It turns out that “all necessary measures” means something different to the Yukon Party than it does to the Opposition NDP.
Earlier this month the Yukon Legislative Assembly 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.” The commission is currently seeking information from the provinces and territories about First Nations children who may have died while attending residential schools.
But Yukon’s current Vital Statistics Act does not allow the territory to release someone’s cause of death until 100 years after they have died, making it the most restrictive law of its kind in the country.
The NDP says the government must now change that law to meet the commitment of the motion, which was tabled by Kevin Barr, NDP MLA for Mount Lorne – Southern Lakes.
“This government has the power and, more importantly, the responsibility to change the law when it is in the public interest,” said Justice critic Lois Moorcroft on Thursday. “What is necessary to get the full information required by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an amendment to the act.”
The government could either directly amend the section of the law about releasing cause-of-death records, or it could give the territory’s information and privacy commissioner the power to override that law on a matter of public interest.
But the government won’t be doing either any time soon, said Health Minister Doug Graham.
He responded that the government has already gone to great lengths to provide the information requested by the commission.
“Under the law, we have given all of the information we possibly could,” he said. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has in fact provided us in writing a document that states exactly that. We’ve gone out of our way to make sure that everything that we could possibly present has been given to them.”
A change to the Vital Statistics Act would take time, he said.
“It’s an act that has an impact on several other pieces of legislation throughout the government and changes to the act cannot be undertaken quickly, we found, or with reckless abandon.”
The government will not move to change the law as it relates to releasing cause-of-death data this sitting, said Graham.
However, the government has committed to amend the Vital Statistics Act on a separate issue that also came to light earlier this month.
It has agreed to move quickly to change the law so that same-sex parents are not treated in a discriminatory way when recording the names of parents on a birth certificate.
Under the current law, if a woman conceives using artificial insemination, a male partner would be the assumed legal parent, but a female partner would have to first adopt the child before her name would be recorded on the birth certificate.
That unequal treatment is in violation of Yukon’s Human Rights Act, and the government has pledged a change to the rules before the end of the spring sitting.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at firstname.lastname@example.org