The irony of Premier Christy Clark showing up at the annual Pan Pacific Christmas Wish Breakfast on Dec. 14 for one of her last 2016 photo ops cannot be ignored. She came to throw some items on the pile of donations for the Vancouver Christmas Bureau, so that Santa Claus can put smiles on the faces of B.C.’s needy boys and girls.
This appearance came near the end of another year that Clark’s BC Liberal government let down the most vulnerable children in the province who need more than a toy, but protection from abuse and neglect.
Clark, who was the Minister of Children and Family Development for nine months in 2004, happily bid adieu to her nemesis, Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.
Perhaps the province’s most-trusted watchdog completed her eight-year term on Oct. 24 and was ushered out the door with a news release from Minister Stephanie Cadieux, whose snarky statement referred to Turpel-Lafond without an honorific.
Clark cancelled the fall sitting of the Legislature so her caucus could spend more time fundraising and campaigning, so there was no successor in place. A bipartisan committee finally recommended on Nov. 15 the hiring of Bernard Richard. The former New Brunswick ombudsman and child and youth advocate became B.C.’s acting representative on Nov. 27. His appointment will be affirmed when the Legislature returns in February.
Turpel-Lafond, a Saskatchewan judge on-leave, had focused her efforts on raising the standard of living for aboriginal children in provincial care. Her signature report was the 2015 investigation into the tragedy of Paige Gauchier, a 19-year-old aboriginal woman who aged out of care and died of a drug overdose on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 2013 after a life of abuse and neglect. It spawned an RCMP investigation into first responders and frontline government workers to determine whether they failed their statutory duty to protect Gauchier from abuse and neglect.
The RCMP’s B.C. Major Crime Special Project Unit spent 16 months investigating 26 incidents between July 2009 and May 2012. Its probe pinpointed a Jan. 22, 2011 incident in Delta in which Gauchier, 17 at the time, was found at a gas station, drunk and suffering a bloodied nose from being beaten by six girls.
B.C. Ambulance Service paramedics and Delta Police did not report the incident to provincial child protection officials. Gauchier refused a ride to hospital and was sent by taxi to her uncle’s house in Vancouver instead.
The RCMP recommended charges against the main police investigator and two paramedics for failing to report a child in need of protection. But the Criminal Justice Branch rejected the report and decided there was no substantial likelihood of convention from the Delta incident. Case closed.
When the incident happened, the Delta Police Department was under the command of Chief Jim Cessford. The retired Cessford was appointed a WorkSafeBC director in 2015 and, in September, lost to Delta Coun. Ian Paton for the BC Liberal nomination in Delta South.
Instead of simply implementing all of Turpel-Lafond’s recommendations from “Paige’s Story,” Clark sought to undermine the watchdog.
At the BC Liberal cabinet’s September 2015 meeting with the province’s First Nations chiefs, Clark named Grand Chief Edward John the special advisor on aboriginal children’s welfare. She gave the one-time NDP Children and Family Development minister until the end of March 2016 to earn his $100,000 plus $25,000 expense contract and tender a report.
Documents released under Freedom of Information show that the ink was barely dry on John’s Sept. 8, 2015 contract before the first of many amendments. It was modified in October 2015 to give him a $10,000 raise and it named him as a delegate of the director under the Child, Family and Community Service Act. John also got an indemnity agreement, a subcontract for the First Nations Summit and loan of a laptop computer.
Although he was paid in the range of a deputy minister, John has many other gigs. He is a member of a United Nations committee on indigenous culture and language who also attended last year’s UN climate change conference in Paris. He is also a key member of the Assembly of First Nations, the coalition of tribes that Clark wants to say yes to her program of industrial development, like LNG plants and pipelines.
With time running out in March, he was granted a delay to the end of July to deliver his final report. Near the end of June, it was delayed yet again, until the end of September.
The contract’s deliverables included monthly reports to Minister Stephanie Cadieux, but the only monthly reports produced were calendars of activities and notes about those activities. No preliminary recommendations were included. The Sept. 9, 2015 Project Status Report shows 52 meetings since John began, but the draft report was delayed with no explanation: “Writer has been working on the report but it remains an outstanding deliverable.”
It eventually did get done and, in a highly cynical move, the Clark government waited until Nov. 21 — with Turpel-Lafond out of office and Richard yet to begin his tenure — to finally release John’s report with a ceremony/news conference at Musqueam.
Clark exploited the occasion to pose for photos in front of John Lehmann, the former Globe and Mail, award-winning photojournalist hired by the BC Liberal Party re-election campaign committee.
John’s report, titled “Indigenous Resilience, Connectedness and Reunification – From Root Causes to Root Solutions,” contains 85 recommendations to help keep families together and reduce the need for children and youth to be in care; encourage a better federal/provincial funding agreement; increase early intervention services and access to judicial services; and deploy more more ministry staff to First Nations communities.
Turpel-Lafond had repeatedly recommended similar themes during her numerous reports that she tendered during her eight years in office.
John’s 85th recommendation is for Clark to work with other premiers to develop a national action plan on aboriginal child welfare that meets UN and Canadian Human Rights standards and corresponds with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Don’t be surprised if such a meeting is already in the planning stages before the May 9, 2017 provincial election. But why should British Columbians trust electioneering Clark to do more than wink and wiggle for the cameras and spout platitudes yet again?
B.C.’s most vulnerable children deserve better.
— Christy Clark (@christyclarkbc) December 13, 2016