2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Douglas Fir Committee Room
Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C.
Present: Joan McIntyre, MLA (Chair); Maurine Karagianis, MLA (Deputy Chair); Stephanie Cadieux, MLA; Marc Dalton, MLA; Mable Elmore, MLA; Douglas Horne, MLA; Leonard Krog, MLA; John Rustad, MLA; Nicholas Simons, MLA; Jane Thornthwaite, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 8:35 a.m.
2. The Chair facilitated Members' discussion of the meeting on child poverty, held May 21, 2010.
3. Resolved, that the Chair and Deputy Chair meet to review what we have heard, to review the mandate of the Committee, and to explore options for reporting to the Legislature. Further, that the Chair and Deputy Chair will report back to the full Committee at the earliest opportunity (J. Rustad, MLA).
4. The Committee recessed from 9:51 a.m. to 10:03 a.m.
5. The Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, provided a brief overview of the work of her office.
6. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee regarding the report titled: Honouring Christian Lee: No Private Matter: Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence (September 2009), and answered questions:
Office of the Representative for Children and Youth:
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Representative for Children and Youth
Jeremy Berland, Deputy Representative
John Greschner, Chief Investigator and Associate Deputy Representative
Cory Heavener, Director, Critical Injury and Death Reviews and Investigations
7. The Committee adjourned to the call of the Chair at 11:55 a.m.
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS
select standing committee on
children and youth
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Issue No. 7
Discussion of Presentations on Child Poverty
Office of the Representative for Children and Youth: Operational Update
Representative for Children and Youth Report: Honouring Christian Lee — No Private Matter: Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence
* Joan McIntyre (West Vancouver–Sea to Sky L)
* Maurine Karagianis (Esquimalt–Royal Roads NDP)
* Stephanie Cadieux (Surrey-Panorama L)
* Marc Dalton (Maple Ridge–Mission L)
* Douglas Horne (Coquitlam–Burke Mountain L)
* John Rustad (Nechako Lakes L)
* Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver–Seymour L)
* Mable Elmore (Vancouver-Kensington NDP)
* Leonard Krog (Nanaimo NDP)
* Nicholas Simons (Powell River–Sunshine Coast NDP)
* denotes member present
Josie Schofield (Manager, Committee Research Services)
Jeremy Berland (Deputy Representative, Office of the Representative for Children and Youth)
John Greschner (Office of the Representative for Children and Youth)
Cory Heavener (Office of the Representative for Children and Youth)
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (Representative for Children and Youth)
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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 2, 2010
The committee met at 8:35 a.m.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
J. McIntyre (Chair): Good morning, everyone. This is a meeting of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth. I'm Joan McIntyre, the Chair. I hope everybody has an agenda in front of them. We have an agenda of two main items. We're going to have just a committee discussion, sort of back and forth, deliberate on what we heard and what we saw from our meeting on child poverty on May 21, share observations.
Also, we have invited the Representative for Children and Youth here today for the second part of our meeting, where we will be reviewing her report, Honouring Christian Lee — No Private Matter: Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence, which was issued in the fall of 2009.
Also, I should say that the representative had asked and should feel free to give us a little update. Before she goes into that, she'd asked for five or ten minutes to just give us an update on the work of her office and maybe some forthcoming reports.
With that, I'd like to begin. We'll go to our item 1. If the committee will indulge me, too, I thought I'd just start off with a few thoughts. It was an interesting thing that we decided to undertake when we wanted to go really, in a sense, strictly beyond our terms of reference and beyond, I think, what the representative hoped we might be able to do.
I appreciate the committee delegating this issue to the Deputy Chair and me to sort out what we wanted to do. I think we ended up coming up with what I think is a very successful day, by all accounts. We've had positive feedback, but a great deal of work and thought behind the scenes went into forming the day. Hopefully, and certainly the feedback seems to indicate, we are taking this issue seriously.
We did go to effort on what the day would look like. We compiled a reading list which was quite extensive in terms of a literature search. We were helped by the Clerk's office on that, but others contributed to that. We also, as members, did our work. I think we ended up with a very interesting day.
As I said, we got positive feedback from both some members of the public and also the presenters. Kate kindly made sure that as a committee we thanked all the presenters. We got notes back from each of them that I think had really enjoyed the day, and it was interesting hearing what other people had to say. So I think, as I say, by all accounts, it was very successful.
I thought just before we get into this, I would review…. Just for the record, I wanted to name the seven people that we did hear from, and the fact that we did ask them to focus on three key areas. I thought we could at least use those areas that we identified as issues of interest to maybe help focus our discussion this morning.
We heard, in this order, from Dr. Evan Adams, who is with the B.C. government as an aboriginal physician. We heard from First Call, from Julie Norton and Steve Kerstetter and Dr. John Millar. We heard from Dr. Paul Kershaw, who is with HELP, the human early learning partnership at UBC. We heard from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Seth Klein, their executive director, spoke with us. From B.C. Healthy Living Alliance, Mary Collins, and she had with her Barb Kaminsky and Noelle Virtue. We also heard from Dr. Michael Prince, at UVic, and Dr. Carol Matusicky from Burnaby.
I think and hope that…. We covered off quite a cross-section. I think that, as I say, they themselves enjoyed it.
The three questions were: what are the systemic causes of persistent low incomes, and how do they affect families in British Columbia from one generation to the next, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike? Are existing methods of measurement accurate, suitable and relevant to British Columbia? Then the third question was: which reduction strategies appear to be successful or unsuccessful in other jurisdictions, and how do we best measure that success?
We had asked each of the speakers to focus on those areas. I think they did — some of them very specifically. Others, by dint of their comments, touched on those areas.
With that, I thought I would turn it over to the Deputy Chair, Maurine Karagianis, to maybe lead us off on some of this discussion.
Discussion of Presentations
on Child Poverty
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much, Joan. I would just like to say congratulations to all of us for the initiative for taking on the initiative of holding a poverty hearing and for engaging in the spirit of this being a bipartisan effort. I thought we all did that very well, so I think everybody deserves congratulations for that.
I think I'd like to talk a little bit about the body of work that we gathered in doing this, what we do with it and where we go from here. I'm hoping that the committee will engage in the same way — an open mind — that we engaged in how we conducted the poverty hearings.
The three questions that we posed to our presenters. I think they brought forward very interesting and very compelling information and, oddly enough, from all factions very similar information, very similar recommendations and, in some cases, very similar conclusions.
I think that we did begin to get at the root of the systemic causes of poverty — certainly lots of discussion on
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the way poverty can be measured, how it's measured and how relevant any of those measurements are. I was particularly caught by Michael Prince's story about Danny Williams saying: "No matter how you measure it, we've got a lot of poor people in our province, and it's not a good thing." I thought that for me, that really spoke very strongly to the fact that the measures are….
Maybe it's the work of academics and not necessarily, at this point, as relevant to parse out what measurement means what and what conflicts with what. The reality is: we know that poverty is a huge challenge in the province. I think the information that came forward showed us, in many ways, how deep it is not only in the traditionally expected demographic of poverty but more so in the new poverty of working poor, the growing crisis of aboriginal poverty and the dichotomy of jurisdictions that need to address that.
"What works in other provinces?" was one of the other questions that we asked our presenters, and I thought it was very interesting that all of the presenters kind of came around to saying: "Here's the favourite model that we see." Again, it goes back to the premise that we talked about that even small provinces are getting to the root of poverty regardless of what the measures may say, regardless of the conflict around how measures are perceived.
I guess for me…. In many ways, we didn't hear anything that we didn't already know. I've read many of these reports. I know that other members of the committee have read many of these reports. But I thought bringing it all together and tying it with kind of a whole diverse number of academics and of presenters from all political stripes with a whole variety of expertise….
I thought that we've now created a singular discussion point, I guess, on poverty. Where we go from here is, for me, the big challenge. What do we do with this information?
Maybe this is only the beginning of a discussion on poverty, not an end or a middle discussion. I'm not sure what the responsibility of this committee is around that. I'd like to explore that a little bit, so I'd be very interested to hear what other members of the committee think about what our responsibility is now that we've gathered all this work.
I guess the other thing is…. You know, we've informed the committee by going through this process, but part of our task here at this committee level is to inform the Legislature around issues that are specifically important to children and families in this province. How do we now take this body of information…? How do we talk about this? How do we take this to the next level? How do we inform the Legislature, with all the information that we've gathered, and help create that dialogue at that level?
It is really the beginning of a dialogue on poverty. The groundwork has been laid for some time here, around statistics, but now we have some very interesting and compelling recommendations.
We see what other provinces are doing. We have a really good opportunity here to use existing…. We're not creating a new poverty plan. We have some existing poverty planning from other provinces that could be very useful.
I would like to say: what becomes of this body of work? I don't want it to stop here. I don't want it to end, because I do go back to the fact that I think we should all congratulate ourselves on the work we've done. Our mandate is fairly restrictive as to what the committee was created for and what our powers are to take this work beyond it.
I'd like us to explore, again, in a really open way what we do with this work and how we make this an information package that goes forward to the Legislature in some form or other. Do we make it part of our reporting-out process that we attach this body of work that we've done? Is there a way for us to continue this dialogue in the future? Is there a way for us to help influence or encourage the Legislature to take on some of this work?
We heard from the presenters that all of the provinces that have taken steps now have put legislative structure in place to deal with that. Do we as individuals or collectively, as a committee, inform the Legislature on that and say that we'd like to see some work undertaken on that?
I'd like to talk about that because I do think this was informative. I thought it was compelling information. It gives us all kinds of impetus to move forward, and I hope that everyone else perceived it the same way. I'd like us to explore how we inform the bigger body — the Legislature, the government itself — on tackling this issue, and move it, like Danny Williams said, beyond all of the equivocation on measures or politics.
