Government tacks on children’s advocate

The new Child and Family Services Act paves the way for an independent children’s advocate. Five years in the making, the legislation was…

The new Child and Family Services Act paves the way for an independent children’s advocate.

Five years in the making, the legislation was introduced in the legislature Wednesday.

The provision allowing for the advocate is found on the last page of the 128-page act.

The act reduces the court’s role in determining a child’s placement, provision for more First Nations involvement and strengthened abuse reporting.

It states that a separate act will create a children’s advocate within one year after the new children’s act is approved.

That it’s found on the last page speaks to the problems the act had before reaching the floor of the house.

Several First Nations decried the act for not going far enough to accommodate their concerns.

One of the biggest problems was the lack of a children’s advocate — a position found in all other territories and provinces.

An advocate gives children a voice in a social services system that sometimes fails to properly represent and protect them.

Court appearances, policymaking and complaint investigation are part of the advocate’s duties.

Kwanlin Dun, Carcross/Tagish and Ta’an First Nations recently criticized the act for not giving First Nations enough say in how their children are cared for.

The five-year process was fraught with resignations from First Nation participants.

NDP MLA John Edzerza recognized the new act as a significant piece of legislation, especially the addition of the advocate.

But he asked the government why it ignored the wishes of First Nations, which asked for more time to provide informed feedback.

Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers said the act will be one of the strongest in Canada, and there’s been plenty of consultation over five years.

“This (act) is the result of a joint effort between the Yukon government and First Nations, a partnership that saw joint public consultation, joint policy development and jointly informing the legal drafters,” said Cathers in question period on Thursday.

In response to another question about the concentration of power in the director’s office under the new act, Cathers added that the act actually decreases the unilateral powers of social workers.

“(The act) is far clearer in the need to involve First Nations in co-operative planning,” said Cathers.

“It is in fact a much more inclusive process.”

Yukoners to butt

 out by May 15

Anti-smoking legislation passed a major hurdle Wednesday and will be in place for the tourist season.

The ban on smoking in public places takes effect May 15, while a ban on store displays will be phased in over the following year.

Smoking in a vehicle with a passenger under the age of 18 will also be prohibited.

In a move that demonstrated the government’s willingness to work with the opposition on this particular bill, it gave the NDP its regular day for introducing and debating legislation.

“This was a very unusual step for any premier to take with an opposition private members bill and I do appreciate his co-operation,” said NDP Leader Todd Hardy, who introduced the original legislation last spring.

It allowed Bill 104 to be amended and set up for a third and final reading.

A third reading would make the bill legal.

But the Liberal Party wouldn’t let the bill move forward without first wrestling with some of its provisions.

Just in case the party co-operation was setting too high a standard, Liberal MLA Gary McRobb took an odd jab at Hardy.

“I would just like to put on the record that we did ask the mover of the bill if he would move to the front row so as to be able to look him in the eye and speak in the microphone at the same time,” he said.

“To look at him now, I am away from the microphone. He wants our co-operation to support his bill, but he is not willing to return some of that co-operation so we can look him in the eye and ask the questions.”

And that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon’s debate.

While supporting the intent of the legislation and its approval, McRobb said it tramples on people’s civil liberties.

He proposed an amendment that would allow for ventilated smoking rooms in bars, but was defeated.

Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers introduced a motion that wouldn’t make managers or employees of public spaces responsible for removing someone not respecting the ban.

But they would still have to inform the patron about the ban and stop service.