Reverse the closure of OUR Child Advocate's Office!
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On the morning of November 15, 2018, the Government of Ontario announced that they are repealing the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act. This came as a surprise and a shock to many stakeholders (people with lived expertise, organizations, professionals, and also the Provincial Advocate himself - as he learned through the media along with the rest of Ontario) that the office would be demolished/closed down. The decision to close the office came with no notice, no consultation, and essentially no transparency with how decisions were made. Ontario Child Advocate (OCA) Office, formerly Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (OPACY), is an independent office of the legislature that deals primarily with oversight, advocacy, and investigations relating to systems involving marginalized and oppressed demographics. Who are the vulnerable children and young people the OCA is mandated to represent? Children and young people accessing services or involved with the child welfare system, children's mental health, youth criminal justice system, provincial schools for persons who are deaf and schools for persons who are blind, persons who are First Nations/Indigenous, and persons (dis)abilities.
All young people under the age of 18 have rights. Canada signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, and ratified it in 1991. Repealing legislation equates to taking away child rights - once again, Canada signed and ratified the UNCRC, and it is one of the only counties in the world without a national children’s strategy.
The Provincial Government also revealed that in OCA Office’s place, the Ombudsman will oversee complaints from members of the community. This is problematic as Ontario's Ombudsman is a complaint-driven mechanism, where-as the Ontario Child Advocate’s Office is Rights-Based and does important prevention and intervention work, and elevates the voices of Ontario's most vulnerable children. The office also does specific work with Indigenous communities and employs indigenous persons operationalizing culturally-specific lens (there is an office in Thunder Bay as well).
Repealing this important legislation, instead of strengthening it, will jeopardize the safety, health and well-being of children and strip them of their ability to be heard and affect change. That is nearly 13,000 constituents / children of the government who now have no way to hold their “parents” (the Province, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Children’s Aid Societies, youth criminal justice institutions, appointed guardians, etc.) accountable. Stakeholders demand accountability and transparency from the provincial government regarding the rationale for repealing the legislation which gives power to the advocate and essentially demolishes the OCA’s Office.
We hope that Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, will initiate a Judicial Review which the judge will favour. And when this occurs, the court process needs to be transparent with the public; and in doing so, this will be a sign that the provincial government is accountable to Ontario’s children and young people, as well as taxpayers.
If the Ontario government continues with their decision to repeal the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, Ontario is one of the largest provinces and yet, will be one of the very few provinces without an independent advocate in Canada. This is a fundamental violation of the UNCRC. Young people who would have thrived with the help of the office, now face additional risks due to lack of services. The ramifications of this decision, cannot be overstated. Young people from the Child Welfare system are already over-represented in homeless populations, in youth criminal justice systems, in under-educated demographics, and unemployed populations. The financial and human costs of these pipelines is monumentally larger than the apparent cost-saving measure of scrapping the Advocate’s Office; for which no rationale aside from finding efficiencies was provided. These alleged efficiencies (for which we have been given no data and evidence) come at the expense of the provisionary protective and participatory rights of young people in Ontario.
We, along with countless other leaders and advocates, worked tirelessly alongside the advocate to push for paradigm shifts and changes; and the repealing of the legislation will dismantle a lot of that work. Ontario will be taking considerable steps backward in time, and place the lives of Ontario's children at heightened risk, silencing the voices of vulnerable children, and perpetuate young folks falling through the gaps.
What we, as stakeholders want:
1) We are asking the Ontario Government to reconsider this deplorable decision which puts Ontario’s children at great risk.
2) We would like to see a Judicial Review and injunctions.
3) We would like the Provincial Government to have a third party carry out consultations with persons who are, and were, affected by the systems, and other stakeholders about the decision to repeal the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act.
4) A formal apology to Ontario’s most vulnerable children, young people, and alumni for tabling such a devastating decision.
5) We are urging the Ontario Government to #KeepOCA/#KeepOPACY!
1) We urge the Federal Government to implement a rights-based national children's strategy in consultation with stakeholders and leaders like ourselves.
Cheyanne Ratnam, First Voice Advocate (@cheyratnam)
Brittany Herbold, First Voice Advocate (@brittanyherbs)
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