There are a lot of poor people here in our province, and as the Children and Youth Committee, I think we owe it to the province and to the constituents who have put some trust in this body to move this forward, to elevate this discussion and, hopefully, to influence the Legislature and the government to take some action in the future.
I hope everyone feels similarly, and I'd be fascinated to hear what others think.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Especially for viewers or listeners, I want to say that we as a committee do report to the Legislature and that we do have a written committee report, which I think is technically annually. The Deputy Chair and I talked about that probably this fall we will have been meeting since, I think, last November when we first got together with the new MLAs and formed a new committee. That is just for consideration. We already have that as a vehicle.
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With that, I heard Doug, I think, and others interested in speaking.
D. Horne: I agree wholeheartedly with many of the things that the Deputy Chair said. One of the things that was really good about our session was the fact that we moved from the academic discussion of the numbers and what the numbers mean to actually looking at the problems themselves, the solutions and what's working better than other things.
In dealing with people at people's level…. I know that in my own area we've been dealing with homelessness, and the difficulty is that when the discussion gets at a very high level, nothing happens for the people who are living in cardboard boxes.
I think one of the things that was nice about this discussion was that we talked about the measures but basically moved beyond the measures to practices that actually work. Going back to the Deputy Chair's comments on where we go from here, I would hope that this would form a good portion of our annual report to the Legislature.
I think that of the work we've done in the last year, we should all be very, very proud of this work, and this should be a good portion of that. Obviously, talk about all the other good work that the committee has done as well, but I think we have made some progress here.
I think the speakers we had were very, very good. It gave a wonderful cross-section of different views. Obviously, one of the areas that Dr. Adams comments on is the aboriginal population and the difficulties that they face. Within the grand scheme of things, that is a key issue and something that we probably have to focus on as well, specifically within the difficulties. I very much enjoyed the opportunity, and I truly think we should concentrate on this in our report. It's a good start. I think we should all feel good about the fact that we are moving down this road.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I'll start with Jane and Leonard.
J. Thornthwaite: Thanks, Deputy Chair, and thanks to everybody that's on the committee as well. I agree with what has already been said — that we should be really proud of what we've accomplished so far and to use it as a springboard to go further.
I was going to ask if the Chair could perhaps delineate for us what our mandate really is and what we truly can accomplish so that we're not spinning our wheels and wasting other people's time — if perhaps we had some guidance as to what the mandate of our committee is and what sorts of things we're looking for.
I support what has been said before. I really liked the opportunity to listen to what other people had said and all of the cross-section of the people who came to speak with us. We learned a lot, but as Maurine said, a lot of stuff we already knew. So I think it gets down to moving on what we do know and learning about what we don't know.
I was particularly taken by Dr. Kershaw — that it is not just one section of the population, for instance, that has vulnerable children going into the school system. It's all levels of the population and all income spectrums. So it's much, much wider and more complicated than the solutions would otherwise be.
I just thought I would throw it back maybe to the Clerk or the Chair and find out what we truly can do and what our mandate is, and start from there.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Maybe I'll interject and respond to that. Certainly, when the Deputy Chair and I looked at this, as I think I said in our introductory remarks…. Our focus really is vulnerable children and children at risk, and we deal as the conduit for the representative and her reports — receiving her reports.
The part of our official terms of reference that we used to go forward with the day that we decided to foster awareness was strictly…. I'll read from it. We are "empowered to foster greater awareness and understanding among legislators and the public of the B.C. child welfare system."
We did, in a sense, stretch a little bit beyond to go to this, as you say, when we realized that issues like low-income families struggling with these do involve working poor and involve those children who are not in care. But because of the attention on the issue, the organizations and the members of the public…. The representative, when she's reported to us, has said that issues like low incomes and families struggling and the issues of poverty do impact those children and make them more vulnerable or at risk.
We decided that it was in the spirit of fostering greater awareness for the public and for legislators that we would hold the day of meetings. That's the platform we used to go forward.
I hope that answers your question. As I mentioned, in terms of reporting, we obviously have our ability to report to the Legislature. We can decide how we want to do that.
L. Krog: You know, you get into public life to do something, I'd like to think. Contrary to the cynical view and all the reporting of late, it isn't just about building up a pension plan or spending government money willy-nilly because you like to do it. I think what this committee undertook was actually quite profound, and I want to congratulate the Chair and the vice-Chair for having done this.
I'm delighted, as I jokingly said during the course of the hearings…. To be able to sit in a room with a former
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Conservative cabinet minister and talk about the most successful poverty reduction plan in the country being instituted by a Conservative cabinet minister from what used to be the poorest child in Confederation — by Premier Danny Williams — tells me that we've come a long way.
I think what this committee has an opportunity to do if it has — I won't say the courage, necessarily, to do it — the will to do it, is to consider this matter, to perhaps consider further hearings, to not simply stop here, to not simply report out to the Legislature, but to encourage both sides of the House, and the independent member, to consider perhaps even recommending a further committee of the Legislature, asking that this committee be tasked with it specifically — to talk about developing a poverty reduction strategy for British Columbia.
Every time you hear from an expert or you talk to somebody or you listen to your colleagues, all of the presumptions, biases and prejudices that we all bring and create in the passage of our lives get challenged. One that, I think, Jane pointed out so well was Dr. Kershaw's suggestion. When you're dealing with children — and you can argue that that's where so many of our society's "problems," as we think of them, start — that children who are unprepared come from every class and every stratum in every community. It is not limited to what we think of as the poor in society.
I think this is a real opportunity, and I don't think we should turn it down, notwithstanding the legislative mandate that we've been given, that this committee's been given. You know what? It reminds me of something that one of the province's senior litigators who works in the Attorney's General's ministry said the other day at a civil rules course. He said that the job of a good advocate is to draw a line in the sand and then to get right up to that line.
Well, I'd like to think that we'd be prepared to get up to the line, to push our mandate a little bit and do something creative and important here as the signature not of the Liberal government or the New Democratic Party opposition, but of a group of people who were lucky enough to be elected to this Legislature and have had the opportunity to sit on this committee and want to do something important. I don't want go over the top, but I think we have an opportunity here. We should take it, and we should use it.
J. Rustad: I also want to give credit to the committee for the courage to go ahead with the hearings, to listen to that, because it is outside of our mandate, unfortunately. Our mandate is somewhat restrictive. I don't know how to proceed with that. I think if you look at the mandate, if you look at our tools, the only tool we have is to report out to the Legislature. That report can include what we've heard, but it also can include, perhaps, even some suggestions. I don't think it can include some recommendations, because quite frankly, even that is outside of our mandate. But there is maybe a little bit of wiggle room at that line.
Having said that, I think back to our first presenter. I'm a big fan of: if you're going to try to fix a problem, you've got to get at the root causes, what's causing the problem. Not to say that you shouldn't treat the symptoms, but you have to get at where the beginning of the symptom is, the cause of it.
Quite frankly, from my opinion — and I think we heard that in the presentation, although it was kind of an elephant in the room that nobody wanted to tackle, with First Nations — it's the Indian Act. It's the policies under Indian and Northern Affairs, which stem from the Indian Act. I think one of the things that needs to happen, quite frankly, is that that needs to go away. That's something that is far outside of our mandate, even as legislators in the province, let alone our committee, but I think that the federal government needs to look at that.
We have taken a First Nations population, and we have had quite a social experiment over the last 150 years that has been a dismal failure. We have First Nations around the province with 80 or 90 percent unemployment, with high fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, with all kinds of social problems because we felt as a society that we knew better and that we knew how to help manage the situation.
That, quite frankly, is a travesty of Canadian society. It's not of this province. It's not of us, but it's something that we as a society have done over 150-plus years. That needs to change if we want to meaningfully deal with the root causes of poverty for that particular group.
We also have a challenge of dependency. We have a challenge of people that have gotten onto a social safety network and that have become dependent upon it. It has replaced their will, their drive and their motivation. That's not saying that we shouldn't be helping them — because we need to — but we need to understand the consequences also of what is being done and how that is impacting on lives.
Now, that's not everyone. That's a portion of people. We also have, of course, many people that have fallen onto hard times and need help and that we need to be able to move through. That is where our social safety network is in place.
One thing that I'm very interested in, which wasn't talked about in the meeting, is the fact that for the first time in three decades, we're seeing child poverty actually decline. I know there are lots of disputes because we're not declining as fast as the Canadian average, but the bottom line is that that's the truth. Those are the stats. The trend is that it's declining. Now, I'd like it to decline more, but that's the trend.
What is it that we're doing right to actually create that trend, and how could that potentially be enhanced? I
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would love to have all of these discussions, but the challenge we have is that all of that sort of stuff is outside of our mandate.
So in terms of this coming forward from a committee, I think it would be great if we spoke of what we've heard. We've written into the report what we heard and what we collected from this. I think that that report and some well-thought suggestions to the Legislature for their consideration may be part of that. Like I say, it can't be recommendations because even that is outside of our mandate.
But I do believe that this is an important first step. It was important to be able to look at this issue, to be able to recognize some of the things that are working and some of the things that aren't. But also, look at those root issues so that if we're truly going to want to try to correct the problem….
I'm not under the illusion that you can ever eliminate poverty, but if we're going to try to correct some of those root causes and actually get us onto a far more positive route, then it's going to take far more than what our committee can do and even what our Legislature does, because it's going to take some changes at the federal level with certain aspects. That's an interesting discussion.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I do want to interject as well — again, for viewers and others, and maybe for the committee members. The Ministry of Children and Families is the lead ministry. It has been designated. I think that we've been public about that — that that ministry does have the lead for this particular issue. That may also affect some of our discussions here.
