Establishment of National Commission on Children and Youth

Hon. Jim Munson: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I recognize he may not have an answer for me today, but maybe he can show the government’s intentions in this regard.

Mr. Speaker and fellow colleagues, we all know that most Canadian children are healthy, have access to health care and education, and are being raised by caring families and communities. Outside of this mainstream reality, though, there are millions of children whose basic rights are being denied, ignored and violated. Particularly, they are Aboriginal children, children living in poverty and those with disabilities. These are the most vulnerable people within our population.

Their struggles do show us, Mr. Leader, that Canada is failing to fulfill its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children’s rights are for all children. As you may or may not know, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly called for the creation of a national commissioner for children and youth, and our former Minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler, along with Minister Marc Garneau, have both sponsored private members’ bills on the other side to establish this position. UNICEF and other organizations specializing in children’s rights, including a council representing nine provincial and two territorial children and youth advocates, also believe a national commissioner would be instrumental in improving equality among Canadian children.

I have two questions for you, Mr. Leader of the Government in the Senate. Where does the government stand on establishing a national commissioner on children and youth to independently represent and give a voice to, and ensure that policies, laws and social programs accommodate the interests of, our most vulnerable citizens?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question, as well as for his advocacy on this issue. I will consult with the government and be happy to respond to his question.

Senator Munson: I thank you for that.

I have a supplementary question. I just want to emphasize that here in the Senate, collectively — and this is how the Senate can work and does work well — when you do sit on the Human Rights Committee, or other committees, you work with like- minded senators on these issues that really matter and that sometimes they don’t have enough time to pay attention to on the other side.

We like to think we’re one of the greatest countries in the world, but we do have our issues in dealing with children. We haven’t lived up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sometimes people don’t like to hear that, but it’s true, if you listen to the evidence from advocates.

As you’re considering that, Mr. Leader, would the government consider creating this position as a means to, among other goals, fulfill its promises to children under federal jurisdiction? I speak here, of course, of Canada’s Aboriginal children.

Senator Harder: I note the supplementary to the original question and will include it in my response.