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April 8, 2006

Hughes' Report on Children and Youth

"I am recommending that a Representative for Children and Youth be established as soon as possible and that the position be an officer of the Legislature. The appointment process should be that used for other officers of the Legislature such as the Ombudsman, the Auditor General, and the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which is by recommendation of the Legislative Assembly upon unanimous recommendation by a special committee of the Legislature."
Honourable Ted Hughes OC, QC, LL.D. (Hon.), BC Children and Youth Review, April 7, 2006 p. 35.

The multi-million dollar public relations machine which puts out hundreds of media releases for the Campbell government was noticeably silent on the release of the Hughes' Report on Child Welfare. Twelve hours after the release of the report, the top story on the government website was about the "Spirit Bear" followed by an article on the ratification of collective agreements. Not a word was published on the government's response to the scathing Hughes' Report.

As recently as February 20, 2006, Premier Gordon Campbell said: "It's important enough that everyone understand what is currently in place in British Columbia. There is an independent officer." On September 22, 2005, Attorney General Wally Oppal asserted that: "The children's youth officer is independent." On the same day that assertion was echoed by the hapless Minister of Children and Family Development, Stan Hagen. Future political science students can count how many times over the last five years various members of the Campbell government asserted the opposite of what Hughes suggested with his first and most powerful recommendation, that an independent officer of the Legislature be established to represent children and youth. Hughes was careful not to criticize Jane Morley directly. He said: "The current Office for Children and Youth has performed its duties independently, but if public confidence in the child welfare system is to be restored, the independent body that speaks for children and youth must have a status that puts that independence beyond question. That is why I am recommending that the new Representative for Children and Youth be an independent Officer of the Legislature, with the same standing as the Ombudsman and the Auditor General."

The Campbell government may be known for introducing the Apology Act, but don't hold your breath waiting for an apology from the Campbell government on how it treated children. Before slashing the budget for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, it fired the Child and Youth Advocate and the Children's Commission. Those outrageous acts came home to roost with these strong words in the Hughes' Report: "The Child, Youth and Family Advocate was eliminated, as was the Child and Youth Mental Health Advocate and the Family Advocate program in the Ministry of Attorney General, and legal aid funding for family matters was cut. Some rationalizing of government-supported advocacy programs may have been appropriate but the pendulum has swung too far for the good of the most vulnerable in our society-our children and youth."

In plain language, Hughes also said that the Premier was wrong when he claimed that budget cuts did not contribute to abandoning 769 child death reviews.

The Premier should apologize to the Legislature and to all British Columbians, and he should expeditiously implement all of the recommendation in the Hughes' Report.


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