N. Simons: Can you just clarify what you mean by that — that the Ministry of Children and Families is the lead ministry on child poverty?
J. McIntyre (Chair): That's my understanding. I don't know any deeper than that, but that is the ministry that has responsibility for that. They are obviously…. I think the minister has been public about that as well as our committees. We've said that we understand that poverty has an impact on children at risk. That, again, is also…. These contexts have not been about poverty in general. The context, certainly for us, is as it affects children and vulnerable children. That is the ministry that has the lead on that. I can't be much clearer than that.
N. Simons: I just want to add my congratulations to the Chair and Deputy Chair for the work they did to bring together some very eloquent and informed presenters. I know that it helped us all crystallize many of the ideas we already had.
I just wanted to point to my colleague Leonard's comments about advocates drawing the line and going right up to that line. When I hear talk of, "That's not our mandate; that's beyond our mandate; we're not supposed to do that — someone else's responsibility," I see us fleeing from that line. I think that, as people chosen to be on this committee, it's our responsibility to the children of this province not to be scared of that line.
As we talk, deliberate and plan for planning sessions, there are children who are turning five, six, seven who are living in one-bedroom apartments with parents who may or may not be on welfare, whose success in school is not to the level that it should be, whose access to recreation is less than it should be, whose physical and mental health are suffering on a daily basis as we see programs becoming less accessible, as we see programs for parents to address their own shortcomings becoming less accessible.
We sit here in this room with fancy food, and we contemplate what we can do, what we can say. It's our responsibility. There is nobody else in this province elected to represent 85 constituencies. We're the ones that are supposed to be making the rules. We shouldn't be fleeing from the challenges that we're facing.
If child poverty isn't the most important issue that we should deal with, I don't know what is. I'm not interested in discussing whether or not we have child poverty, or what measures we should use or not. I'm interested in saying: "What are we going to do to bring this issue further?" I don't think it's by saying that we should have some more deliberate…. The time for talking, I believe, is over. The time for action has to start.
If we are going to get together and deliberate on issues about child poverty, why not in the context of preliminary discussions for a poverty reduction strategy? Is it bravery to do what other provinces with less means have already done? Is that courageous? No. We're following in the wake of someone who's gone faster than us. It's time that we actually took that step, which I think we should have taken before.
If we just say, as a committee — government, opposition, independent…. We, collectively, have to plan something. We didn't hear any equivocation from the presenters. They all said that we need a poverty reduction strategy. That poverty reduction strategy will address the root causes, obviously. We're not the ones here to talk about the root causes. For most of my career, I was going into homes where there was poverty — obvious signs of poverty.
I don't care whether it's the Indian Act when I'm looking at a four-year-old who is malnourished. I don't care about the Indian Act. I want people to know that there are things we can do. We didn't write the Indian Act, but there are things we can do to address the shortcomings of previous legislation. It's only 50 years ago, now, since First Nations were given the right to vote. We've got some catching up to do. We've got some speeding up to do.
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As far as I'm concerned, we have the ability to make a strong recommendation to government to commit, commit now, to setting up a poverty reduction strategy for this province. We are rich enough to do it. We are failing the children of the province if we fail to do it.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Are there other speakers? Both Mable and Stephanie haven't had an opportunity.
S. Cadieux: First off, I wasn't sure what to expect of the presentations. I definitely felt…. I was surprised by how similar a lot of them were. I thought they were all very knowledgable on the subject and so forth.
I'm not sure that I…. I think we understand everything as well as we need to, actually, in terms of being able to solve the problem. I think it's such an enormous problem. I think all of the speakers pointed that out. It's so complex.
We've got all sorts of plans that are articulated from other jurisdictions. I don't suggest that that's a bad thing. But we also don't know yet if those plans are what is having impact. Which piece of the plan is having impact? Is it one piece? Is it all the pieces? Certainly, some of them are extremely narrow and others very broad.
I think it's very interesting that each jurisdiction is very different in how it addresses this. I think that's an important thing to remember: that we're unique and we're distinct, and the issues that we're facing are distinct from other areas.
I thought that some of the things that came up through the day certainly tweaked an interest for me in terms of things I'd like to learn more about — certainly, the concept of vulnerability. I'd like to learn more about that. It's put out there, but what does it mean, and what are the long-term implications of vulnerability? Is it something that we…? Should we be addressing vulnerability first? Or poverty first? Do you do one and not the other? Do you do both?
I also was very interested…. This is something I've been interested in from my work in the past — that we focus on what's not working. We always focus on what's not happening — what we think is wrong or should be fixed. We don't focus on what's working and what we should do more of. I think that's a dangerous thing to do, because I think it minimizes the success that we see. I mean that in terms of individuals. We know there are individuals for whom the system has worked.
It's the role of this committee, and it's our job to look at things — as we will this afternoon or later this morning — that are so, so tragic. We're always trying to find ways of making sure that doesn't happen again. I'm not suggesting that we don't want to do that. Of course we want to do that. But it's so negative.
There are children for whom the system is working. There are individuals for whom the system has not created dependency. Why is that? Those are the things that I'd like to spend more time on. I think it's by enhancing the things that we know work that we're going to have more success, than by constantly focusing on things that we don't know how to solve.
M. Elmore: I'd like to start by thanking the Chair and the vice-Chair and also the Clerk and the staff for doing a great job in preparing the hearing. I thought it was well-organized. I'd also like to add my voice of congratulations and appreciation to the committee members. In terms of the hearing, I think it was conducted, certainly, in a real spirit of bipartisanship. Certainly, I appreciated that.
In terms of the presentations, for me, in terms of painting the picture of poverty in British Columbia, certainly, it's well documented. I've read a number of reports, and I'm familiar with the breadth of the issue. But what struck me in particular was highlighting the at-risk groups for the experience of poverty in British Columbia: single mothers; certainly, aboriginal people, which is well-documented — we had an excellent presentation; people with disabilities as well.
New immigrants, I think, is one of the areas, speaking for myself, that we need to have a better picture of in terms of what those numbers are, what the picture is and what the experience is, in terms of forming our understanding of the issue.
The other point that I found informative, in terms of reporting on the six other provincial jurisdictions that have adopted a poverty reduction plan, a strategy, or adopted legislation, undertaking some sort of measures….
The thing that I found very interesting, the one commonality through all of those, is that it is a non-partisan plan. It's supported across the political spectrum in those jurisdictions, in those other six provinces that have adopted those measures.
I see the role of the committee, if it's the will of the committee, to go forward. I think some of the challenge upon us at this time is to exercise a measure of leadership and a willingness to go forward. I think that is the role upon us as elected representatives: understanding this issue and moving forward with the will and the drive to tackle this problem, and to show leadership in British Columbia and address the issues that have been documented to be a reality in our province.
I'm hoping we are able to come together as a committee and move forward on taking steps to address these issues that are going to affect, I know, constituents through all our constituencies and right across British Columbia. That's what I would hope as a committee that we would be able to move forward on.
Just in terms of the reference…. I understand the issue of vulnerability in the context of poverty. There are some good documents from the presenter, Dr. Paul Kershaw, from human early learning partnership at UBC. British
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Columbia is actually recognized as the leading research centre around the world in terms of those measures. So we could maybe talk to you afterwards and recommend some readings.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I have Maurine and Marc and Leonard.
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): I'd like to hear Marc's comments first before I speak. Everybody's had the first go-around.
M. Dalton: I just want to say that this has been a positive experience. It's my first year — finishing the first year — and just to work together in committee has been a different experience as opposed to what we see in question period. So that's been positive, and I think we definitely can get a lot more accomplished. I think personal relationships are really key — that we are human, on all sides. And I know that's our desire.
That's the desire on both sides of the House and here — that we're in this, to reiterate what Leonard was saying, to make a difference in our province, to make a difference among young people, to make a difference in the economy, to make a difference among those that are struggling. To help to take people another step forward — that's key, to bring those improvements.
I think sometimes in that desire to bring improvements — and I think that's good, and we need to continue to have that — we do forget where we have come from, even where society has come from. My father is visiting us, and we were discussing last night how big our place was growing up — a family of six; actually, it became eight. We were comparing the size of our home to what we have now.
Right now my wife and I are in a little condo here in Victoria. It's 600 square feet, and we're thinking: "Wow, we're really making do with something small." Two people. Then we started to calculate, my dad and I, how many square feet our family of six had growing up. It was a small trailer — 400 square feet — and it was plenty of size at that time. We never thought, "Well, we're poor," or anything like that.
I think we need to keep these things in perspective as we focus upon poverty, that we understand that a lot of times it's comparative. Most of us probably have travelled to Third World nations, and there we see some abject poverty, so we need to keep that in mind.
That's not to take away from trying to see these improvements here, but to keep in mind that we are living in a very affluent nation, even those that are struggling. Once again, we want to help those that are struggling in our society. That does not mean at all that there are not many people that are struggling, but just to keep those things in mind.
I know the Chair mentioned the lead ministry, Children and Families, as far as dealing with poverty, but other ministries are all involved with poverty. Going to Nicholas's point, as far as what we need to get moving…. You're right. We need to take more steps, but at the same time let's keep in mind that probably every ministry is focused with one respect or another in the area of poverty.
Whether it be Housing…. We had a thousand units that were announced last week for assisted housing. I think that's important — that we see some real advancements as far as supportive housing.
Finance. That's a big one — the Ministry of Finance — as far as anti-poverty reduction. I think we need to look at things like the after-tax dollars. I know LICO has been measured in both before-tax and after-tax dollars. Well, it's not so much how much you make but how much you keep. I know there has been some real progress. We have seen in the past number of years a decrease of about 35 percent in the level of taxation and probably hundreds of thousands of people removed from the tax rolls altogether. So there have been some real advancements as far as taxation and improvements.
