of the obligations under a treaty into domestic law is not automatic, so it is not possible for someone to come before the courts and point to a treaty in the convention that Canada has ratified and say that they are entitled to redress as a result of that particular clause in the international treaty. Rather, Canada's domestic implementation and incorporation of the treaty obligations into domestic law relies on a wider array of laws and policy, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada also assesses all of the provisions of the relevant conventions, in this case the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Canada's entire legislative scheme, including its policies and Charter protections, prior to adherence to the treaty to ensure that Canada will be in full compliance with the obligations under the convention that it is signing on to.
Senator Harb: Does that also take into consideration provincial compliance?
Ms. van Dieen: Yes. The process before Canada decides to ratify a treaty includes a study at the federal level in terms of the subject matter areas of the convention that are within federal jurisdiction and, through the auspices of the CCOHR, reaching out to the provinces and territories to ensure similar processes undertaken in those jurisdictions. In many instances prior to Canada's signing on to a treaty and ratifying it, provincial and territorial support will be required so that we have a clear understanding that we are in compliance with the obligations of the treaty.
Senator Harb: Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with officials from Justice Canada working with Senator Landon Pearson on issues dealing with children, in particular the mention in certain legislation about the child being illegitimate if the mother and father were not married. Justice played a lead role in going over every piece of Canadian legislation on the books and cleared it up with the exception of one item that deals with Aboriginal Affairs. At the time, Justice Canada undertook to work with Aboriginal Affairs to figure out a way to amend the legislation in that particular area to remove any reference to “illegitimate child.”
My question to you, and you do not have to answer now, is whether there has been any progress on this issue. If so, what is the nature of that progress? Have we removed any reference to illegitimate child, whether the parents are married.
The Chair: You will let us know later.
Senator Andreychuk: The 14 groups that indicated they wanted to have consultations, did you meet with them? You heard them testify.
Ms. van Dieen: The 14 groups that I referred to are the 14 non-governmental organizations that submitted what we call “shadow reports” to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in advance of Canada's appearance before the treaty body. Some of those groups, including the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, have met with government and interdepartmental working groups.
Senator Andreychuk: Have you met with all 14 groups? The answer is, yes or no and how many of them. I would like to know.
Ms. van Dieen: In terms of the interdepartmental committee, it has not met with all 14 groups.
Senator Andreychuk: I am rather surprised, so I want to be sure that a United Nations committee said that they were holding Canada to a higher standard. Did they actually say that?
Ms. Gillis: Yes.
Senator Andreychuk: Who is answering the question?
Ms. Gillis: Yes, it was a comment made to us during the process because we are a country with a long history of promoting human rights.
Senator Andreychuk: Was it one member of the committee or was it on behalf of the committee? My concern for this is that the United Nations' goal should be that all countries are equal with the same expectations. While Canada, I am sure, can stay it wants to be held to a higher standard and maybe should be, I find it rather dismaying that we would have different standards for different countries in the human rights committee.
Ms. Gillis: It was the chair of the committee that made that point.
Senator Andreychuk: Thank you.
The Chair: I have a number of questions. This will come to you as no surprise because in report after report that this committee makes, we ask for the government's intentions with regard to the creation of the children's commissioner, as has been recommended by so many. What is the position regarding the children's commissioner? You heard today from UNICEF as well.
Ms. van Dieen: In terms of a children's commissioner, there has been a private member's bill with regard to that topic. The government's position in terms of that private member's bill proceeding through Parliament reflected a concern that the current climate of fiscal restraint meant that the creation and maintenance of an office of a children's commissioner would be costly, in particular in light of the fact that it would duplicate existing international reporting processes, could replicate current domestic implementation mechanisms and could impact indirectly on the provincial and territorial areas of responsibility.
Many of the issues relating to children fall within the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. Most provinces and territories have already established independent children's commissioner, advocates or ombudspersons.
The government considers that the money required to create and maintain an office of a federal children's commissioner would be better spent on concrete programs and services for Canadian children and youth rather than on creating another layer.
The Chair: Have you studied what Australia has implemented? Australia also has a federal structure. Have you given any thought to what Australia has done?
Josée Filion, Counsel, Human Rights Law Section, Justice Canada: The context within which the assessment of the bill before Parliament and generally on the question of children's commissioner is conducted within the confines of our Constitution and our division of powers. While it is helpful to look to other states for purposes of looking for best practices, it is also required to bring it within our framework. I am not versed in the legal system in Australia, let alone their division of powers. I cannot say whether as many issues fall to their states-equivalent PTs as they do in Canada for purposes of implementation of the treaty. Therefore, without being able to speak to that, I can say generally that looking to other states, as I mentioned, is part of the process. However, it is not determinative of a decision or an issue with respect to the children's commissioner.
The Chair: Do I understand correctly that one of the main reasons that we do not have or will not appoint a children's commissioner is financial?
Ms. van Dieen: That is one of the reasons, yes.
Senator Ngo: Ms. Gillis, you mentioned that the chair of the UN committee holds Canada to a higher standard. What was the response of our delegation? Perhaps Ms. Fountain-Smith could answer that.
Ms. van Dieen, you mentioned the cooperation of the federal, provincial and territorial governments. At the beginning of the hearing, we had the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and UNICEF asking for data that were not provided by the federal or provincial governments. Could you elaborate on that?
Sarah Fountain Smith, Director General, International Organization, Human Rights and Democracy Bureau, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: It is important to clarify that the members of the committee, including the chair, serve in their capacity as individual experts, so they are not speaking for the UN as a whole. While I share the senator's concerns about the nature of the comment and how it affects the whole principle of universality that we are striving for in the UN system, it is important to make the distinction that this was an individual point of view and probably intended to flatter and compliment our status as a country that has been a champion of human rights. It is an important point that you make and one worth repeating. However, I do not think we should see this as an institutional perspective on Canada's performance.
Senator Ngo: Thank you for that clarification.
