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Law Protects Killers

May 12, 2007 permalink

Using the restrained language of the press, an editorial in the Edmonton Journal says that confidentiality laws let child protectors get away with murder. Children cannot be safe in state custody until confidentiality laws are abolished. A good start is to end confidentiality for dead children.



Law lets children die nameless

The Edmonton Journal

Friday, May 11, 2007

In a democratic society, individuals are not supposed to die anonymously.

The community's ability to know the names of the dead and how a citizen leaves this world is a fundamental difference between countries such as Canada and authoritarian states where people can simply disappear.

This is especially important when a person dies in the care of the state. That's how a community holds responsible public bodies to account; a fatality inquiry is the crucial vehicle.

But in Alberta, this principle has been compromised in a troubling way.

The province now prohibits publication of the name of any child who dies in foster care under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.

This week, for instance, a fatality inquiry began into the case of a 17-year-old who was killed when he jumped out of a social worker's car on the way to the boy's Spruce Grove group home.

The youth, known only as L.S., was made a permanent ward of the state at birth. As a result, he died nameless and will remain nameless in the community.

A sound argument can be made for protecting the identity of minors in care while a child is alive: for instance, to protect a child from teasing at school.

But when someone dies, that justification is no longer valid.

Indeed, refusing to disclose the name could be harmful.

What if others have helpful information about the person, but it does not not come to light because the identity was not made public?

Think of the six deaths which occurred in foster care in 2005-06.

According to the province, the names of these children cannot be disclosed. The Youth and Family Enhancement Act prohibits identifying publicly any child "who has come to the minister's or director's attention under this act or any information serving to identify the guardian of the child."

Although it's not clear why, the province interprets this protection to cover those who have died as well as the living.

The Criminal Code quite rightly protects the identity of victims of sex assault crimes. The name of the four-year-old girl at the centre of a current sex abuse trial cannot be published, for instance.

In that trial, a judge this week agreed to lift the publication ban on the name of the accused, Darcy Don Bannert, the boyfriend of the girl's mother.

Bannert has a different last name from the young victim and her mother, so there is no danger the girl will be identified.

Yet a provincial government lawyer at the court insisted to The Journal that Bannert's identity could not be be disclosed under the provincial act for fear of identifying the child's mother.

The impact of the province's Youth and Family Enhancement Act is far- reaching.

For instance, in a recent murder case, the province interpreted the law as prohibiting the press from asking the question about whether the victim had any involvement with children's services. One media outlet has been prosecuted for doing so.

The intent of the act is to protect young children from the stigma of being in foster care and to afford some privacy to the good-hearted foster parents who take care of them.

But in effect, the law compromises the community's ability to keep these agencies accountable.

We can't find out -- as we did with Richard Cardinal so many years ago -- if a dead child might have been in a series of foster homes.

Surely that's not what was intended.

The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act is too blunt an instrument. A community must be able to name the dead, tell their stories and be able to get a full accounting of how their public agencies operate.

Source: Edmonton Journal

Addendum: In later articles, we dubbed this the Alberta Kafka case.