I think that our anti-poverty measures also relate to Healthy Living. ActNow is one program we have. Poverty measures also are in Education, Advanced Education and aboriginal affairs, with the treaties. I'm encouraged to see the increased numbers of treaties and economic partnerships that we're seeing with the First Nations.
The number of people, our number of aboriginals on reserves, is about 50 percent of the population. There's a marked difference even in the poverty, I believe, on reserves and off reserves. So there are some things that do need to change, as was mentioned by John. What, exactly, I'm not sure, but encouraging the aboriginal population, helping develop those partnerships to see them prosper economically….
I think that we do need to make work pay as much as possible, to provide incentives. Education ties in with employment, with salaries. That's a key measure. What can we do at all levels for those that are struggling with poverty? To break out of that cycle of poverty, education is key. Often the level of education is based upon what the level of our parents was — so to break that cycle of poverty.
There are good things that are happening. There's a lot more that does need to happen. I just want to thank the committee and the Chairs — both Chairs — for their leadership in this, and I look forward to what we have to put forward.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thanks, Marc. I also just want to remind committee members, as well, that the select standing committee, as other select standing committees of the House…. We do have an advisory role. Our role is advisory, and we report to the House. It is not
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just this committee. But our role really is advisory, and I think it's very important to understand that.
I think we made it clear, the Deputy Chair and I. Certainly, in our deliberations about what to do, we clearly recognized that it is the role of government to develop and administer a plan. There is a big crossover there in terms of policy-making and what the role of government is and what the role of the select standing committee is — just like the Health Committee and Education Committee.
I know that the Health Committee several years ago did some work on obesity, childhood obesity and things like that. That was to inform legislators, and that ultimately obviously informs government, as we're part of that process. I think that's important to remember when we're looking at where we're going.
L. Krog: I just want to follow up on something that John had to say in his discussion around the Indian Act and focus on what Dr. Evan said, specifically talking about at-risk populations. Mary Collins talked about Newfoundland and then said that B.C. had some challenges. The inference I took from that was specifically in relation to the First Nations.
I think everyone in the committee noted the presence of two very prominent aboriginal leaders. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Chief Wayne Christian attended our committee hearings. That was a signal to me that there is an expectation that we were not just there for a road show. I'm not suggesting for a moment that any one of us thought it was that, but clearly there is an expectation that something will be coming from this committee having addressed this issue and it being so crucial to First Nations.
As John has pointed out as well, the statistics — suicide, poverty, diabetes…. You name all of the indicators of a healthy society, and First Nations are, sadly, at the top of the list of all of the worst indicators.
I think it behooves us to ensure that we leave here today, leave this discussion, with some plan and some focus. Whether it's to be shifted back to the Chair and Deputy Chair again — you seem to be doing such a fine job, I might add — I don't think we can let the matter drop here.
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): I'm really happy to see that there are some, again, similarities in what we all felt we saw and heard there and some of the things we think need to happen next.
Within our mandate, if it's to foster greater understanding and awareness of vulnerable kids and kids in care…. That is just so heavily impacted by poverty. The link is very obvious, and it's very significant.
I happened to speak with both of the chiefs when there was a break at lunch. I spoke with both of them at the hearing, and there is very high expectation of this committee. That by fostering the kind of awareness and gathering the kind of data we have, some of the issues that First Nations are struggling with…. They really are very hopeful and very confident that this committee is going to have some impact — that somehow, coming out of this, there's going to be some motivation for next steps to occur to address some of these issues.
In many ways, I want to charge the committee with that responsibility there. I think we do need to have courage, and I think we need to have confidence in what we heard and our ability to, I guess, foster motivation as well as just understanding and awareness.
I want to kind of seize on some of the things that John said. John, I think you're very right that we do have…. We maybe can't make recommendations, but we can certainly make suggestions. I think that's a very real part of the courageous activity that could come out of this and the steps that we could take.
One of the things that I felt we did get throughout the hearings and the information here is that all kids can thrive. All children can thrive if they are given the equal opportunity for a good start in life. Even when Dr. Adams talked about First Nations, he said that good schools produce the same results for First Nations kids as they do for non–First Nations kids. Good, healthy starts produce the same outcomes for all kids.
I think that I would like to see the committee make some suggestions to the Legislature, coming out of the hearing and with this body of work. Maybe more so, I would like….
I know that the Chair and I are always very careful to not, kind of, push past the line that my colleagues have talked about. But maybe we need to have the courage to request that if a legislative body is not going to be created to address this issue…. Maybe our request is that we be taxed with doing more and pushing more.
I haven't talked with the Chair about this, but maybe that's part of what we need to be our next steps. If the government and the Legislature itself could take a suggestion to take some action on this, to put some real legislative power behind a poverty reduction committee, then maybe we should have the courage of saying: "That's what we would take on here at this committee." I know the Chair…. I can see her already beginning to look a little tense about that.
I'm very serious about this. I think that taking the mandate of this committee and taking it right to that boundary, right to that line, and saying, "Yeah, we believe that not only is our responsibility to foster greater awareness and understanding but that we can actually push the government forward" — make those suggestions that John has talked about here….
I agree with you, absolutely. We can make suggestions. Maybe we can't make recommendations, but we
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can suggest: "Take this body of work. Take the uniformity of recommendations that came from so many great advocates, academics, specialists and organizations here, and take some steps — take action at this point."
In reality, the province can take action. We know that the Indian Act is a huge problem, and that'll be dealt with by others. There are others at other levels of government taking that on. But I think we can take real provincial action.
Many of the things that were recommended here are within provincial jurisdiction. I would like us to take sort of the spirit, again, of what the children's representative tasked us with doing. I'd like to take the confidence that the grand chiefs that I spoke with have in us — that something is going to come out of this that's good. I'd like to take John's recommendation of some suggestions, and again, we'll push those as far as we can without overstepping our boundaries. Let's do something with this.
Let's actually get some action started here. So we're following three or four other provinces. So what? I think we, in British Columbia, can do made-in-B.C. solutions that could be…. We are an affluent province. We are a province that has the capacity to do it bigger and better than other provinces, and I'd like to see us do it.
I'd like us to explore what those suggestions might be. I really want us to be very courageous in this and confident in our ability to foster greater activity at the legislative level rather than just leaving it at understanding and awareness.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Similarly, I was taken with a number of things that Dr. Adams said. Actually, one in particular that we haven't touched on — which we all know, but when he phrased it the way he did — is the impact of First Nations not being able to own land and have equity and be able to build equity and to be able to pass on assets and wealth to other generations. Even something as dramatic as that…. When you see the cascading effect, obviously, the impact of that to keep people in intergenerational poverty — right? — and not able to develop beyond what they could potentially do.
I know there's progress being made — actually, in the Squamish Nation that is in my constituency. I've been working long and hard with them for the last five years. They're actually working with the federal government to do fee simple work and to be able to develop assets on reserve. I think they're working on a pilot project with the federal government.
So there are some heartening and brightening things, I think, on the horizon, but it's very difficult to redress and undo 150 years of what's gone on in this country.
I was also, funnily enough, taken with exactly what you talked about in terms of Dr. Adams pointing to the fact that all children with a good start can thrive. I think that is the interest, certainly, of this committee when we deal with and receive reports, with the representative doing work and trying to help and guide us and guide government to make sure that kids get these opportunities to thrive.
I think it's probably fair to say that that's the interest of every one of us in this room. I think that we have already exhibited some leadership on this. I look forward to being able to do that, as well, as we make our way through all of our committee work and all of our committee deliberations.
J. Rustad: I'm not sure if others want to speak to this, but I want to put just a…. I guess you could put it as a motion on the table. You know, there's a lot of passion that is being talked around the table here. This is, obviously, a very, very serious topic. I'm glad that the members on both sides have brought passion to this discussion.
What I'd like to suggest, in the form of a motion, is that the Chair and Deputy Chair explore the mandate of the committee, to consider a report from the committee. It doesn't have to necessarily be a yearly report. I believe we can report out from time to time, not just on a yearly basis — to be able to get together and explore what could potentially go into that report with regard to what we've heard, and then to have that come back to our committee perhaps by this fall so that there's an opportunity for the Chair and Deputy Chair to get together. Then this fall we get together in a committee and discuss that and put it forward as a report to the Legislature.
J. McIntyre (Chair): So do you want to frame it in a shorter, brief motion?
J. Rustad: To frame that in a shorter motion, the motion would be to charge the Chair and Deputy Chair as the subcommittee to review what we have heard, to review our mandate and to make recommendations for a report for our committee's purview by this fall.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Discussion on that?
N. Simons: If I understand correctly, we're asking the Chair and the Deputy Chair to summarize the information that was presented to us in Vancouver and to put a summary of that into a report so we can review the summary of what we heard. I just think that's somewhat….
I don't see any action or result from that, other than simply a summary of a summary for us to summarize. I'd prefer if we had a motion similar to what John suggests, and I'm not asking to amend the motion. I'm suggesting that after a fulsome discussion of John's motion, we discuss possibly asking the Chair and the Deputy Chair to contemplate coming up with a statement of opinion of the committee, because we are indeed able to do that.
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The opinion of this committee could be, among other options, that we need at least a plan so we can explore all the important issues that were brought up by my colleagues here. I'm potentially asking that those be part of the mandate of either a subcommittee or this committee, but an actual committee to address poverty reduction, with measurable outcomes and with specific timelines.