Ms. Gillis: With respect to data, it is always complex when we get into this one. Because we have a federated system with the shared federal, provincial and territorial responsibilities on children's issues, there are numerous data sources that exist and together capture the data necessary for us to inform policy and program development. Nationally, our data is drawn from a variety of Statistics Canada sources, such as the Census and the General Social Survey, as well as other federal departments and agencies, for example the Survey of Young Canadians.
We aim to coherently collect data on children, using coordinated and integrated forms of data. These include some population-based surveys, health care administration data, vital statistics and specialized subject-specific systems. We have certainly made some progress on collecting data on child abuse, neglect and injury surveillance, through a number of different methods. However, we still have to marry those to a number of sources that the provinces do that might not have, statistically, all of the same stories and answers. We have some work to do in that area, and we are working on that.
Senator Ngo: Are you saying that UNICEF or the Canadian Coalition on the Rights of Children asked for data and did not receive it because of that or what?
Ms. Filion: I believe your question was whether or not we provided sufficient data.
Senator Ngo: Yes, because they are asking for data, and then, just now, they said they did not receive it.
Ms. Filion: Part of the written response that was provided prior to the appearance, what we call a “list of issue,” did contain a part 3 relating specifically to data and numerous areas under which the committee requested data. Answers were provided for every single question with respect to data.
Now, the question of whether it is sufficient or reflective of what the committee is looking for is potentially a different question.
They might identify certain gaps in the way that the data is presented but with which they are, nonetheless, provided. The other possibility that I believe was raised was also with respect to disaggregation under either different groups of children, different regions or different areas within Canada. Nevertheless, the responses were provided, based on the information that is currently available from Statistics Canada.
Senator Ngo: Thank you.
The Chair: Can you clarify for me exactly what measures you are taking to ensure that there is accurate data and reporting with respect to the implementation of the convention and what needs to be done better for children who are falling through the cracks? What are you doing to collect the data?
Ms. Gillis: We are working to develop the next generation of data collection for people with disabilities as part of larger data. A new data strategy is being looked at, and it will maximize the use of information from our existing surveys by identifying ways in which we can compile data and collect it in a better way.
The Chair: You are looking at it. Can you clarify what you are doing?
Ms. Gillis: We are responding to something that just happened in October, so we are in preliminary discussions in terms of how that will move forward.
The Chair: At the moment you are not collecting data; you are just looking at it.
Ms. Gillis: We are looking at ways in which we can, by looking at the issues that came forward.
The Chair: One thing that is really bothering me is the issue of equitable treatment of children. I would really like clear, not vague, answers. What concrete steps are you taking to ensure that there is equitable treatment of all children, including transparent analysis of evidence with respect to discrimination in the availability of services to all Canadian children?
For people who are watching this, these are bells as the Senate is sitting today. This will go on for 15 minutes. I do not want to adjourn for 15 minutes, so I ask people to just be tolerant of the bells. I am sorry about that.
Ms. van Dieen: In terms of equitable treatment of children, we heard from the presenters on the previous panel with regard to the issues that they saw, particularly within federal jurisdiction, particularly with regard to Aboriginal children and in terms of immigration and children involved in the immigration system.
The Chair: I would also like you to address the issue of Aboriginal children and Canadian vulnerable children. What are you doing regarding equitable treatment of them?
Ms. van Dieen: In terms of data collection?
The Chair: No, we have moved on from that. Just treatment. I did not get an answer on the data collection. I moved on from there. What concrete steps are you taking to ensure equitable treatment of all children — vulnerable children, Aboriginal children — including transparent analysis of evidence with respect to discrimination and the availability of services to children?
Ms. van Dieen: I think in terms of Aboriginal children, perhaps it is a good question to address to the next panel.
The Chair: No, I am asking Justice. What are you doing?
Ms. van Dieen: In terms of Justice initiatives in terms of Aboriginal children, there is, of course, the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the extent to which that enables representatives of Aboriginal children and Aboriginal children to bring complaints of discrimination under the enumerated grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The Chair: You are asking children to bring complaints? Is that what you just said?
Ms. van Dieen: Their representatives.
The Chair: I am asking Justice: What are you doing regarding ensuring that there is equitable treatment of all Canadian children?
Ms. van Dieen: In terms of criminal justice issues, Aboriginal children and other vulnerable children have access to services for children who have been victimized through the criminal justice system.
For example, the federal government is providing project funding to the provinces and territories and to non-governmental organizations under the Federal Victims Strategy. The Victims Fund provides grants and contributions to provincial and territorial governments and to NGOs to make services available to meet the needs of victims of crimes, including child victims of sexual exploitation.
There are also legislative measures that Justice has put in place with regard to enhancing offences in the Criminal Code for child sexual exploitation and other crimes against children, increased penalties, for example, for child sexual offences.
Those are some examples of Justice-specific initiatives.
The Chair: We have a number of people who are watching this program, and for their benefit, may I please ask you how Justice defines equitable treatment of all Canadian children?
Senator Andreychuk: Chair, I am not sure what you are asking.
The Chair: I am asking for a definition of what they mean by equitable treatment for all Canadian children.
Senator Andreychuk: I do not understand in what context you would ask Justice. I want to be sure. Are you asking: Do they have a definition of it?
The Chair: Yes.
Ms. van Dieen: In part, the answer to that question is informed by section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is Canada's equality protection on all of the listed grounds, including age, race, national and ethnic origin and sex, for example.
The Canadian Human Rights Act also protects against discrimination on a number of listed grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act, which covers the services provided by the federal government, as well as federally regulated industries, and enables Canadians to seek redress for discriminatory inequitable treatment in the provision of services. Those would be the bases that would inform a definition of equitable treatment.
The Chair: I would like to go on to another topic. As you know, the committee recently did a report on cyberbullying and we recommended that there be a coordinated strategy among federal and provincial governments because we learned that programs often vary across the country and children are getting varied messages. How is the government approaching this recommendation?
