Thursday, December 27, 2012

Canada's Shameful Record on Child Rights

UN slams Canada’s ‘excessively punitive’ justice plan, accuses authorities of widespread discrimination

Heather Scoffield, Canadian Press | Oct 9, 2012.

OTTAWA — The federal government’s tough-on-crime agenda is “excessively punitive” for youth and is a step backwards for Canada’s child rights record, says a United Nations group.

The UN committee on the rights of the child has finished a 10-year review of how Canada treats its children and how well governments are implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In particular, the committee says Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act complied with international standards until changes were introduced earlier this year.

The Harper government’s Bill C-10 — an omnibus crime bill that includes stiffer penalties for youth and makes it easier to try them as adults — no longer conforms to the child rights convention or other international standards.

Bill C-10 “is excessively punitive for children and not sufficiently restorative in nature,” the committee wrote in a report published over the weekend.

“The committee also regrets there was no child rights assessment or mechanism to ensure that Bill C-10 complied with the provisions of the convention.”

The committee also repeatedly expressed its concern that aboriginal and black children are dramatically overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Aboriginal youth are more likely to be jailed than graduate from high school, the report said.

In order to meet the standards of the UN convention, Ottawa should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and ensure that no one under 18 is ever tried as an adult, the report said.

Authorities should also be developing alternatives to detention, writing rules to restrain the use of force against children in detention and to separate girls from boys in jail, the committee added.

Governments should determine why so many aboriginal and black children and youth are involved in the criminal justice system and figure out how to reduce the disparity, the report recommended.

The committee also chastised Canada for failing to provide equal social services to aboriginal children — especially in the realm of child welfare, an issue now before Canadian courts.

It accused authorities of “serious and widespread discrimination” in the services they offer aboriginal children, visible minorities, immigrants and children with disabilities.

“The UN joins the auditor general, leading experts and First Nations in calling on the federal government to step up to the plate and ensure equity for First Nations children,” said advocate Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
“There is simply no excuse for a government to discriminate against children.”

The child rights convention is a binding international treaty that Canada ratified in 1991. Signatories are obliged to defend their child rights’ records and explain progress at regular intervals before a UN committee.

Canadian officials appeared before the committee two weeks ago.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson rejects the claim that his crime legislation does not comply with the child rights’ convention, said spokeswoman Julie Di Mambro.

The legislation was amended to ensure no one under the age of 18 is detained in an adult facility, she noted.

“Our legislation reflects the need to protect society from serious and violent young offenders,” Di Mambro said. “It targets the small number of violent, repeat young offenders and its measures are balanced, effective, and responsible.”

Previously in the House of Commons, Conservative parliamentary secretary Bob Dechert lashed out at the UN committee because one of its members is from Syria.

“Syria, a country whose rulers are stealing the innocence of an entire generation of its children, is criticizing Canada,” he said. “Imagine that.

“This is no doubt to distract from the atrocities that Syrian children are currently facing every day.”

But critics say Ottawa is wrong to write off the UN committee — even if Canada is not among the worst offenders.

“You can’t sign on to a treaty like the Convention on the Rights of the Child without adhering to the guidelines that it lays out,” said Jaskiran Dhillon, a representative for Justice for Girls.

“It sets an international bar for what treating and taking care of your children and youth looks like. It doesn’t mean that you disregard the most marginalized … populations of your country.”

The report also wants Canada to:
    Adopt a national strategy to implement children’s rights, alleviate poverty and prevent violence.
    Address high levels of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
    Ensure child victims of violence have access to restraining orders and other means of protection.
    Help troubled parents take better care of their children instead of sending them into foster care.
    Ensure disabled children are not forced into segregated schooling.
    Monitor the use of drugs to treat mental conditions in children, to curtail over-medication.
    Eliminate user fees in public schools.
    Increase the availability of free or affordable daycare.
    Rehabilitate Omar Khadr.
    Stop detaining child refugee claimants.
    Act to prevent obesity among children.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tragedy results from mental health system, safety net that fall

This was a letter I wrote to the Editor that was published in the Vancouver Sun. Tracey Young, December 17, 2012. 
My heart goes out to the three women who had the misfortune to cross the path of Nicholas Osuteye. We should consider all of these individuals victims of the failing civil mental health system of care and a social safety net that fails the most vulnerable and high-risk people every day in B.C.