I think that we need to take the next step. I don't think we just do the chorus again. I think it's time for a new verse, and that new verse could be in an even nicer key.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Nicholas, I just want to ask for clarification, actually, from John. I wasn't exactly sure that I interpreted it that we were writing a summary. John, can I get you to maybe clarify?
J. Rustad: Sure. I think that you've missed the intent of my motion entirely. We already have a summary of what we heard. What would be summarized is the discussion and the work that the committee has done for the purpose of a report to the Legislature.
N. Simons: What's the difference?
J. Rustad: The difference there is that a report can also bring forward perhaps some opinions and/or suggestions from the Chair and Deputy Chair's perspective, as a report to the Legislature. That is the only tool I'm aware of that we have as legislators and as this committee to move forward something to the Legislature. It's in the form of a report of the activities of our committee. So this gives an opportunity for that to come forward.
Normally we would do a yearly report at the end of the session. What I'm suggesting is that that doesn't necessarily have to be. We can do an interim report that could come forward by this fall. The Chair and the Deputy Chair have the opportunity to be able to put their suggestions into how that report should be shaped and then bring the report for us in terms of discussion by the committee before it gets submitted to the Legislature.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Is that very clear? I think it's fair to say that when the Deputy Chair and I looked at this and came up with the idea of having the meeting, it was clear — and I think it's important — that it is not the purview of this committee to develop the poverty reduction plan. The Deputy Chair and I have reported back to this committee with that understanding. It doesn't mean that we can't do lots of what we're looking at and discussing here, but I want to be sure that we're talking about the same things here.
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): Well, I took from the motion that was put forward here that the recommendation is: the Chair and I meet; we take all of the comments from this morning; and we think about how we report out to the Legislature, honouring the statements that have been made here around suggestions to the Legislature for action and all of that. That's the way I saw this in the context of a continuum of our discussion here.
Yeah, I think we do have an opportunity to report out to the Legislature and make it an action report rather than just a passive report. It can be an active thing that has some suggestions that stay within our mandate and, at the same time, encourage the government to take some steps based on what we've heard.
That's the way I saw it in the intent. I know that the Chair and I would explore that a bit further. That is what I perceived the intent of the motion to be, and I'm supportive of that idea.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you to Maurine; that's kind of what I was getting at.
Just to address what Nicholas had said. If we're taking the view that the Chair and the vice-Chair are taking what we've all said today…. As John has said, we've already got staff who are available to embellish what has been said from the committee's work previous to today.
But if we take what the Chair and the vice-Chair have taken from what we're saying today and then charge them with coming back to the committee with a summary of what has happened today, all of the things that have been suggested — you know, the courage, the confidence, the suggestions that the committee has talked about — can be included in that.
Take what everybody has said on what has been done and what is working, and at least recognize that there are a lot of positive things going on that are moving us in the right direction, but ask what the next steps are and what needs to be done. Talk about the root causes, as well, and the common themes that we all heard during the deliberations.
I'm very comfortable with John's motion that has charged the Chair and the vice-Chair to basically assimilate all that into one package and come back to us. We can deliberate it again, but the fact is: I think it'll encompass everything that's been covered.
D. Horne: I, too, am in support of the motion. I think that the reason why we are where we are is because of the Chair and the Deputy Chair's ability to get us to where we are. So I think their ability to, as Leonard put it earlier, define the line and take us to the line…. I am confident that we can get there, so I think this is the right move forward, and I definitely support it.
N. Simons: It would be with regret that I would support this, because I think that we are missing an opportunity. Quite frankly, I haven't heard any suggestions for government from here. I've heard recaps of the issues
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that we're facing. In fact, they're all very accurate, and I don't think it's our responsibility to come up with, necessarily, a plan.
We should mandate a body to be able to do that. That is not what we necessarily should be doing. I think it's clear from what we've heard and from the comments made here today that we all agree there is a need for a strategic plan.
That is, in my opinion, a suggestion. I think that we shouldn't be so afraid. We should take the step necessary, which we all acknowledge is necessary now, which we will be acknowledging again when the report comes back summarizing what we've already acknowledged. I think we have the ability to say quite clearly that….
Six months in the life of a five-year-old is a heck of a long time, and the more we delay through procedural strategies, I think we're missing the opportunity. We needed this a long time ago. That's just my statement of regret, if in fact we decide to report on what we've said and summarize what we've heard. I'd rather see action.
J. Rustad: Although I appreciate Nicholas's passion on it, I also…
J. Rustad: Yes, it is passion.
…disagree with his statements that there is unanimous consent in terms of where we should be going as a committee.
Having said that, I do believe that we should try to do something. But I am cognizant of the fact that our committee is restricted in terms of what it can do, just as every function that is within government is restricted by how it's defined. Our bringing forward the report and whatever process the Chair and Deputy Chair go through is already going a little bit beyond where that line is in the sand.
N. Simons: Who are you to decide that?
J. Rustad: Would you like to read…? Shall I read it to you?
N. Simons: Read it in. Sure. Go ahead.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Order here. Order.
J. Rustad: Nicholas's comment is: who am I to say…?
This is the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth terms of reference.
"On February 10, 2010, the Legislative Assembly agreed that the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth be appointed to be empowered to foster greater awareness and understanding among legislators and the public of the B.C. child welfare system and in particular to (1) be the committee that receives and reviews the annual service plan from the Representative for Children and Youth…that includes a statement of goals and identifies specific objectives and performance measures that will be required to exercise the powers and perform the functions and duties of the representative during the fiscal year; (2) be the committee to which the representative reports, at least annually; (3) refer to the representative for investigation the critical injuries or death of a child; and (4) receive and consider all reports and plans delivered by the representative to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.
"In addition to the powers previously conferred upon the select standing committees of the House, the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth be empowered to appoint of their number one or more subcommittees and to refer to such subcommittees any and all matters referred to the committee; to sit during the period in which the House is adjourned, during the recess after prorogation until the following session and during any sitting of the House; to adjourn," etc….
The rest are obviously just the formalities of the committee.
That's our mandate, and I think we need to understand that mandate, reflect a report to the best of our ability and be able to put something forward. If you disagree with the mandate, maybe you can take a piece of legislation into the House to change the mandate. That's what we've been given as a piece. That actually has come from Ted Hughes, who is the author of both the office as well as this committee, in terms of the report.
What I'd like to finish with, if I may, Chairperson, is…. Obviously, in the ramblings of politicians sometimes it's difficult to clearly define what the motion is that's moved forward. Our more than capable Clerk has tried to put that in words, so I thought I would read this in, the words, so that we can get it on the record exactly what the motion would be.
Then I move that the Chair and Deputy Chair meet to review what we have heard, to review the mandate of the committee and to explore options for the reporting to the Legislature. Further, the Chair and Deputy Chair will report back to the full committee at the earliest opportunity.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Are there any more questions on the motion?
Leonard, did you want to say anything further?
L. Krog: I only want to say that as much as I appreciate Nicholas's position on this, I think there is a consensus on this. The child and youth representative is here, and we have other work to do this morning. I think it's time to put this thing to a vote.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay. Any other speakers?
J. McIntyre (Chair): I appreciate the confidence which the committee places in the Deputy Chair and
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me, and we will go forward, taking these duties very seriously.
We'd like to take a couple of minutes' recess, actually, for refreshments. The representative will be speaking with us on the next item on our agenda. With that, thank you.
The committee recessed from 9:51 a.m. to 10:03 a.m.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
J. McIntyre (Chair): We're going to be going on with our second agenda item of the day. I'd like to thank the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, for being here with us today with her staff. We'll be discussing the report that she issued in September 2009 entitled Honouring Christian Lee — No Private Matter: Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence. I'm going to turn over the meeting.
Mary Ellen, did you want to do your update first for five or ten minutes and then go on to the report?
The representative will give her report, and then we will have time for questions and answers from committee members.
With that, I would like to turn it over to you.
Office of the Representative
for Children and Youth:
M. Turpel-Lafond: Good morning, everyone. First of all, I just want to introduce the staff that are with me today. I have with me Jeremy Berland, deputy representative; the chief investigator, John Greschner; and the director of investigations and injuries, Cory Heavener. Cory, in particular, was the lead investigator on the Christian Lee matter, with John. They're here to assist me with respect to any questions or matters on that. I just start with that.
I'd also like to thank the members for the time today because I know you've been in a very long session, which is coming to a close, and that your time at this point is extremely valuable. So I really do appreciate that.
I was last here on January 27. This is actually my 17th session with the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, which in and of itself, I think, is extremely positive, in the sense that we sometimes debate whether committees of the Legislative Assembly provide value and support. I think that this is an extremely valuable and important committee, and I'm very delighted to be here again to talk about significant issues for children and youth.
When I was last here on January 27, we discussed the Kids, Crime and Care report and the Housing, Help and Hope report, and today I'm pleased that we're going to be able to discuss the Christian Lee report, which I know you all have and have with you. Before I begin that, I would like to speak a bit on a brief update with respect to the work of my office.
First of all, I'm sure you're all aware that there was a recent court decision with respect to my office that affirmed the interpretation of the legislation that the representative has a right to access information, including, on occasion, cabinet material. That decision by the Supreme Court of British Columbia was delivered on May 14, 2010. I'm going to file a copy of the decision with the Clerk of the committee for the members of the committee so that it has been officially filed. I have that today. Some of you may have already seen it because it is, of course, available on the court website.
I also am pleased that after the court decision there was some discussion with respect to amendments to the Representative for Children and Youth Act. I am pleased that there was a protocol worked out between the Representative for Children and Youth's office and, with the involvement of the hon. Ted Hughes, the government of British Columbia, in particular the Premier's office, and a protocol to provide for a process when cabinet material might be referred to. I have a copy of that protocol that I'd also like to file, for information purposes, with members of the committee. I'll ensure that you receive official copies of both of those documents.