Micheline Lavoie, Director, Serious & Organized Crime Strategies Division, Law Enforcement and Policing Branch, Public Safety Canada: In May 2012 Public Safety Canada and RCMP officials appeared before this committee. The official government response to the Senate committee is being prepared and for this reason the government will provide its official response when it is tabled in the Senate committee in early May.
The Chair: I appreciate that.
How are the inputs of children and the best interests of children being considered by the government in developing policies and laws? As we know, the central point of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the “best interests of the children.” How is this being implemented?
Ms. Filion: The principle of best interests of the child is clearly one that guides decision makers in Canada in terms of legislative development but in addition to policy and is done so in a number of ways, including giving the opportunity for the views of the child to be heard. As you may understand, the Government of Canada's position is that “best interests of the child” is an important principle that is considered, among other factors, in the development of legislative measures, programs and policies, and therefore not the primary principle.
The “best interests of the child” has been codified in several pieces of federal legislation, and forms part of the consideration of various departments that develop programs and not just the Department of Justice. I would refer to the 18 departments that are on our interdepartmental working group that develop policy. The “best interests of the child” principle forms part of their consideration.
In terms of the steps they follow in order to consider this principle, I cannot speak to that. I can say that with respect to Justice, in different legislation that is under the federal sphere the “best interests of the child” principle is considered. In terms of the development of policy, it is one factor that the lawyers on the policy side of the Department of Justice consider, including children generally but also their best interests in the development, along with other factors that lead to the development of policy in that regard.
The Chair: Can you give me an example of one piece of legislation where it was considered?
Ms. Filion: Certainly. The Divorce Act is one area in respect to —
The Chair: That was not a recent act.
Ms. Filion: I am sorry. No, I cannot at this time.
Senator Ngo: Ms. Smith, you say that the chair of the Human Rights Committee holds Canada to a higher standard, even though it is a private or personal thing. Is this the reason why Canada has been blamed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International? What did DFAIT do in order to hold that particular person to a double standard? Why is Canada held to such a high standard compared to other nations?
Ms. Fountain Smith: I will not speak for Amnesty or other organizations. You can ask that of them. I was not present at the appearance. I have recently returned from posting so it was before my time in this position. I do not think we made too much of it at the time. From my understanding of the appearance, the rest of the appearance unfolded in a way that was based in facts and other aspects. Perhaps one of our colleagues who was actually there can speak to that.
I have taken note of it as something we should be vigilant about. I do not think it is something we have seen as a widespread commentary or trend, but it is something to be vigilant of. As I mentioned earlier, I believe the intention was to be complimentary of our human rights record and our status as a human rights champion. Therefore I would not be inclined to make too much of it in that sense, but certainly it is something to be vigilant of going forward to ensure there is a commitment to universality that is seen by all experts reviewing Canada.
Senator Ngo: The representative of Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch representative blamed Canada for their standard of human rights a few months ago. Did they?
Ms. Fountain Smith: You would have to ask them what informed that comment. I do not want to venture an opinion on what informed their comment in that regard.
Senator Ngo: Are you trying to avoid answering my question? When they say that the standard of Canada is not up to par compared to other nations, they have to base it on something. It was said by the representative of Amnesty International in Canada and Human Rights Watch in Canada. What did DFAIT do up to now?
Ms. Fountain Smith: I recommend that you perhaps invite him to speak to you and inquire as to his reasons for that statement and we will take it from there.
Senator Andreychuk: I have a supplementary question. It is one thing to say that Canada has a good human rights record and should do more but it is the standard. You assess the standard and you can determine whether Canada has done enough, according to its resource, its history and its capability. My concern is that then there is the slippery slope for others to say, “Well, you see, that may be a standard but we don't have to reach that standard.”
We have tried so hard to say that all countries should have the same standard. There may be lots of reasons why some are progressing towards that standard on a longer curve. They have impediments that Canada does not have, so Canada should be judged according to the same standard as everyone else. The outcome and the conclusions may be different, but to begin to indicate that there is a different standard is not particularly a problem for me in Canada because I think we have enough institutions. My concern is for all those countries that may see that as an out and that is what the whole system that we have tried to come to is an equal standard, bearing in mind that we are coming from different areas, and particularly with children. It is a progressive right in the convention of the rights according to the capabilities of nations, and this is why it is worrisome that someone sitting in the chair would have used those terms, not particularly with Canada but on a broad base of evaluations.
The Chair: What key programs does the Government of Canada have in place to address violence against children? In your view, are these programs having a positive impact?
Ms. van Dieen: Canada has a multidisciplinary approach to addressing violence against children. There are strong laws to protect children at the provincial level through, for example, child protection legislation, as well as measures in the federal Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code, for example, provides measures designed to protect persons from violence, including children, as well as a number of child-specific offences. In addition to these criminal law prohibitions, there are prevention, intervention and assistance measures in place in Canada to protect children from violence and assist child victims of violence when it occurs.
The Government of Canada provides some national leadership and coordination on the issue of violence against children, including through the family violence initiative, which aims to reduce the incidence of family violence in Canada; the national crime prevention strategy, which aims to reduce and prevent offending, and the federal victims' strategy, which aims to give victims a more effective voice in the criminal justice system.
Federal, provincial and territorial governments coordinate their efforts on violence against children through a number of different forums. The family violence prevention FPT working group, the FPT working group on victims of crime, the ad hoc family violence working group and FTP directors of child welfare committees serve as examples.
Provinces and territories, of course, are responsible for health, social, child protection and education services, as well as the administration of justice in each of their jurisdictions.
Just to elaborate a little bit on some of the Criminal Code measures, some recent legislative amendments have been adopted to better protect children from harm. This includes a new offence to respond to trafficking in children, which is punishable by mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment. Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which received Royal Assent on March 13, 2012, created two new Criminal Code child sexual exploitation offences, making sexually explicit material available to a child, an agreement or arrangement to commit a sexual offence against a child. It also raised existing and imposed new mandatory minimum penalties for child sexual exploitation offences, and these amendments came into force on August 9, 2012.
