By John Horgan, Leader, B.C. New Democrats
Providing for the safety and welfare of a child is one of the most important and sacred responsibilities any of us will ever take up. Every parent knows this.
When the government has to step in and provide that safety, the children involved are already especially vulnerable and the responsibility becomes that much greater.
But there have been three recent cases of Premier Christy Clark’s government utterly failing to provide basic safety and welfare for children in its care. In one, 21-month-old Isabella Wiens was found dead with unexplained injuries while in foster care. In another, a teenage First Nations woman named Paige bounced from one abusive situation to another, including a downtown Vancouver SRO, until being forced out of foster care at age 19. She was found dead shortly afterwards.
This month, we heard the second B.C. Supreme Court ruling in a horrific sexual abuse case, where the provincial government delivered four children back into the custody of their father, even as their mother – and the courts – desperately warned the Ministry of Children and Families that he was sexually abusive. While the children were in his custody, the man sexually abused his youngest child. The Supreme Court found that ministry workers displayed a “reckless disregard for their obligation to protect children.”
Those words are as hard to write as they are to read. But the bottom line is that the provincial government defied the courts and the mother and put four children in the custody of a sexual predator. That’s unconscionable.
In each of these cases, Premier Clark’s government has been shockingly uninterested in discovering exactly what happened, what went wrong, and who is responsible.
It took two years of questioning in the legislature, a second coroner’s report, and ultimately a lawsuit from Isabella Wien’s mother before Minister Stephanie Cadieux was willing to even review that case.
After Paige’s death, all that the Premier or Minister Cadieux could muster was a vague promise to do better.
In this most recent case, Minister Cadieux has asked former Deputy Minister Bob Plecas to do an internal ministry review of why these four children were sent back to their father. This review is totally inadequate. While there is no harm in having Bob Plecas take a general look at the ministry and its protocols, this review falls vastly short of what the family and the people of British Columbia are demanding – accountability.
We’ve seen this evasion tactic before. During the health firings scandal, which led to a man’s suicide, respected labour lawyer Marcia McNeil was tasked with reviewing the Health Ministry’s dismissal process. Ms. McNeil was not given the tools she needed and in the end she candidly reported back that key questions remained unanswered in the case. Mr. Plecas is being handed the same empty toolbox and told to report back to the minister only, not to the legislature or the public.
Strikingly, Mr. Plecas has been instructed not to examine any decisions made by the minister herself.
In British Columbia, we have a Representative for Children and Youth who acts independently and reports publicly to the legislature. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is a tough, experienced investigator and is intimately familiar with the ministry involved. I have no doubt that she would turn over every stone necessary in this case, not just the stones selected for her by Minister Cadieux. I am hopeful that Ms. Turpel-Lafond will take up this file and seek out the truth.