I'd also say, with respect to protocol, that it provides for a good-faith mediated discussion approach to dealing with any differences of opinion. It's a very positive step, and I look forward to moving forward with it. I did receive some material for a report that I was completing on the Child in the Home of a Relative. That material has been reviewed and now returned. Very soon I will be issuing that report.
With respect to the issues, of course, whenever there is litigation on something, even if it's on the interpretation of a piece of legislation that's a relatively new piece of legislation, it can be quite a difficult time for the office to continue with some other activities. I am glad that that is now in the past, and we can get out a number of these reports that had been held up. You'll see that very soon.
I am also very excited about an event that will occur in the fall. I would like to suggest to the members, if the Legislature is not in session at the time, that perhaps you'll hold the date and consider attending as guests of the Representative for Children and Youth. We are going to have a children's summit on the 18th and 19th of October, which will also be, on the evening of the 18th, an opportunity to present the representative's awards in a number of different areas in terms of service to children.
We had the first inaugural children's summit two years ago. We are having another one, and I am at that summit releasing a report that is in the final stages right now
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with Dr. Perry Kendall. The report is called Growing Up in B.C., and it is a report on the state of the child on the main domains and indicators in British Columbia on how well children are doing. I think it will be an extremely positive event.
We will have a chance to consider that report, I'm sure, later, but I certainly would like to welcome and invite members of the committee to participate, because it's an extremely positive event. Not only is it a very analytical, evidence-based report, but we've also had the opportunity to go around British Columbia and interview youth in particular about what they think is the most important thing around the right to learn, the right to be safe, the right to be healthy and so on — what they think is the most important area. I think it will be extremely positive.
Finally, just by way of update, I would like to acknowledge the important work of the committee in the area of child poverty. I would like to congratulate you on the hearings that were held. I listened with great interest to your discussions this morning. I think that in particular the full-day session was very illuminating, insofar as the degree of consensus around the table in terms of the importance of the issues and the approach to the issues.
In particular, I wanted to speak very briefly about the discussion that was held near the end of the day about people with disabilities, and children and youth with disabilities, and how responding to poverty or social inclusion also includes things like supporting children and youth with disabilities to enter the workforce. I think that you certainly get an idea about how different cohorts in the population can be affected but also how it's important to have those projects of inclusion in that area.
Just this week I was able to tour the CanAssist facility at the University of Victoria, where they are developing special devices to encourage the participation in the labour force of people with significant disabilities.
I think that British Columbia is doing many good things in that area. But I think, again, it just illuminates our discussion that a poverty plan is not just about raising rates, if you like. It's about a broader process of making sure people participate fully in the life of society, have equal opportunities and that we start, in infancy, planning and supporting for that as a society. In some way, there's the government role; in some way, there's the role of everyone else. So bringing that together — I congratulate you on that.
I think the challenges that you face as a committee with respect to what you will do with the hearings on poverty…. I, of course, offer my support to the Chair and vice-Chair in any way with respect to that process of your deliberations. I do appreciate and respect the fact that you have a mandate. I also know that in the Representative for Children and Youth Act the committee is specifically created through that legislative framework with a very broad foundation, if you like, and has been tasked to do a number of things.
I certainly am considering, from my position, writing again to the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition and suggesting that if there's a problem with your mandate, your mandate be reconsidered to allow you to do some additional work in this area.
I think you've started some very positive work. I think that it's extremely important for me to note that the issues for child poverty are a concern. I mean, the data that we have been working with is the 2007 data. We will receive in the fall data from the downturn, if you like — the recession. I expect that we're going to see some significant deterioration in that data in terms of the conditions for children and youth over the past few years. We're always playing catch-up.
I have spoken before to the committee about that 40 percent increase in the social assistance caseload with children. I think the evidence will be fairly strong that we have had a deterioration, as have other places in Canada. I think it's been fairly significant here in British Columbia. I would like to just put that on the record to say that I feel it's still a matter of significant concern.
I also would suggest, with the greatest amount of respect to the committee, that there is work that is being done that would be very valuable for committee members to hear. While we had an informative session, if the committee was to continue to work…. And of course, ministries in the government could present on their various anti-poverty strategies, whether it's rental assistance programs or what have you. They could have an opportunity to present how they feel they are achieving various goals with respect to these areas — with a focus on children, I would recommend.
Also, it might be very important for the committee to know — as I know there has been a significant discussion on aboriginal children and youth — that there is a major initiative underway by the federal government, which I've been briefed on in my regular relations with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs in the B.C. region. There's a major initiative underway called Active Measures, which is a program to reduce social assistance dependency for 18- to 24-year-old First Nations youth in British Columbia. That is an area where, again, it relates to poverty reduction and is engaging with many of these same areas.
There would be perhaps even an opportunity, should the committee decide to move forward, to hear from others with respect to what they're doing and planning. I would just say to you, again, with the greatest amount of respect, that while there are different initiatives landing here and there, from the work that I certainly am doing to monitor, track and understand them, they are not integrated or coordinated, nor are there any sort
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of overarching social or economic policy anchors to them.
They might include things like we've talked about in the committee — equal opportunity for children, ensuring that children who begin at different starting points have opportunities to catch up, strong emphasis on education systems. I think it's very important just to put on the record again that while everyone wants to work in this area and we need to work in this area, we need to make improvement. There is significant room for improvement.
I've said this before, and I'll just say it one more time. That is, we do have schools where children do not graduate at sufficient levels and do not progress at sufficient levels. The majority of those children are children living in poverty.
There is much we can do. Dr. Evan Adams gave a very remarkable slide to show that aboriginal children in the top-performing schools, if you like, tend to perform very well. However, those top-performing schools are private, independent schools. They are not public schools.
So it's a very challenging issue with respect to: what are we going to do about public education for children that are chronically not performing at the level they should be? I just leave you with that to say that there's much thinking to be done. There's much work to be done, and I think there's a lot of room for improvement.
I commend the committee. I really did enjoy the session very much. Of course, I fall back a bit on one of my legal heroes, Lord Denning, who said famously: "The people make the rules; the rules don't make the people." I would suggest very much to the Chair and vice-Chair that if you feel you are up against the end of your mandate, I certainly will write to the Premier and Leader of the Opposition and suggest that, through the devices of the Legislative Assembly, the committee be given responsibility to look here.
I think, in fairness, that there will be areas where this committee can play an extremely important role in the area of public policy. There will possibly be some in the future. Let's say legislation was introduced that affected children, such as a new family law act, and there were new provisions on hearing the voice of the child or new provisions on guardianship. This is a committee that could very valuably look at those issues, not in any type of a partisan way but just to explore issues.
This committee, I think, has a very significant policy function to understand how improvement can happen, particularly when the representative has brought issues forward. I'll just leave it with that and suggest very much that I support the work.
Of course, I also recognize and thank Kate Ryan-Lloyd, as the Clerk of this committee, for constantly not only assisting the committee and dealing with the hearings that were in another city and so on but also assisting so that everything is done appropriately and effectively. I'd like to recognize and thank her as well.
Representative for Children
and Youth Report:
Honouring Christian Lee — No
Private Matter: Protecting Children
Living with Domestic Violence
M. Turpel-Lafond: With that, I'd like to turn to the report, which you all have, on Christian Lee. I have also handed out a chart for your consideration. That wasn't in the report but was prepared for the release of the report. It is a chart that looks at agencies and individuals involved with Christian Lee's family.
I would suggest that you turn, just while we go through the report, to page 14 and 15 of the report, which is a timeline of significant events with respect to this matter. You should have a copy of that, as well as a separate handout, or you may want to refer to it in the report.
Domestic violence has a broad and insidious reach in the lives of children and youth in British Columbia. Many children's lives are affected by domestic violence, and I would note, of course, that the deaths of children, such as the homicide of Christian Lee, are considered by some as being the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, the number of children who die in a year in British Columbia…. It depends. There's year to year. Some years are very bad years. The number of women, men and children who die in the context of domestic violence you might say is a relatively small number, but any death or injury is significant. Was it capable of being prevented? We need to look at it carefully and do everything we can. We also need to learn from individual cases, and we need to learn from a whole range of cases.
The report that the representative tabled with respect to the death of Christian Lee was on this one child, his parent — his mother, in particular — his grandparents and his father. The coroner has recently released, two days ago, a death review panel, the first death review panel on domestic violence. I'm very pleased about that report. I certainly advocated very much with the Coroners Service that they do a death review panel. I hope the chief coroner will do a regular death review panel, because it's the opportunity to learn from a broader range of cases.
I make reference to that by way of saying that the representative's report is a single case. As I've said to you before, I have other deaths of children that are under investigation, including deaths of three children that are under very active investigation for a report — I don't think it'll be completed by the end of 2010 but in early 2011 — and another group of children that died in a domestic homicide.
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We now have a better understanding of how some of the challenges may be systemic and affect a wide range of individuals. The coroner's report is available. I don't know if members of the committee have received it. I think you would have received it through the Speaker and through the Clerk. If not, we'll make sure that you also receive it, because you will note that the recommendations in the coroner's panel do track very much the recommendations that I'm going to speak to today from the report.
I also want to recognize — as I'm sure all of you do, coming from diverse constituencies and ridings across British Columbia — that there are significant challenges in addressing domestic violence. It is the second-largest group of offences, if you like, in terms of reported crime in British Columbia.
Certainly, in the area of child welfare, while the data isn't very strong — and we'll talk about that around recommendations — the national data is fairly clear that it's involved in many, many of the reported incidents of abuse and maltreatment of children. There's also, at least, a coexisting indicator that there's domestic violence or that it might have been a domestic violence–related matter. So it's very significant to know that this is a very important and broad problem in British Columbia.