The Chair: Can I please ask you to provide to the clerk what positive impact the things you have set out have had and how best are you tracking the progress? You will provide that to the clerk, Ms. Van Dieen?
Ms. van Dieen: Yes, we will follow up.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I want to thank all of you for being here. We look forward to working with you in the future.
I would now like to welcome Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. We are particularly anxious to hear from you because we know that you have a lot of work to do, and we would like to know what progress you have made. Will you be you, Ms. Ducros?
Françoise Ducros, Assistant Deputy Minister, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships Sector, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada: Yes, it will. Madam Chair and honourable senators, it is a pleasure to appear before you this evening to share the information about Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development's continuing efforts to improve the lives of Aboriginal people and northerners in Canada, and particularly the lives of children and youth.
In January 2012, the Government of Canada and First Nations reaffirmed the commitment to respecting the role of First Nations' culture and language in our history and future. The Government of Canada remains committed to working with First Nations to improve living conditions and create jobs and economic growth in First Nations communities.
Much of this progress is outlined in the federal progress report released one year later, on January 24, 2013. It includes the government's commitments from the January 11, 2013meeting between the Prime Minister, national chief, parliamentarians and chiefs, to high-level dialogues on the treaty relationship and comprehensive claims and to enhanced oversight from the Prime Minister's office and the Privy Council Office on Aboriginal matters.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada takes Canada’s obligations under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child seriously, and appreciates the feedback, in the form of concluding observations, which we received from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The department supports First Nations women, children and families through the provision of programs and services addressing such issues as: family violence prevention; child and family services; on-reserve housing; economic security and prosperity; and education.
I would like to briefly address the concluding observations specific to children under the theme of education, children in care, gender equity and cultural rights. I can go into more details in response to your specific questions.
In 2010-11, the Government of Canada invested more than $1.8 billion in First Nation elementary/secondary school education and First Nation and Inuit post-secondary education. Despite this, we know that there continues to be a gap in education outcomes for Aboriginal children.
This is why the Government of Canada committed in Budget 2012 to introduce a First Nation's education act by 2014, to establish the structures and standards to support strong and accountable education systems on reserves.
It also announced an additional $100 million over three years to help ensure readiness for a new First Nation education system. To complement these investments, a further $175 million over three years was committed to build and renovate schools on reserve, providing First Nations youth with better learning environments.
While legislation alone cannot ensure better education results, it can provide the framework for reform by clarifying roles and responsibilities and strengthening governance and accountability. Canada has also committed to exploring the need for stable and predictable funding.
With regard to overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in care, all children in Canada are protected by provincial or territorial child welfare legislation. Child and family services are matters of provincial or territorial jurisdiction. As a matter of policy, the Government of Canada provides funding to provinces, Yukon Territory and provincially delegated child and family service providers for First Nation children on reserve. The provinces and territories are responsible for the delivery of service to all other children, including Aboriginal children off-reserve.
Funding under the First Nations Child and Family Services Program is provided according to several funding models across the country and support services that may help families to stay together. Each model provides for the delivery of protection and prevention services to improve the safety and well-being of First Nations children on reserve.
The Government of Canada, provinces and territories and First Nations have taken important steps to improve the delivery of child and family services on reserve. One of the main drivers for reform was the recognition that the costs and numbers of children in care were rising dramatically and not leading to good or better outcomes.
The new enhanced prevention-focused approach provides funding for additional supports and provides tools that allow parents to better care for their children before a situation becomes a matter of protection. To date, six tripartite frameworks under the enhanced prevention-focused approach have been agreed upon in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec, P.E.I. and Manitoba.
Collectively, this means that the new prevention model is now being implemented in First Nation communities in six provinces, covering 68 per cent of First Nations children who live on reserve, with more than $100 million per year in additional investments being provided to these jurisdictions. AANDC continues to share lessons learned and remains willing to work with other jurisdictions as they shift their own approaches to enhanced prevention.
The Government of Canada has also taken significant steps to address discriminatory practises of the Indian Act, including the Gender Equity in the Indian Registration Act to eliminate specific barriers of discrimination for particular individuals. The amendments ensure that eligible grandchildren of women who lost their Indian status as a result of marrying non-Indian men are now entitled to registration. It is estimated that some 45,000 individuals are now newly entitled to registration through this legislation and will be eligible for the programs and services available to all registered Indians.
With regard to cultural rights, Canada has also taken significant steps to celebrate Aboriginal cultures and traditions, including through annual events such as National Aboriginal Day. These events provide opportunities to recognize the historic contributions of Aboriginal peoples, the strength of present Aboriginal communities and their promise for the future.
These are just some of the way in which the Government of Canada is working to safeguard the rights of Aboriginal children in Canada. The Government of Canada continues to make Aboriginal issues a priority. I welcome your questions on our programs and services for children and youth.
I might just point out that the people around the table who are here to support this presentation are Daniel Ricard, who is responsible for litigation management; Sheilagh Murphy, who does the social programs; and Keith Smith, who deals with international issues in our department.
The Chair: I thank all of you for being here. Does anyone else want to add anything to what Ms. Ducros said? No.
Senator Ngo: In the report, you say that the Government of Canada provides $1.8 billion for services for elementary and secondary plus $100 million dollars for the next two or three years. I would like to find out who is accountable to provide these services. Did you get any report from these providers? Why do we keep hearing that it is not enough? We are pouring billions of dollars for the years 2010 and 2011, and the next year you say more. Can you elaborate?
Ms. Ducros: Of the $1.8 billion, about $1.51 billion is provided to First Nations for basic instructional services. Those would be the services to operate schools on reserve from K to 12.
There is an additional $248 million over three years that was provided in 2008 to deal with some targeted programming that I can get into in a moment, but that dealt with two major programs. One is the First Nations Students Success Program, and the other is the Education Partnership Program.