As a social worker who has worked in psychiatric inpatient units with individuals experiencing acute, severe and chronic psychiatric disorders, I can tell you Mr. Osuteye's experience with B.C.'s acute psychiatric system is not uncommon.

He also faced unique, made-in-B.C. structural barriers to receiving the help and support he required, putting him and others at-risk.

Media reports suggest Mr. Osuteye voluntarily went to hospital because he wanted help with medication. If Mr. Osuteye has been here for less than three months, he would not meet the residency requirements for medical coverage under the policies of the current health insurance regime of the B.C. government. Therefore, he likely had no way to pay for his stay in hospital and no way to pay for medications, which would not be covered.

Mr. Osuteye also would not have met the residency requirements for applying for crisis income assistance with the Ministry of Social Development if he were here less than three months.

Even if he had access to a computer, which is how people must apply now, he likely would not have been able to navigate the Byzantine application process due to his acute illness.

If he had tried to call an office, he likely would have been unable to get through to speak to a human being due to the automated telephone system which bureaucratically ensures fewer people can successfully apply for income assistance.

In my work as a psychiatric social worker at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital my colleagues and I saw clear anecdotal evidence that individuals who were not receiving necessary civil mental health care, treatment and admission to acute psychiatric units in local hospitals (if needed), or those who were discharged before stabilization, and with a lack of solid discharge plans to support them in the community, often ended up committing criminal code violations while acutely mentally ill.

Many of these individuals go on to be found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD) and are then subject to lengthy time spent in the much more expensive Forensic Psychiatric system that taxpayers are funding.

In the last decade, the B.C. government has created grand mental health plans for children, youth and adults, but their failure to adequately resource these required systems of care has put many at risk.

Tragedies like this case occur because of the unspoken, unacknowledged failure of the B.C. government for its lack of leadership, monitoring, accountability and adequate funding of the mental health system of care. It is time for them to take responsibility and to stop new tragedies from occurring. They are the only ones who can do it.

Tracey Young Vancouver

Thursday, December 6, 2012

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Girls & Women

Over time I have become increasingly concerned about the ever-increasing force of the narratives of sexualization, violence and oppression of girls and women that have become common place in North American society.  

A day cannot go by in which girls and women are not exposed to multiple depictions of media and stories that normalize gendered oppression. This oppression is deeply embedded in the structures and institutions of our society and it impacts the day-to-day well-being, safety and lives of girls and women.  

Structural oppression impacts girls and women's employment and career choices and opportunities. It impacts our ability to financially support ourselves, our children and our elders. 

We must all continue to work together to achieve equality, to eliminate violence against girls and women. Boys and men are important partners in this fight against the oppression of girls and women. I believe that we can have equality and justice for all in Canada, it takes the will of the people working together to meet this goal. 

Organizations Supporting Girls & Women

Battered Women's Support Services (BWSS) 

Crisis, Intake & Counselling Line: 604-687-1867          
Toll-free: 1-855-687-1868

BC Society of Transition Homes (BCSTH)

Call: 604-669-6943 or 1-800-661-1040

For a list of Transitional Housing in BC click here.
Shelter listing in Metro Vancouver - As of October 2012

Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre

Call: 604-681-8480

Drop-in, emergency shelter (604-715-8480), supports

Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA)