Also, it's important to acknowledge the work that's done by many people in British Columbia on the front lines. There are many capable social workers. There are many capable police officers. There are many people working in transition houses, immigrant support services societies, schools and elsewhere who do reach out to victims of domestic violence, including children, on a regular basis. So we do have supportive people.
As you will see in the report, I am suggesting to you that they're not working in a system, but there are some very, very strong people throughout British Columbia that work in this field, and I think it's important to recognize their work.
Now, I want to describe a bit what happened with Christian Lee. I want to also, because my report was released in September 2009, speak a bit to the recommendations. I also want to identify these three intersecting systems that you'll see in the timeline chart, which is this one: the criminal justice system, the family justice system and the Ministry of Children and Families. There were three systems that affected this family, so it's important to note that the recommendations touch upon three different systems.
I would note that these systems can be quite complex. As the members would probably know from some of their own experience in this field, they can be complex. They can work in isolation from each other. There are a lot of barriers that can be created in these systems. In fact, as we found here, it can be very confusing to the professionals working in the field to understand how one and the other systems work together, even though they are in the field.
It's important that our systems are primed to address issues of domestic violence but that they are primed and equipped to do it in an effective and a responsive way. That requires a very good knowledge base — so skilled, trained individuals in these three streams — and strong protocols to share information, to ensure that, particularly for that class of cases that we might call high-risk cases, they are identified appropriately.
One of the unusual points that I would put out for you to consider with respect to this domestic violence homicide of Christian Lee, his mother and his grandparents is that the research is quite clear. Certainly, in the other case I'm investigating, it's slightly different and more consistent with the research. That is, victims of lethal domestic violence tend to underestimate the degree of risk that is posed to them.
It's very well studied in the criminal justice system in Canada as well as in the U.S. that it's an area where people, particularly victims, tend to underestimate the level of risk and the risk of lethal violence that is posed. One of the reasons why we need strong systems is so that we can understand the degree of risk, using some more reliable indicators than the perceptions of the victim.
This was a very unusual case, given that research, because this is a case in which the primary victim, the mother — if you like, the victim of domestic violence — was quite clear and categorical that her estranged husband would kill her and told a number of people in the system.
Well, why is this an important case? This is an important case because it's the loss of a child's life, a child that should have been going into grade 1 on the day that he was murdered, and we must learn from these cases to honour the lives of these children. But it's a very significant case because it's a case in which the mother, Sunny Park, told police, Crown counsel, bail supervisors, private family lawyers, friends and counsellors that her estranged husband would kill her.
Yet all of the safety planning for Sunny Park, who was the caregiver and custodial parent for her son Christian Lee, was placed on her shoulders. She was not able to protect herself. It was too much to place on the shoulders of one person to do that.
So when you look at systems, this is a very significant case. If any case should have worked differently for systems to engage, it should be the case where — unlike most domestic violence cases — someone comes forward and says: "I think my estranged husband will kill me, and here are my concerns."
The case really does require us to look and learn, and I am glad that we've had a chance to look at how these three systems either didn't work together or touched upon her life.
If you look at the bubble chart that I prepared around the release of the report…. I prepared this, in a sense, to
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give a clearer idea that Christian and his mother were not living in isolation from a range of individuals in the system. There were, of course, four police services that were involved with her. There was the Ministry of Children and Families involved with her. There were schools involved in her life. There were Crown prosecutors. There was Crown counsel, including two psychologists.
You can see that sort of orbiting around her were all of these various individuals. No individual had the complete story, and many of the individuals who were professionals working in their various silos directed her to somebody else, to another bubble. When she got to the other bubble — such as being directed to the family justice system to get an order to restrain her husband's attendance at her home, or what have you — she was told: "No, that doesn't actually exist. Go back to the other bubble."
I think it's really important to understand how you can have a range of services in a particular area…. In this case it was in the capital region here in Victoria and Oak Bay. You can have a range of supports and services. They may be well established. They may be new pilot projects. It might be a new twist or a new turn in a practice approach in a variety of areas, but they are not working as a system. What the emergency room doctor knows doesn't necessarily get to the bail supervisor.
Now, you will see with the recommendations that other places have a much higher degree of coordination in the system, in a way because other places in other jurisdictions in particular have a stronger priming of the system to assess risk on the one hand and safety on the other. The issues of risk and safety are crucial in domestic violence. There is appreciating the actual level of risk to a victim and to children, and then there are supports to provide to mitigate that level of risk and provide for the safety of that person.
I think it's also important to know that it's not feasible or realistic to incarcerate forever people that are accused of domestic violence offences. In fact, in Canada — I've looked at this — there are only two cases where there have been individuals who have been persistent batterers who have been declared long-term offenders. They're not in British Columbia. There are two.
The criminal justice system is not a very effective system to incarcerate a batterer, if you like, for a long term, for pretrial, post-trial. Long sentences are not something that's used in Canada. As well, there's a very strong imperative where the batterer, who may be a sole breadwinner for the family, needs to come out, work and support the family. But they need to be regulated with respect to the access that he or she has to the family. Of course, the majority of these cases are male batterers — not all of them, but the majority of them.
The criminal justice silo in particular, as we saw with Christian Lee and Sunny Park, is one that…. When an alleged batterer comes into the criminal justice system, unlike other offences, it's a very high level of risk that suddenly enters into the life of the family.
If you have a persistent bank robber and they become arrested, probably there will be a deterrent effect. Even if they're on bail, they probably won't go out and do it again, although there are instances where people do. But domestic violence is one of those areas where engagement with the criminal justice system raises the risk to the partner immediately.
It's a different process than other cases. Clearly for Sunny Park, while the police had been to her home, if you look at the timeline from the time Christian was an infant…. If you look at the criminal justice involvement, this starts at 2007, but down at the bottom it says "previous events." You will see that as early as 2003, when Christian is just an infant, the police were called out to the residence. There is a domestic call.
There is a range of engagement where there is some possibly aggressive, assaultive behaviour by Peter Lee. Many of these cases of course, where charges are stayed, or matters are before the court…. They have not yet come to trial and so on. Because of the nature of the criminal trial process, things take time. There can be delays and so forth. So you can see that there is quite a period of time in the criminal justice system.
It is important to note, again, for the committee that when I talk about this being a peculiar case…. If you look at the first time the police come out being in 2003 — Christian was an infant — there was a lost opportunity from 2003 forward to work with the family. If there is a domestic violence call, if there is no corroboration of a concern — an experienced police officer knocks on the door and says no — perhaps a referral to a community agency is fine to follow up.
If there is some corroboration that there has been some physically aggressive behaviour and a dynamic of domestic violence, trained first responders in the policing and other systems then have an opportunity to do two things. First, they have an opportunity to bring accountability as a matter of criminal law for what is a crime — namely, an assault, if it has been committed. Secondly, they also have an opportunity to engage with the family possibly at a lower level of risk than at the 15th call, which could be a much higher level of risk, or the 20th call or the call where the child has been murdered.
I think this is a crucial issue not only in British Columbia but across Canada, where people who are tasked to improve these systems want to exploit that opportunity at first instance to work with families. So not only is this an unusual case in that Sunny Park had called the police officials before, but there were lost opportunities early.
I certainly conclude that Christian Lee's death could have been prevented if someone would have intervened
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earlier. I think there were lost opportunities to intervene. It's clear that Christian Lee died because his father, Peter Lee, stabbed him to death. The system didn't kill him. His father killed him. But the system was absent in safety planning for his mother, risk assessment on him and early intervention with a family that was in crisis.
I think these are the key points — multiple opportunities. In the area of domestic violence, significant investment can be made in prevention, meaning at that first point of contact working with families. In Ontario, as an example, the friends and neighbours program runs in the community to empower employers, friends and neighbours to see instances of domestic violence and to engage with families and report to officials and work. There have been some very significant problems around perception of domestic violence — that it's something we just don't get involved in. But actually, as we learn more about it, we learn about how valuable it is to become involved as a society and how we in fact have normed it as a crime in the Criminal Code, and you need to have some appropriate response.
Other jurisdictions have really taken it on in a much different way than British Columbia. That's not to say there isn't massive opportunity in British Columbia to make improvement here. It's just that we are not necessarily at the same level.
Now, with respect to what happened to Christian, I want to go through that timeline briefly with respect to 2007. There was a car crash. Sunny Park came into an emergency department and suggested that her husband had intentionally crashed the vehicle because he wanted to harm her, because she wanted to end the relationship.
There is a serious offence alleged. It was during the period that he was then out on bail that Christian and his mother and grandparents were murdered, and Peter committed suicide.
In terms of the child and children exposed to domestic violence, the assumption that operated in the case of Christian Lee was that Christian was not seen. The assumption was that Sunny Park was a parent that was capable of parenting the child. The child would be with Sunny Park.
When Peter Lee was taken before the courts and incarcerated briefly pretrial for the car accident, he was released on bail conditions. The bail conditions were not to have contact with his spouse, Sunny Park, but he was allowed to have contact with his son. Again, I just note for the committee that there are not dedicated child visitation centres in British Columbia. In other jurisdictions you have child visitation centres. Where there is a high-conflict divorce or domestic violence situation, you have a supervised visit site that a child goes to. That doesn't exist in British Columbia, and it didn't exist in this case.
So Peter Lee was released on a bail, not to have contact with Sunny Park, but he could see his son. Of course, what happens in these contexts, which is very common in the area of domestic violence cases, is: are you breaking a court order if you show up at the house to have access to your son? How else are you going to have access to your son except through the mother?
