All that arguing wasn’t necessary after all. But no one in the Yukon’s legislative assembly got the memo.
The issue of helping the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identify children who died while attending the Yukon’s residential schools has been a hot topic in the legislature this sitting.
But according to the Yukon government’s own lawyers, it didn’t need to be. The lawyers, at least, knew that more than a month ago.
Premier Darrell Pasloski said as much during the final day of the sitting yesterday, when he announced that the Vital Statistics Act does not need to be changed to allow the commission access to individual death records.
At the same time, the premier criticized the Opposition for proposing legal changes at the last minute.
Until now, the government maintained repeatedly it would do whatever it could to help the commission, but it insisted that updating a rule which keeps a person’s cause of death private for 100 years was too complicated.
As a result, health officials publicly stated that the commission would be given only some Yukon data. What killed the students would only come as a statistical summary.
Now, the government has a legal opinion that says it can give the commission individual causes of death without changing the law at all.
The document is dated April 5 – about five weeks ago, confirmed cabinet spokesperson Elaine Schiman. “But it took some time for it to work its way through the bureaucracy,” she said.
Schiman couldn’t say for sure when the legal opinion made its way to cabinet, but she did say it was before the NDP’s bill was announced on Monday.
NDP justice critic Lois Moorcroft said the NDP found out about it on Tuesday.
News of the lawyers’ opinion only came to light after the NDP tabled a bill that would have exempted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from the 100-year rule.
In April, the legislature unanimously passed a motion urging the Yukon government “to take all necessary measures to expedite the release of data requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
Moorcroft said she felt the need to table her bill this week because the Yukon government hadn’t followed through with its promise.
“We trusted them to do their job, and they didn’t do their job, so we would do it for them,” she said.
The premier disputes that claim. He insists the commission was pleased with the data it was given. “What you are hearing now is that there certainly is the ability to provide more than what they were satisfied with earlier,” he said.
The actual legal opinion itself was not made public, but Pasloski said it relates to a section of the Vital Statistics Act that allows death records to be given out for a “reason that in the opinion of the registrar justifies the issuance of it.”
Pasloski criticized the Opposition for putting forward a bill like this during the last week of the session.
“They tabled the bill on the Monday afternoon of the last week, knowing full well that would not be enough time to allow this to go through. That is my disappointment,” he said.
“When the (Health and Social Services) minister stated in early April that we were not going to table an amendment to the Vital Statistics Act for the TRC, they had many weeks where they could have tabled that bill to allow the government to do the due diligence it needs to do.”
He insists the government likely would have supported the bill amending the act for the TRC even if it was unnecessary and only as a “symbolic gesture.”
Officials would have needed the appropriate amount of time to do the necessary consultations, he said.
Had the Vital Statistics Act been changed, it would have been the second time this sitting.
The same piece of law was quickly amended to reflect the needs of same sex parents after a Whitehorse couple filed a human rights complaint.
It’s not clear what type of consultation took place prior to those changes.
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