Opinion

Editorial — A voice for children

It would be very unfortunate if the all-party committee discussing the appointment of the province’s representative for children and youth does not agree to keep Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond in the role.

Turpel-Lafond, a First Nations woman from Saskatchewan who is a former judge, has done an excellent job in what is a very difficult and highly-stressful job. It is her job to let the light shine in cases of child neglect, child deaths and other truly disturbing incidents involving children.

As an independent officer of the B.C. legislature, her role is to make the situations public and suggest solutions. It is not to kowtow to government policy or close her eyes to some truly challenging and difficult situations.

Turpel-Lafond, as both an aboriginal woman and former judge, has unique skills which put her in a good position to speak up about this. Her   background is a real help in this position.

Far too many of the children who are in foster care in B.C. are First Nations children — a much higher proportion than the First Nations share of B.C.’s population.

There are a wide variety of reasons for this, but it remains a fact. Someone who comes from a First Nations background, and has dealt with those situations both personally and professionally, is in a far better position to help make real change than a complete outsider.

It is important to remember that the initial suggestion of an independent children’s commissioner came out of the inquiry presided over by Judge Thomas Gove. This was set up after the tragic death of Matthew Vaudreuil in 1992. The five-year-old spent his short life in government care.

The NDP government followed through on the recommendation. The BC Liberals abolished the position in 2002, shortly after they first came to power, but created the independent representative’s office after Ted Hughes was asked to report on what was becoming a serious problem involving children in care.

Turpel-Lafond took the new position in 2006. While she has made politicians squirm on many occasions, she is doing so because she is speaking on behalf of children, families and the general public.

These children need an independent voice. They will never get that by relying solely on the existing child welfare system.

Turpel-Lafond has demonstrated that she is truly independent.

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