Child advocate given limited powers

Yukon's new child and youth advocate will be hobbled by a narrow mandate and limited powers, say the Liberals and NDP.

Yukon’s new child and youth advocate will be hobbled by a narrow mandate and limited powers, say the Liberals and NDP.

The new office, approved with the passage of a law on Thursday, is supposed to help youth in government care navigate their way through different agencies under the departments of Health and Social Services and Justice.

But the advocate won’t be able to help youth resolve disputes with agencies outside government.

That excludes a whole raft of non-governmental organizations that deal with youth, such as Skookum Jim’s youth shelter, the Child Development Centre, Autism Yukon—and, apparently, even the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

Why isn’t the advocate’s mandate broader? asked New Democrat Steve Cardiff, who first raised the concern with Glenn Hart, minister of health and social services.

Hart didn’t say.

“My concern here is to let this thing get off the ground,” said Hart. “Let’s get the kinks out of the system.”

The advocate may receive expanded powers during a government review in the next five years, Hart added.

That’s not good enough, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell. The advocate’s lack of power to deal with nongovernmental agencies is a “complete oversight,” he said.

Opposition members also complained the advocate ought to have the power to formally investigate government agencies.

The advocate does have some investigative powers, including the power to compel government agencies to produce information, said Hart.

But there’s another person charged with investigating government agencies to ensure they’re behaving responsibly, said Hart. That’s the Yukon’s ombudsman.

Giving the child advocate similar powers would amount to a duplication of services and create unneeded bureaucracy, said Hart.

Why is the government rushing the bill through? asked Cardiff.

Premier Dennis Fentie promised to table the bill this spring, said Hart.

Mitchell proposed amendments that would give the advocate broader powers. But government members used their majority to veto the changes.

Both opposition parties challenged Justice Minister Marian Horne and Fentie to debate the proposed changes.

They didn’t.

“This is about protecting youth and children in the care of the government and who are out on the street,” said Cardiff. “If the premier is prepared to let this slide, then the injuries and the deaths that occur can be on his head. He can take responsibility for that because he’s not able to provide a response to this amendment. This strengthens the act. Tell us where it weakens the act and where it makes children and youth in the territory worse off. Tell us that.

“The public deserves an explanation and the minister needs to speak up on this one and not be silent.”

But, in the end, Cardiff gave grudging support to the bill.

“We basically took a half-measure in the protection of our children and our youth that are struggling on the street, that are in the care of government,” he said. “We could have done a better job for them today.”

Mitchell and fellow Liberals voted against it. So did Independent John Edzerza.

“We do support children. What we don’t support are half-measures,” said Mitchell.

“We could have done this right, but we didn’t. The bill is flawed and the government’s approach to debating the bill is more than flawed. It’s embarrassing.”

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