UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Honourable senators, children in Canada are generally doing well. They have food, shelter and access to world-class health care and education. They are being raised by nurturing families and communities. Their prospects for promising futures are excellent. Unfortunately, we only need to turn our attention to what exists beyond these mainstream realities to recognize shameful indications of Canada’s failure to uphold and advance the human rights of our most vulnerable citizens, Canadian children.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear. Children’s human rights apply to all children at all times, without exception. That most children in Canada are thriving has no bearing on the living conditions and experiences of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Aboriginal children, for example, trail the rest of Canada’s children in virtually every aspect of well-being, including family income, educational attainment, water quality, infant health, mental health and housing.

Jordan’s Principle is a child-first principle created to ensure First Nations children have equal and fair access to government services such as education, welfare and health care. It is named after Jordan River Anderson, a five-year-old First Nations boy who died tragically as a result of not receiving proper medical attention while government officials for two years went back and forth over who should pay for his home care. When Parliament passed the private member’s motion supporting Jordan’s Principle in 2007, it essentially made a promise to our First Nations population and all of us.

Earlier this month, the Assembly of First Nations, UNICEF Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society, McGill University and the University of Michigan released a report assessing how the principle is being applied. The findings are distressing. In the words of one spokesperson for the report “. . . government buck-passing continues and so does the suffering.” Lack of federal leadership; ongoing jurisdictional banter; budget cuts and funding shortages for organizations devoted to children’s rights; Canada’s failure to implement — not just ratify, not just sign — the UN convention within domestic law; and low public awareness and understanding of children’s rights.

The UN convention provides us with a clear framework for positive action and ways to handle obstacles like these. Advancements are being realized through provincial governments and civil society organizations. We can draw from them, too.

Honourable senators, we need to begin stirring up the political and social will to make required changes. Canadians deserve to understand that inaction is equivalent to choosing inequality and injustice. Let’s put our shoulder to the wheel and take up this challenge; and I know many of you will join me. Let’s begin today to put our minds and hearts to this cause. Let us cooperate and act in a way that is worthy of our children.