National Commissioner for Children and Youth

Honourable senators, the time feels right to renew discussions and action on the creation of a national commissioner for children and youth.

Children are the most vulnerable segment of any population. They depend on adults for their education, nutrition, safe water, housing, community services and protection. They do not vote or participate in the political process. They lack a voice in decisions affecting them.

Honourable senators, in our 2007 report called Children: The Silenced Citizens, the Standing Senate Committee Human Rights explained that by signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Canadian government committed to working “. . . diligently towards effective implementation of that treaty at home.”

Human rights apply to all children at all times, without exception.

What do I see in the hardship and injustice in the lives of Canada’s indigenous children and youth? Or the lives of young people with disabilities? Or the more than 1 million Canadian children living in poverty? I see evidence that Canada is falling short of its obligations to our youngest citizens.

The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights has recommended that Parliament establish a national commissioner for children and youth with real influence and responsibilities, including monitoring progress, investigating complaints, raising awareness and working with provincial and territorial counterparts.

Honourable senators, the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates has written a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau with the same recommendation. Two Liberal members of Parliament have previously introduced private members’ bills to establish this position. But before dying on the Order Paper, these bills received strong support.

Yesterday, Marc Garneau, the Minister of Transport, was here talking about his portfolio. Before that, it was his private member’s bill that he wanted to get passed, so I am sure we have strong support on the other side.

According to UNICEF Canada:

Our youngest citizens need an independent voice at the highest level to make sure they’re not at the end of the line when it comes to deciding on policy, programs, laws and budgets.

I am pleased again to lend my voice to the mounting call for a national commissioner for children and youth.

Honourable senators, I hope you and other parliamentarians on the Hill, and especially the new senators who are with us, join us to be part of this new initiative. Stay tuned; more will be coming. I will keep after this, along with disabilities and you name it. We will never stop. I won’t stop for five years and four months at least, when I retire, because I love it here.

It is so important, honourable senators, to give children a voice. We have to do that; it is our moral responsibility. I hope that you and other parliamentarians on the Hill join in the necessary discussions and actions for realizing this goal.