Children’s Commissioner

Hon. Jim Munson: I thank the leader for taking my question as notice, but today they are asking the questions and I think they would like to have some answers.

There is a lot of talk, but there are certain facts. Compared to other developed countries, Canada has a lower rate of adoption, more children living in poverty, less invested in early childhood development, and 50 per cent of children with disabilities lack access to proper aid.

If that is not alarming enough, we are failing our Aboriginal youth in almost every aspect and doing little to protect children from violence.

Many groups in this country, including UNICEF Canada and the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, expect this third official review to highlight serious failings and, in certain cases, outright violations of responsibility to our children.

If we look at examples, we have Ashley Smith who entered the criminal youth justice system. When she was 13 she threw apples at a mailman and was incarcerated in a youth facility, but her behaviour, linked to mental illness, led to a transfer to an adult system where, as we know, she ultimately died at the age of 18.

Then there is Omar Khadr, whose case and rights have been defended in this very chamber by Senator Dallaire.

Why have important recommendations from Canada’s last review in 2003 not been implemented? Why, as we suggested then, and as Senator Andreychuk agreed with, do we not yet have a children’s commissioner, at the very least?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I thank the honourable senator. I will, as I said in my first response, find out about the report and where it is, as well as the response to the report.

Senator Munson paints a bleak picture of children in Canada, which I do not think most reasonable people would find believable.

Obviously, the case of Ashley Smith was a tragic event, which has been well aired in this place. However, to suggest that somehow or other this government and this country are not doing everything we can to improve the livelihood and the betterment of our children is one of those statements, as I said to Senator Peterson yesterday, that is just not to be believed.

Senator Munson: I have a further supplementary question: Why does the leader never answer the question? It is a simple question, and it was approved by our Human Rights Committee, with Senator Andreychuk and a whole bunch of us working together. We recommended, many years ago, that this country should have a children’s commissioner. The question was: Why do we not yet have a children’s commissioner? We had a long time to study this matter. Just answer the question.

Senator LeBreton: I will give a very good answer. Many recommendations come out of the Senate and the House of Commons. That is what they are — recommendations. The government responds to all reports of the Senate and the House of Commons and considers the recommendations. The fact that a recommendation has been made does not automatically mean it will be implemented.

It was a recommendation. All I can say to the honourable senator is that if any government implemented every recommendation that was made to it, there would be quite a hefty price tag. I do not know who would pay for it all.

Senator Munson: The Senate did great work on the Mental Health Commission, and the leader worked with Senator Kirby closely. That recommendation is financially costly but morally and ethically does not cost very much. Do our children not deserve as much respect?

Senator LeBreton: I believe that this question was asked by the honourable senator before. I believe I took it as a delayed answer. I believe we actually answered this question for him last February. Maybe he does not read his mail, but the answer we gave last February stands today.

Senator Munson: There are two issues — answering the question and implementing the recommendation — and two different answers. Why will the leader not sit down with others in her cabinet and take a serious look at this? Delayed answers and that sort of thing are hogwash. Why does she not just take a look at this serious recommendation? It came from the Senate, and maybe — just maybe — it will look good for her government.

Senator LeBreton: Again, it was a serious recommendation and serious consideration was given to it. The honourable senator was provided an answer last February.