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February 24, 2010 permalink
Rallies in support of bill 93 may be sidestepped by proroguing parliament, ending consideration of the bill.
Children’s Aid oversight move faces setback
WATERLOO REGION — A local group pushing for additional oversight of Children’s Aid Societies will soon be facing another setback.
Groups of parents and supporters have held several public protests in the past few months in Kitchener and across the province urging MPPs to pass Bill 93. Another rally is planned for Monday in Cambridge.
But the private members bill, which would allow the province’s Ombud to investigate Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario, could die before it reaches second reading when the Liberal government pulls the plug on this session of government after the Vancouver Olympics.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday the Ontario legislature would prorogue next week for a four-day weekend.
The Ontario legislature will shut down Thursday, March 4, and return Monday, March 8, with the throne speech to begin a new session.
Eleven of the 146 bills that have not received royal assent may be carried forward to the next session, but Bill 93 isn’t among them.
“It’s going to have to start the whole process over again,” said NDP leader, Angela Horwath, who brought forward the bill in June 2008. “Sometimes part of bringing these bills forward is to try and put pressure on the government. They become a bit of a lightning rod for people who are trying to create that change. This is what Bill 93 has done.”
Bill 93 has been a rallying point for groups fighting for more accountability and transparency in the organizations that attend to child welfare.
Ontario is the only province in the country that uses an independent, not-for-profit model for its 53 Children’s Aid Societies. Each agency has a local board and is reviewed by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
That model, as opposed to one run centrally by the government, ensures that each agency is accountable to the communities they serve, said Paris Meilleur, spokesperson for Children and Youth Services minister Laurel Broten.
Currently, the Children’s Aid Societies fall under a category of institutions beyond the reach of the province’s ombud — along with hospitals, police, school boards, universities, municipalities and long-term care facilities.
Ombud André Marin said in his 2008-2009 report there were 429 complaints about Children’s Aid made to his office that year and “we are forced to turn away,” those complainants. According to Marin’s report, many felt they weren’t able to challenge Children’s Aid given the cost of lawyers and the fact that the agency had publicly funded legal representation.
Alison Scott, executive director of Family and Children’s Services of Waterloo Region, said the agency isn’t opposed to appropriate oversight, but there are several mechanisms in place — including the court process, the Child and Family Services Review Board, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and an internal complaints system — already to ensure complaints and concerns are addressed.
“For every level of accountability, it adds an administrative requirement and that really takes away from the time we’re able to spend with the children and families in the community,” she said. “I think that the internal mechanisms are designed to protect clients. I feel they do that.”
The review board has a specific legislative mandate to hear complaints that are based on procedures of Children’s Aid Societies, including if the agency failed to provide a response to a complaint or if something wasn’t accurately recorded. Marin points out in his report that the process is restrictive and his office received 10 complaints about the board itself last year.
Tanya Koch of Kitchener has attended every rally she could to push for more accountability after her own battle with Family and Children’s Services that eventually resulted in her file being closed. She said the current complaints process is complicated and frustrating given that the first person you need to address is sometimes the person you’re complaining about
“By the time that whole process has gone through, you’re sitting there scratching your head thinking, ‘How many times to I have to make the same complaint before it gets addressed?’” she said. “To have someone like the ombud, who is already doing probation officers and post offices etc., he’s used to dealing with complaint processes and it would make it so much easier.”
Horwath acknowledged that there are several review processes in place, but pointed out they’re all still internal to the government. Ontario needs independent oversight of these agencies, she said, adding she’ll likely reintroduce the bill if it’s wiped from the list.
“Often times, families are concerned that their voices are not being taken seriously when it comes to questioning some of the decisions that are being made and the authority that is being used to make decisions,” she said. “From my perspective, this is a change that is long past due. It should have happened a long time ago.”
Rev. Dorian Baxter, the Newmarket-based Archbishop of the Federation of Independent Anglican Churches of North America who has helped organize many of the rallies, said they’ll continue to stage public demonstrations and call for further oversight even if the bill is killed by prorogation.
Baxter, who also the founder of the Court Watch Canada program that helps parents navigate Children’s Aid, said he’s heard countless stories of families who have struggled through the system and felt they had no where to turn. He said there needs to be an independent body “with teeth” overseeing the agencies that can hold them accountable.
The “prorogation delay is not even a hiccup,” he said. “We will pick up the pieces, patiently put them back together and march forward ... It is only a matter of time and time is on our side.”
Source: The Record
Addendum: It is a done deed. The provincial parliament has been prorogued, to be recalled next week. By this act the government has eliminated consideration of awkward bills, including bill 93, without any requirement for MPP's to stick their neck out and vote them down.
Current session at Queen's Park prorogued
Paper flew in the Ontario legislature on Thursday as the current session ended and the house was prorogued.
It prompted a rare paper slide, where reporters mark the end of the session by throwing papers over the edge of the gallery to the floor of the chamber.
The slides have become rare because governments usually prorogue when elected members aren't sitting.
It won't be a long break, as a new session opens Monday with a speech from the throne setting out the government's agenda.