Protection of Children’s Rights

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Honourable senators, last Sunday was National Child Day, as sanctioned by the United Nations in its affirmation of the rights of the child. Of course, this coming Friday, with Senator Cochrane and Senator Mercer, we will host National Child Day I think for the sixth or seventh year, following the guidance of former Senator Landon Pearson.

Earlier this month, a report entitled Right in Principle, Right in Practice was released by the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children. Unfortunately, honourable senators, Canada received a failing grade. The government funds many initiatives that benefit children and youth, but, as Kathy Vandergrift, chair of the coalition, noted, Canada lacks a coherent policy framework for children.

Can the Leader of the Government in the Senate tell us what is being done to protect the rights and well-being of Canadian children?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, naturally, I find some of the comments in the report inconsistent with the activities of our government.

Whether it is on the issue of child poverty, health-related issues with regard to the education of children in our Aboriginal communities, Canada’s major commitment to CIDA through the Maternal and Child Health Initiative around the world or the great efforts the government has undertaken in Haiti, I do not believe the record is a fair assessment of what the government has done in all aspects of the rights of the child. I do not agree with the findings of the report.

Senator Munson: The report did offer several sobering points for reflection. It cited figures from a comparative study on the health of Canada’s children. Among 30 industrialized countries, we rank twenty-fourth for infant mortality, twentieth for child poverty and twenty-second for health and safety.

Honourable senators, this is not acceptable. What is the government doing to improve this record that the leader just talked about?

Senator LeBreton: I mentioned in my first response that I do not believe the report fairly or accurately reflects the considerable efforts the government has undertaken in many areas, not only with regard to the health and well-being of our children and the safety of our children in Canada, but around the world. The honourable senator asks for me to respond. I will be happy to provide him with a very long list of the government’s considerable accomplishments. I do not accept the premise of the report that was filed. I believe it was biased against our government. I do not think it accurately reflects what the government has actually done in this area, in the country and around the world.

Senator Munson: I have a further supplementary question. There is one issue that the leader could perhaps take off that list. It is an idea that came out of the Senate under Senator Andreychuk and those of us on the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights with Senator Jaffer. The report recommends the need for both systemic changes and action on issues affecting vulnerable groups of children. We have noted that it calls for Canada to enact legislation enshrining the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child with a National Children’s Commissioner. We had the commissioner from the United Kingdom here a few years ago. This was a recommendation that came out of our own Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.

Since the Leader of the Government in the Senate has been in this position for six years and has seen this report, can she explain why the government has not implemented this particular recommendation?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, the government receives many good reports and valid recommendations from the Senate. The government takes all of the recommendations into consideration. In this particular case, Senator Munson, I believe — whether it is the Department of Health, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, CIDA, or HRSDC — we have a stellar record of advancing the rights and well-being of children. This includes many of the things we have done with regard to tax measures and helping families through the tax system for making better and more secure lives for our children.

As I indicated to the honourable senator, I could go through all of my cards, pull several and read them into the record. I rather think the honourable senator would not want me to do that, so I will provide a written answer.

Senator Munson: I will pull out one card and ask the leader to answer my question specifically. Would she seriously consider establishing a national commissioner, or at least take a look at it, and offer some positive action for Canada’s children? The national commissioner is working in the United Kingdom. That is a specific question.

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I believe the government did respond to that question. I could be wrong.

In the present-day situation, the government has taken many measures and initiatives to advance the lives and well-being of our children. While some countries may have a commissioner for children, I believe many of the measures the government has already taken in a host of areas are where the real action takes place.

I will seek to secure that response if it is available — because I do believe we did deal with this — and respond by written answer.