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Child Advocate Blocked

November 29, 2008 permalink

Ontario's child advocate Irwin Elman has been blocked in efforts to carry out his statutory duties. While Deb Matthews, Minister of Children and Youth Services, publicly proclaims her cooperation, she has privately stonewalled Mr Elman, blocking his access to required records. He has begun a court action to force disclosure of information in the case of a child beaten by police.



Children's advocate taking province to court

Seeking information in alleged beating of youth in custody

In an unprecedented move, Ontario's child advocate is taking the government to court seeking information he says is crucial to the investigation of a youth allegedly beaten by guards while in custody.

The youth, who remains in a detention centre, called the office of Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth, for help several months ago.

But Elman said he's not getting the information he's entitled to under the law from the office of Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews.

"I have felt it necessary to take the step of testing our authority in court," Elman wrote in a letter to opposition MPPs.

Elman will be making an application in court to have the information released. A date has been set for Dec. 9.

Elman was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Matthews's office said they are on track to give the information Elman seeks on the case to his office next week.

Matthews's press secretary, Laura Dougan, said in this particular case the advocate asked for information on Nov. 5 and since that time they have been compiling it while adhering to privacy requirements in the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

"The ministry is on track to have the information sent to the advocate next week," she said. "It is the ministry's desire to be as open and transparent as possible, while respecting the privacy provisions intended to protect the privacy of our children and youth."

Opposition MPPs were outraged Elman feels he had no choice but to take legal action.

"To suggest he's an advocate where he doesn't have the power to investigate complaints is dishonest and a betrayal of children's interests," said NDP justice critic Peter Kormos. "This sad example is a complete contradiction of Premier Dalton McGuinty's claims of transparency and openness."

It is the first time the child advocate, who reports directly to the Legislature in the same manner as Ombudsman André Marin, has sought legal action against the ministry of children and youth. The advocate's job was taken out of the children's ministry a year ago to give the position more independence.

"After all the messages the government puts out on having an independent voice, this is a shock," said Progressive Conservative MPP Julia Munro (York-Simcoe).

"He has just been stonewalled."

The letter shows Elman's clear frustration over his dealings in a number of cases with the ministry of children and youth headed by Matthews, who is also responsible for women's issues and poverty reduction.

Elman wrote he is not getting any responses despite "repeated requests" for information such as serious occurrence reports, child fatality case summary reports, society internal child death reviews and investigation reports.

"I have gone so far as to formally ask the ministry for their position on what information they feel I am entitled to. I have not had a response."

The tipping point for Elman in his dealings with the ministry seems to be over the search for information about a case concerning a "young person" in custody who called his office after he was allegedly beaten by guards.

Suzan Fraser, lawyer for the provincial advocate, would not elaborate on the age or sex of the youth.

Source: Toronto Star

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