Phone: 604-633-2506

Vancouver Rape Relief Society

Call 604-872-8212 

24-hour rape crisis centre and services for victims of rape

Shelter for women and children trying to prevent or escape male violence 

VictimLink BC: 1-800-563- 0808 

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, more than 110 languages providing information and referrals to all victims of crime and crisis support to victims

Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) 

24 Hour crisis line: 604-255-6344;    Toll-free: 1-877-392-7583

- Counselling, Victim support services, Aboriginal programming

YWCA Metro Vancouver 

Call: 604-895-5800

Supports & Services for Women & their families


                                 Rose Campaign

YWCA Canada’s Rose Campaign to end violence against women and girls takes its name from the rose button created after 14 young women were murdered on December 6, 1989 and commemorates December 6 as Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. 

The Rose Campaign works year-round to reduce violence against women, increase public awareness and prevent violence before it starts.

Violence against women is a $4 billion problem in Canada. Each year, violence and abuse drive over 100,000 women and children out of their homes and into shelters. They face an uncertain future with a high risk of homelessness and poverty.

You can take action to change their lives.

Send a rose campaign message to your MP.
Donate to end violence against women and girls.

Canadians need to Work Together to end Violence Against Women

OTTAWA (December 4, 2012):    On December 6, Canada will focus once again on violence against women.  The National Association of Friendship Centres  (NAFC)  would like to take this occasion to publicly support those communities across the country, and the efforts of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who are calling on the Federal government to establish a public inquiry and a national framework of action to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.   Aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be victims of violence.

Since the 1980s, it has been estimated that thousands of aboriginal women have gone missing and have been murdered. Roughly half of the official murders and disappearances have occurred since the year 2000.  At present, there are 583 documented cases.  Unofficial accounts are significantly higher.  Aboriginal women between the ages of 25 and 44 are five times more likely than all other Canadian women in the same age group to die as a result of violence.  

Violence against aboriginal women has been at crisis levels for years.   It affects the individual, their families and the health of thousands of communities across Canada.   All levels of government and law enforcement need to work with aboriginal and non aboriginal leaders to prevent further injustice and build healthier communities.  Existing barriers must be eliminated so communities can begin to  solve many of  these cases  and to prevent this shame from continuing.  Only then can  faith in the justice system be restored allowing for communities to come together towards healthier outcomes.

Last year, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women began an inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada.  “Canadians need to recognize that Aboriginal women play integral roles in communities across Canada.  As mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and aunts, women who are victims of violence should not suffer in silence.  We have been hearing their cries for years.  In a country such as ours, leadership and commitment are two first steps that will help us heal,”  says Vera Pawis Tabobondung, President, NAFC.

Friendship Centres throughout Canada have been working at the community level focusing attention on violence against women working with partners and other organizations to achieve the goal or reducing and eliminating violence that exists at unacceptable levels.   Aboriginal women (First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis) are more than eight times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner than non-Aboriginal women.

In 2013, the NAFC will lead a national Aboriginal awareness campaign to decrease domestic human trafficking among Aboriginal peoples.   The NAFC will establish a National Aboriginal Advisory Committee (NAAC) consisting of regional, youth and expert representation. The NAAC will devise and lead a community engagement plan to gather insight from a wide range of Aboriginal peoples across the country into the messaging and formats the national campaign materials should assume.   The project will  lead to an increase in knowledge sharing and awareness  around human trafficking and it will increase community capacity to combat human trafficking.

To support the Native Women’s Association of Canada, we ask the public to visit their website to learn more about violence against Aboriginal women and to sign the petition calling for a national inquiry at  

Selected Articles

The Facts on Violence Against Women - BWSS

Involving Men in Violence Prevention By Maggie Zielger, July 2008.

21st Century Practice: Transforming Women’s Lives. By Tessa Parkes, 2008.

Royal Commission on Violence Against Aboriginal Girls and Women
By Fran Smith and Lisa Yellow-Quill, April 2011.

Violence Against Women and Their Children in BC: 33 Years of Recommendations. EVA, April, 2012