Then $300 million a year is provided to deal with post-secondary education. That is support to schools or support to post-secondary institutions or support through assistance to students attending post-secondary institutions.
On the issue of accountability, there are various ways in which we flow funding. The major part of the funding is flowed directly through the regions to the schools, and we fund that through contribution agreements with the schools to deal with operating the schools on reserve.
In addition to that, the targeted programs that were introduced in 2008 were put in place to deal with innovative programming, namely working with the provinces who have the expertise, by and large, with regard to operating school systems, and putting provinces and First Nations and ourselves around the table to deal with new partnership agreements. We have signed partnership agreements in six provinces.
In the last budget, 2012, when the government introduced the concept of introducing a First Nations education act, that was actually building on the practices that we put in place with targeted programming, which was to deal with bringing schools together to create some of the aggregate learning practices, so to basically create some of those services that, in an off-reserve school, would be funded by school commissions. The First Nations education act will build upon some of those best practices.
With regard to accountabilities, with regard to basic services, the results and outcomes and where the funding goes are based on individual contribution agreements with the communities. With regard to targeted funding, which is the $248 million to deal with these programs to create aggregations and school commission type structures, they have to provide reports to the government. Evaluations have been done on the programming.
We would argue that there is an understanding as to what is working and what is not working. If you look, though, at the reports that have come out starting with the 1972 report on Indian control of Indian education, through the Senate report and the Auditor General's report, the two major discrepancies are the lack of roles and responsibilities as to who provides what on the school system, which comes, frankly, from a lack of overarching structures, including things like school commission type structures, and the way in which we fund, which is basic instructional services and targeted programs that are project based and evaluated.
It was to that end that we are looking at dealing with getting the funding streams into one funding mechanism that would probably or likely be statutory in nature so there was predictable funding, but that that funding would also come once structures were put in place, which would be culturally relevant to First Nations but would also provide some of those second and third tier services that school commissions provide in the off-reserve community.
First Nations children are the only children who have no legislation governing them. There are five or six provisions in the Indian Act, but there is no overarching structure, but there is no over-arching structure, no school commission to which First Nations schools can go to for support, so teachers on reserve cannot go to a school commission. We have funding for special needs, but it comes through a different stream. There are all kinds of interesting historic reasons as to why that is, but certainly there is an understanding and acceptance of the findings of the Auditor General and others that we have to move to a place where we have a system.
In the context of bringing forth a First Nations education act, we are undertaking consultations across the country to address that.
Senator Ngo: I agree with you but I am asking who is responsible for this situation? Are funding straight to First Nations or through provincial governments or commissions?
Ms. Ducros: Currently, the bulk of the funding is directly to First Nations. It is based on either a yearly or a five-year or ten-year contribution agreement with First Nations. The contribution agreement is based on a nominal role for the number of kids in schools and the services that have to be provided. That is where the bulk of the funding goes. That funding has gone through basic instructional services for some period of time.
For that funding, First Nations are accountable and have to provide reports, both audited financial reports and reports on outcomes. However, it was clear in that situation that the outcomes, regardless of how they reported, were lacking in and gaps existed. That is where the funding came in in the 2008 budget and later budgets: How to get to a place where you are providing them with additional reportable funding on which they could create these aggregate systems.
The 1.12, I believe, goes to basic instructional services. First Nations report on that. With regard to targeted programming, the recipient organization, which usually takes into account three or more First Nations schools, would provide reports on that.
Evaluations have been done on all three types of programming. The evaluations on the targeted programs, the partnership programs and the First Nation Student Success Program, which we can provide to you or are on our website, have shown successes on that front. We have testimonials and evaluations to that effect. They account for the basic instructional services through reports, and there have been lacking outcomes.
The Chair: In 2008 and 2011, the Auditor General of Canada found that funding formulas for First Nations children and family services, including the enhanced funding formula to be flowed, were inequitable. Given the flaws in the enhanced formula, why do you continue to roll out the enhanced funding formula to the exclusion of the other evidence alternative?
Ms. Ducros: That is a harder question, so Ms. Murphy will answer it.
Sheilagh Murphy, Director General, Social Policy and Programs Branch, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships Sector, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada: The funding that we provide for the Enhanced Prevention Focused Approach is present in six jurisdictions. It is important to note that AANDC is responsible for providing funding for certain services within the basket of what a province might provide for child welfare, so we do not necessarily cover the whole gamut of child welfare. Other departments, such as Health Canada, may have roles and responsibilities as well.
Within our authorities, when we have negotiated the Enhanced Prevention Focused Approach, we sit with First Nations organizations as well as the provinces. We look at how the province is administering child welfare, the levels of salaries, and what they pay for; and we match that.
The whole premise of the Enhanced Prevention Focused Approach is to be comparable with a province in those First Nations communities under the Enhanced Prevention Focused Approach. We are providing money that would provide comparable services to children on reserve as they would receive off reserve in like circumstances.
In our point of view, we are providing what they would receive if they were being funded by the province.
The Chair: How do you answer when the Auditor General says that the funding is inequitable? Is it inequitable?
Ms. Murphy: From our perspective, we are matching the province, whether they are receiving the full basket of services. It may be that AANDC, Health Canada and HRSDC are providing services, and there may be services from the province. Trying to get the total can be a challenge, so is it may lead to a misunderstanding of who is funding what and what the total investment is.
The Chair: May I have a clear answer?
Ms. Murphy: Our money is comparable to the provinces for the same services.
The Chair: That is not my question. My question is that the Auditor General said that the funding is inequitable. Is it inequitable?
Ms. Murphy: It is not inequitable from our perspective in that we match what the provinces would pay for the services we are responsible for. If there is an inequity, we would have to talk to the provinces as to whether their funding is inequitable because we are matching their system.
The Chair: Who is responsible for Aboriginal children in Canada?
