The Honourable Landon Pearson, O.C.

Honourable senators, today is a day to commemorate two significant milestones in social progress. It has been 25 years since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was released to the world; and it is also the anniversary of A Canada Fit for Children: Canada’s plan of action in response to the May 2002 United Nations Special Session on Children. Time flies. It has been 10 years since Senator Landon Pearson submitted this plan affirming our country’s commitment to making children and families a national priority.

I often wonder what my experiences would have been in my early days as a senator if they had not overlapped with Landon’s time in the Senate. It was after all Landon, the original “children’s senator,” who dragged me reluctantly into the Senate, so to speak, and engaged me in children’s issues. I had thought my focus would be disability, but Landon, who can be so persuasive and it seems always right, encouraged me to embrace the importance of heightening public recognition of the well-being and rights of children, including those with disabilities.

I will have the pleasure of seeing Landon this afternoon at a panel discussion and reception at the Landon Pearson Resource Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights at Carleton University. This is to mark the anniversary of important children’s rights events, and it is also an opportunity to find out how Canada and the world are faring in living up to our obligations to young people.

Landon is about speaking truth, so I am sure she and others on hand will elaborate on the findings of the UNICEF report The State of the World’s Children 2013, which shows that Canada is falling short of its anticipated progress.

While we have over the years acquired more and more knowledge about children with disabilities — for instance, the capacity of civil society and governments to respond to identified needs — it is inadequate. Key players need the work together to address challenges, but without reliable support from government they’re unable to coordinate their activities and form coalitions.

There is also the “continuing failure with respect to Aboriginal children.” According to Landon: “We have to understand how to restore strength into Aboriginal families. If we can do that, we can begin turning the difficulties in these children’s lives around.”

One of the greatest challenges in realizing our goals is social media, which neither the convention nor Canada’s action plan incorporate because social media is such a recent phenomenon. Though social media enables us to easily connect and share information, it also has negative implications such as cyberbullying and the erosion of young people’s abilities to communicate face to face with families and peers.

Research has shown that we can’t legislate the problems away. Young people have not developed judgment about what is appropriate or inappropriate to share online. What all of us, but especially children, need is greater understanding of social media.

These and other crucial issues will be addressed by those participating in tonight’s panel, including Landon Pearson and Carleton’s Dean of Arts and Sciences, who will discuss A Canada Fit For Children. In the meantime, I would like to recognize Landon as a very special person. She is living proof that there is life after the Senate. She will be 84 this year. She is Canada’s voice for children, and to paraphrase an old Beatles song: Will you still need me when I’m eighty-four? The answer is a resounding yes, Landon.