Ms. Murphy: Each First Nation is responsible for delivering those services under a delegated agency. Provinces have legislation and regulations in place. Those delegated agencies are delegated by that province. They are to match the legislation and regulations. We provide funding in order for them to cover the services they deliver to First Nations children on reserve. Some of those organizations may be providing services to children off reserve as delegated by the province. In the end, we see that the province is responsible for that delegation, for ensuring that legislation and regulation is respected and that those delegated organizations deliver according to that legislation and regulation. We fund in order to provide services under our models.
Senator White: Over the past year, I have heard a number of presenters talk about the success story of education in some Aboriginal communities, in particular when it comes to high school graduation rates. I also know from experience that a number of the people graduating from high school do not have a high school education. In fact, if you used the general equivalency diploma testing, a number of them will score much lower than grade 12 and grade 8 or 9 in parts of Nunavut. Does AANDC do any evaluations specifically on individual students, rather than simply accepting that they have a high school graduation diploma and that the diploma they carry is worth the paper it is written on?
Ms. Ducros: That is an excellent question. The department provides funding, and I was not trying to skirt the question. The department knows that it provides funding and that the funding provided for the basic instructional services has not dealt with the gaps. We know and we hear from both First Nations and the provinces that when students go from grade 4 on reserve to grade 5 off reserve, they often are not able to continue. In the targeted programming, we have tried to put in place, working either with the provinces or with an aggregate of First Nations, student retention programs to get at that issue. We are dealing with student retention programs and we are working with the provinces to ensure that the testing and the assessments on the reserves are culturally relevant and the results are the same as off-reserve.
There are two instances where there have been fairly important success stories. One of them is a tripartite agreement concluded with the First Nations Education Steering Committee of British Columbia. They put together a structure that although it does not fulfill all of the same roles as the provincial structure does all of the assessments and has a certificate of graduation that is equivalent to a provincial graduation certificate. They have graduation rates of about 50 per cent, which are higher than in some other instances. There is a certainty that the graduation rate is equivalent to a graduation rate of kids off reserve.
The other example is in Nova Scotia, which is under a self-government agreement. They go through all of the assessments used by the province. They receive a recognized high school graduation diploma.
In the Prairies, there is recognition that if you meet a certain amount of provincial credits in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, you will have a high school diploma, and we are not sure how that is working. That is why, moving forward with the First Nations education act, the discussion paper that we are using for consultation sets out some culturally relevant approaches but certain basic standards that would have to be met, including the fact that you would have to have the equivalency of a graduation diploma, which would be measured by the fact that the provinces recognized it. If it was an international baccalaureate or if it was a grade 6 education, you would have to meet the same assessment-type criteria that you would meet in a province.
There have been a lot of issues in the consultations about recognitions, treaty rights and government, but there has not been a reticence, as long as some of those interpretations and some of the testing will be done in a culturally relevant way, to adopt those standards.
Senator White: Thank you for the response. Under the new First Nation education act, we are talking having a set of standards province by province, territory by territory, not a federal standard but one that would meet the local flavour, if I may.
Has there been any research? Some of the challenges in some Aboriginal communities across the country, particularly in the North, have been around early childhood, the fact that language might be an issue. In Nunavut, for example, most may primarily speak Inuktitut until age six or seven. Has any work been done on pilot projects on early childhood education at age two and a half to five as to whether you can have a greater impact by giving them the leap, I guess, as they move into schooling?
Ms. Ducros: There has been a lot of research done both by us and others. There is certainly that view, which is why we do some of that programming through other departments, like the Head Start programing, which Health Canada administers. As we have looked forward to moving towards a First Nations Education Act, we have talked about delivering comparable programming, but we have also talked about how we would get to a point where we are adopting some of the best practices, for example, the practices on full-day kindergarten in Ontario and elsewhere. We are trying to deal with both of those.
We have done some of that research internally; most of it is done externally. A lot of research is being done on language and culture, some of it with the James Bay Cree of Quebec. A couple of studies in 2007 and 2008 were done in British Columbia on both culturally relevant education and exposure to language and how they deal with it.
What we are trying to do with the First Nations education act is ask how to balance the notions from the research that says that if you learn something in a culturally appropriate way, language is one thing, but how do you deal with the learning mechanisms? It is understanding that when you get out of grade 7 and you have to go into chemistry, you have to have the basics to go into chemistry, and what we have drawn on the research done by the joint panel is you have to be able to balance those two things. How do you get to a culturally relevant understanding?
That is the same thing for the assessments. The Innu of Labrador have gone from the province to their own established aggregation, so what the act would try to do, and what they are saying is once they develop their own culturally appropriate assessments that dealt with measuring the literacy rates and other rates that you would want to measure with the provincial assessments, they tailored the assessments and had a better understanding. It was to the point that some of those kids that were diagnosed or resulted in literate in the province were not in their assessment, but others were, so we are trying to balance those two things, and a lot of research has gone into it.
We are only responsible for south of 60 and the Yukon Territory. We devolved education to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut where they manage their education system, although we have a strategy that we worked on with them to try to deal with best practices.
Senator White: That raises another concern for me. I am always concerned about the accountability piece. Now you are telling me there are two locations that have no accountability to the federal government that funds it.
Ms. Ducros: We do not fund Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.
Senator White: Through the transfer payments you do, but not direct funding.
Ms. Ducros: Correct.
The Chair: This committee has travelled recently to look at the challenges of off-reserve Aboriginal people. One of the things that that the president of the Aboriginal university in Saskatoon said was that the challenge was K to 12. The education that Aboriginal children receive from K to 12 on reserves is inadequate. This is a challenge all of us face, and I am pleased to hear about what you have done with B.C., but this is something that all of us have to face, namely, the level or the standard of education from K to 12 that Aboriginal children are receiving. They do not stand a chance once they leave the reserve or even to continue with their studies.
Are you implementing programs to help? One is that you are setting standards, which is very good to hear that.
Ms. Ducros: The programs that we are implementing across the country, the EPP program and the First Nation Student Success Program that was supposed to target and has targeted that and has had results is now being implemented in 92 per cent of all communities.
We meet regularly with the First Nations University as well, and they have said the same things to us. There is no disagreement. The federal government never disagrees that we are not meeting or ensuring outcomes or closing gaps. We are trying to take all the best practices that we are dealing with and moving forward.
I should forward the evaluations on FNSSP because they are showing results. The truth is, and you have probably heard this with First Nation University, the K to 12 education and the fact that when we move on some of the institutional programming, what FNU will say is where we end up having to program is not in skills training but we have to deal with the basic adult education because of the K to 12. There has to be both a reach back from the post-secondary education institutions to K to 12 and understanding in K to 12. Some of the examples that are working is that when PSE institutions go into the communities at K to 12 to tell the kids that the reason they are in school in grade 6 is that they will end up being doctors and engineers and some of the industries — Cameco is a case in point — where they go back to the K to 12 communities because they are finding in some of those communities that K to 12 education because of residential schools and other examples is not relevant to them, so you have to make it relevant to them.
Senator Andreychuk: You touched the point, namely, the Cameco experience. It is role models; it is parenting. You talked about culturally relevant, and it seems to me that you have to include more of the resources, identify where they are living, and that is the Cameco experience, but there is also parenting and the value of education. If it has not been relevant to the parent, it will not be relevant to the child.
You have talked about culturally appropriate. How are you extending it into a community responsibility? I say that because the kids that I deal with in Saskatoon or Regina or elsewhere do not have the role models, and that is the whole point. The pride in going to school is not there; perhaps even the push to go to school, which is what I had to have to get there, is not there, so how do you make it community relevant?
Ms. Ducros: That is a bigger issue than education per se. What we are trying to do with it through the K to 12 initiative is to ensure that once you deal with some of the structures and when you get to how you will implement the school board, some of the things like parent-teacher associations where you have to bring in the parents will have to be dealt with in some of the governance structures, so we are trying to do that. To make it relevant to the community, on that front, as we move towards some of the other programming and the institutional supports to post-secondary education and some of the active measures of income assistance, we are trying to ensure that we are linking those things. I do not have a silver bullet for you.
One of the ways we are trying to make it relevant to communities and to get parents involved is to deal with First Nation student support programs where we talk about parental involvement and early literacy, and take a book home, things that have worked in some areas that we are trying to bring to other areas.
We are trying to draw on best practices and to stream them. One of the comments we get is that we have a lot of best practices where things work really well and they become pilots and are never mainstreamed. Part of the issue there is the lack of structures, because if you have a best practice in a school, and there is a school board or system that communicates with another school board or system, it gets internalized.
Senator Andreychuk: Certainly, I keep seeing not just the best practices but the students who have made it, and the things that are relevant to kids, whether it is their fashion week, their chemistry awards or their projects, et cetera. Those are the things that students are telling me are relevant to them. They can see there are achievers all over the place, rather than the negativity we see on the front pages all the time, saying that the students are not making it. There are students making it and they are very valuable in those communities.
Ms. Ducros: One of the single biggest comments that I get when I do the consultations is, if you look at our discussion guide, when we talk about gaps, they say it would be nice if even as you put out your discussion guide you do not only talk about the gaps but you talk about those things that work because it allows, even in the context of a consultation, for it to be their own, so we promised to adjust our dialogue accordingly.
The Chair: As I was saying to you, our committee travelled to Western Canada. One of the things that will always live with me is that in Manitoba we went to a friendship centre and they had a powwow to honour the children who had died because of violence. We all know the legacy that we have been given for residential schools. Do you have specific programs that help children to deal with issues of their parents' residential school experience? How are they dealing with that? You did mention a little bit about this, but how do you ensure that they get the ability to access their language and culture?
Ms. Ducros: I am not familiar with projects in the context of our programs that are funded in order to fund them for the residential school experience, but I can tell you that there are programs within First Nations schools that they access through some of the program funding that deal with identity and culture. There is a widespread program of tiles. Every child is asked to make a tile. That is all within the context of broader programming and I would not be able to give you more details on that.
The Chair: The next question I have is on Jordan's Principle and we know that Parliament passed the resolution. What are you doing to deal with that motion and what are the steps that you are taking?
Ms. Murphy: Since Jordan's Principle was passed, we have been working with all jurisdictions to ensure that the right constructs are in place so that should an issue arise as to access to services we can sort that out with a province or ourselves, including Health Canada, who is a partner with AANDC in the response to Jordan's Principle. It is a child-first approach to education, health and social programs. It is focused on solving federal-provincial disputes, especially for children with multiple disabilities. We have reached implementation agreements with several provinces and there are federal and provincial contacts available in every region. We have points of contacts for Aboriginal Affairs. Health Canada has points of contact, as do the provinces. They case conference whenever a case comes before them to resolve the dispute so that it does not turn into Jordan's Principle.
Some provinces think the way we interact with them, both Health Canada and ourselves, works well. They do not need additional constructs.
A few provinces wanted to take our relationship farther along. They worked on dispute resolution mechanisms. We have done that in four provinces, at the request of those provinces, and those are Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and New Brunswick.
We have established networks in all jurisdictions to look at Jordan's Principle. From our records, since 2008 all cases brought forward to us have been addressed.
The Chair: I have been given to understand that the government of Canada's response is narrow in the sense that it only applies to medical needs and to multiple service providers and so it leaves unaddressed government service, denials or delays related to jurisdictional disputes within or between governments in other areas such as child welfare, non-complex medical needs, education and other vital children's services.
How do you account for the difference in the original scope of Motion 296 and its implementation of Jordan's Principle?
Ms. Murphy: When we responded to Jordan's Principle, we looked at children like Jordan who had multiple challenges and multiple service providers. That is where we focused our response. If, for instance, under child welfare, and that is where it may not be a child who has multiple disabilities, it may be a child who requires certain services, we have arrangements through the organizations that run child welfare. They are supposed to work with the province, with partners, to find the best outcome for those children.
In my dealing with the delivery of child welfare, to build their capacity, I am not aware of disputes arising. If ones were brought to our attention, even in the child welfare case we would use the Jordan Principle arrangements we do have to see if that would be an appropriate means to resolve those disputes.
The Chair: Are you confining Jordan's Principle to complex medical needs or does it apply to all?
Ms. Murphy: From our perspective right now, it is for children with complex needs who require multiple service providers. Often they tend to be medical, but they could be social or educational, but they require multiple services.
The Chair: That is how you are focusing Jordan's Principle?
Ms. Murphy: Yes.
The Chair: I will repeat it: Children with complex needs who need multiple services, that is where you are applying Jordan's Principle?
Ms. Murphy: That is correct.
Senator Oh: I have a question on funding. Canada has a small population of 34 million. It is not difficult to count how many First Nation children we have. We spend $1.8 billion plus hundreds of millions on their education. Are those monies properly administered? Are they being spent on children or on adults?
Ms. Ducros: We know how many children are in First Nations schools. There are 114,500 right now, full-time equivalent. Very few of them are in kindergarten.
I do not think there is an issue where we do not know where the funding is going. People report back. There are outcomes issues.
The money assigned to elementary and secondary school children goes to elementary and secondary school children. There are other programs that we have both at Aboriginal Affairs and at HRSDC that deal with adults who have dropped out and come back, but that is not what it is being funded on. We know there are problems with outcomes and a lot of money is being spent, but we are not reaching the outcomes, so we have to look beyond just the funding to get to a place where you have those supports for the K to 12 kids.
I am not trying to dodge your question. I hope I am answering it.
Senator Oh: I was thinking that there is no point pumping more money into the system if the money is not properly spent. How do you administer it?
Ms. Ducros: I do not think we would say the money is not properly spent. There is reason people came to school commissions in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. We need to get to a place where we are making sure that First Nations kids on reserves are getting the same support. A teacher in a reserve school right now has nowhere to go. If a teacher or principal in a school commission in Ottawa were having problems, or needed pedagogical improvement or social workers, they would normally go to a school board or to a service provider. We can argue that it costs a lot of money. There are 415 schools across the country on reserve. Therefore you need to find some way to get those second or third tier needs, but I do think the government's position is that you should not increase the funding until you have all the structures in place to ensure that you are getting those same supports and structures that kids off reserve would have.
Senator Oh: The $1.8 billion, plus hundreds of millions, is a lot of money for the 34 million population of Canada.
Ms. Ducros: The $1.8 billion is not a plus. That includes everything, for K to 12.
Senator Oh: It is still a big amount.
The Chair: It may be a big amount but the Government of Canada has a responsibility to educate Aboriginal children and it takes that very seriously.
Ms. Ducros: The Government of Canada takes it very seriously, and the Government of Canada is not saying the money is misspent at all. The government is saying that you need to get to some of the other ways in to address education gaps. Some are relevant and some of them are adapting. School boards support the development of curricula that may have to be adapted. They allow tailoring and provide assessments. There is a view that we have to get to a point where we are providing the same types of supports.
I raised the issue of the Education Partnerships Program. The provinces are fully engaged because the provinces also realize, because of the demographic issues it is the right thing to do, but then because of the demographic issues and the skills issues and the fact that you have these populations around some of the biggest resource projects, it is in everyone's interests to ensure that you are closing those gaps.
Senator Oh: I am not pointing the finger at the government. I am pointing the finger at those who ineffectively spent those monies.
Ms. Ducros: I would not say that they are misspending money. I think it costs money to get to the school and it may cost more if you have to find a social worker because you do not have a school system that allows for a social worker, as opposed to being able to call up your school commission and say you have this issue.
Senator White: Is it correct that there is no suggestion it costs more or we are spending more to educate someone in an isolated community who is Aboriginal than it would be if they were White?
Ms. Ducros: That is right.
Senator White: The amount of money being spent is the amount of money being spent. This is not a race issue or a demographic issue at all. I do not want to leave the suggestion that we are overspending on Aboriginal communities. We are spending a lot of taxpayer dollars in isolated communities when it comes to education, regardless of provincial or federal, right?
Ms. Ducros: Yes.
The Chair: My understanding is that there may be approximately 9,000 Aboriginal children in care in the child welfare system. Is that correct?
Ms. Murphy: In terms of our program that we fund, yes. For First Nation children on reserve, the number is between 9,000 and 10,000.
The Chair: What is being done for these children? Taking into account that what we are looking at here is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the cornerstone of the convention is what is in the best interests of the child, what is being done to preserve their culture and to ensure that we do not have a repeat of some of the challenges that Aboriginal people have faced?
Ms. Murphy: In terms of the enhanced prevention focused approach, one of the things built into that approach is ensuring that the services are provided in a culturally relevant manner. We do not define what that means down to the nitty-gritty detail. We leave it to First Nation communities to decide. There is flexibility in the way the program dollars flow for prevention, protection and maintenance of children in care to allow them to develop services to serve children and their families in the on-reserve context in a way that is culturally relevant.
In some communities, especially with the prevention dollars we have put there, we have seen them starting to do more case conferencing and more early parenting programs in a culturally relevant manner. That has had good success.
We have also been able to spend more time working in an early intervention fashion with families so that children do not necessarily have to be taken into care where they may have in the past. You can work with the families and children and keep the families together.
Those are some of the things that the new enhanced prevention focused approach is doing and it is allowing communities to define what those services and programs can look like.
The Chair: This is the Human Rights Committee and one of the things we do study affecting Aboriginal people, Aboriginal children, and one of the things that is of great concern, is when we talk about race-based discrimination against Aboriginal children in the child welfare system. Does that exist?
Ms. Murphy: From our perspective, we are funding First Nation child and family service agencies or provinces to deliver culturally appropriate services in a comparable manner to the way they would deliver to all children within that province.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your time today and we look forward to working with you in the future.
(The committee adjourned.)