Often these court orders will read through a member of the Law Society of British Columbia, but the parents may not have a member of the Law Society of British Columbia. They may not even get legal aid. They may not be sure how to retain a member — and these other very significant parallel challenges. It's not like there's a member of the Law Society at ready on a bail order to call and mediate your child visits, not to mention that anyone who is a member of the Law Society who has done this knows how complex and difficult it is. Where there are issues of domestic violence, there can be issues of manipulation and constantly challenging and undermining orders.
Sunny Park felt threatened. She was uncomfortable with that condition. It allowed her estranged husband to have contact with her. As she complained about the bail conditions and the bail supervision officer contacted the Ministry of Children and Families to say, "How safe is this environment? Can there be ongoing contact between dad and the child?" and so forth, the child welfare side — the Ministry of Children and Families side — kicked into action, if you like, particularly because a senior police officer notified them of the charges and the situation.
You will see under that stream, the orange stream on the bottom, that while a call came in to MCFD after hours, it took a significant period of time — approximately three weeks — until the social worker was able to meet with Sunny at her home. While there was a worker who met with her, the worker concluded that Sunny was protecting Christian.
There's no question that Sunny was protective towards her child, but the issue of the level of risk around her…. What degree of risk was she at? I mean, a mother can only protect a child if the mother herself is not at risk of lethal domestic violence.
I think the interesting point is that Sunny, who had been in Canada for approximately ten years and was born in Korea, although she spoke English, relied on Peter, who was also Korean but had been in Canada his whole life, essentially to mediate the systems — police officers and so on. She wasn't very comfortable speaking to people in these various systems, although she was articulate.
It was indicated very clearly in the investigation that she didn't always understand criminal justice and other systems. There were some barriers that were presented to her — in particular, her support system — and this is very significant for domestic violence cases. The victim
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may not be a very reliable indicator of the degree of risk. In this case, Sunny was a very reliable indicator.
But in a good system, you would interview parents. You would interview sisters and brothers. You would interview the school, and of course, you would interview the child. It's very important to interview the child.
Sunny's parents came from Korea to stay with her during this family crisis, after the car accident. No police officer or social worker ever interviewed them. They didn't speak English, or if they did, it was very limited. No one interviewed her sisters as well, who periodically stayed in her home. To appreciate the degree of risk of lethal violence, one would have hoped to have done that.
It's really significant. Consistently, in cases where there are immigrants — newer immigrants, in particular — those barriers to getting information are significant. You need translators. You need to make sure that you interview people. Had they interviewed her parents and her sisters and others, they would have perhaps gotten a better appreciation of the degree of risk that she was in.
Also, they didn't have a chance to interview the child. Christian, in particular, may have been able to speak to someone about his life. Now, he may not have had a great deal of appreciation of his right to be safe and not to be exposed to domestic violence, but he probably would have shared, with an experienced person talking to him, how he had witnessed incidents in the past where his father was aggressive to his mother. Peter Lee freely admitted to police and others that he'd had significant incidents of domestic violence in front of the child in the past.
To talk to the child would have been very significant, particularly if there'd been an order of prohibition of contact between the father and the child. But I make a note that any system…. The criminal justice system elevates risk. The criminal justice system, when it has a bail order which says, "No contact with mom and child," also elevates risk because it creates a very high-conflict situation when someone returns to the community — which means what? Close monitoring of someone on bail with realistic conditions and adequate safety planning for the victim or the mother. In this instance in particular, those two streams were not what they should have been.
The bubble chart, if I come back to it, is again a pretty graphic illustration of the number of individuals that Sunny was in contact with in these three silos. I would just note, on the criminal justice silo in particular, the confusion, if you like, of Sunny — given that she was an immigrant of ten years to Canada but with limited involvement with police officials — to have police officials from four different police forces talking to her, sometimes giving her information about her personal safety that was a bit inconsistent: "You should do this. You should change the locks in your home and change the security code in your home." But of course, Peter Lee had installed the security in the home, so he knew which door would not have been armed. I mean, some of these things were inadequate, and they were inconsistent.
Whether or not she felt a sense of safety from the advice given to her is questionable. In fact, I would suggest that she didn't feel safe, which is why she continued, right up until just days before her murder, to say: "I'm not safe." Really, the private family law lawyer that she went to, because the criminal justice system didn't seem to offer a safety plan to her — and who waived her solicitor-client privilege, was interviewed and provided very helpful information to my office in the context of this investigation — was clear to say that this was an incredibly high degree of risk and that there really wasn't a solution in the family justice system. You wouldn't be able to get into court and get anything.
The criminal justice system wasn't there. There was no alert device or anything provided to her, and her private family law lawyer had really only one idea, which was to leave town and go into hiding. The reason why she didn't leave town and go into hiding was because her son was to start school the next day, and she felt so committed to maintaining some stability in the life of her child and, because he had a positive attachment with his school, that he be there for the first day of school for grade 1.
Now, one can only speculate what was in her mind, from our investigation and interviews with her family — that she wanted, of course, stability and support for Christian and to try and get through this process. But what actually created the conditions for her to be in this environment where she could be murdered was the fact that she wasn't safe in her own home, and there wasn't a safety plan around her.
The option of going into hiding is really quite an untenable option for most families in a situation of high risk of lethal violence. Can one go into hiding, and for how long? I mean, it does happen. There are high-risk cases, particularly in other provinces where they have high-risk protocols, where people do have to go into hiding because they're coming out of a gang or they're in a witness protection program. Yes, there are instances, but really, the system is more about safety assessment, support and risk mitigation. That's a different thing.
I'll just come back to the point of consequences. It's that while one can't incarcerate forever someone who is involved in repeated domestic violence and threats…. I mean, how many jail sentences can you have? There are only two people in Canada who have ever been designated long-term offenders. Careful monitoring is important, and engagement with offenders is crucial — in particular, in the case of Peter Lee.
I just note for the committee's understanding of this case that he went to a counsellor and said freely: "I have
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a problem. I'm doing this." He also went to a batterers program to say: "Could you take me on the intake, because I have a problem?"
He was also apparently quite manipulative, but he was reaching out for some support too, so there was a lost opportunity for someone whose life was also spiralling out of control. It's very difficult to have sympathy for someone who murders four people, but if there's a possibility to prevent it, we have to look at it. This is someone whose life was spiralling out of control. He's lost his income, his family has broken down, and he's facing serious criminal charges. He's not sure if he'll have access to his child. He's coming out and asking, "Can someone assist me?" and really didn't get any assistance.
Even in monitoring someone on a bail order, connecting them and reducing their risk might require addressing sometimes a serious mental health issue that has arisen, because often the adult that's the batterer…. I'm not saying they all experience mental health issues, but they may be very disordered in their thinking about their spouse, and they may also need support to think about parenting after divorce and separation. It isn't a zero-sum thing.
This case was an illustration, certainly, of this very significant opportunity where…. It's not on a bubble here, but there should be another bubble which is: "Peter Lee sought support in a battered men's program." What did they know about him when he phoned in and said: "Gee, you know, I'm really at high risk here. I really am violent, and I want to be able to preserve my relationship of some kind"? He never received any support, and that information was never shared with the police or a family law lawyer or anyone else in the system.
Let me turn, then, to the recommendations that came out of the report and what we can learn from this tragic, tragic circumstance. In a way, we can learn two things. Firstly, there are many opportunities to improve and in fact put into place a system of supports in British Columbia. Secondly, I think we can learn something very important about children exposed to domestic violence.
While this was a homicide — I said earlier about the tip of the iceberg — not all children who witness or are exposed to domestic violence grow up to be permanently harmed in a way that impairs their functioning later in life. It really depends on the dose and frequency and on other things that affect their resiliency. Probably there are people in this room that could talk about being exposed to domestic violence in their infancy, and they've gone on to serve their province in different ways. It's just that common.
But the dose and frequency issue is a significant one. Not in every case will a child be at risk of being injured. But children are harmed in different ways.
It's important to understand the degree of harm they may experience — the degree of psychological distress; the degree to which their needs may have been neglected or harmed; the degree to which they play a role having to mediate between parents, which can be extremely harmful for their development and stressful in their living environment; and also the extent to which they sometimes are the victims of either indirect or direct violence in that context.
Working with children has got to be a stream in the system. It can't be leaving children who witness violence out of our equation. They have to be engaged with the children. This is certainly significant.
In the preparation of the report, I was able to contract with one of Canada's leading authorities, who conducts extensive research, Dr. Peter Jaffe from the University of Western Ontario. His area of expertise is on children impacted by domestic violence. He has been a past chair or participant in the Ontario coroner's family violence panel for a number of years, and he's a very widely published expert.
He participated, with this report, in really exploring what we could have done differently for Christian. What could have been done differently? How strong are our child-serving supports for children? Are they voluntary? Are they mandatory? What happens today when a call comes in that there is a child exposed to domestic violence from a school in British Columbia to the Ministry of Children and Families? And what should happen? What could happen?
These are the things that we really wanted to focus on, which is the life of this child. Of course, we'd like the mother's life to be…. The child's safety is dependent on the mother's safety here. So we want the mother's safety secured, but we also want to make sure that we don't lose track of the child, because this is an unusual case. In 99 percent of the cases, mom will say, "I'm safe," and then be murdered in the high-risk cases. This is an unusual case.
What about the child? Assessing the safety of a child exposed to domestic violence…. I think it's important to note here that the investigation was very clear. I'm not going to go through it in detail because we have limited time, but page 37 forward.
The practice in this case by the Ministry of Children and Families did not meet the standards, and the standards were nominal because there aren't clear enough standards for practice in this field. There isn't adequate training, and there's a fair amount of uncertainty by people in the field as to what should be done in this type of case. Are the police the lead? Who's the lead? Where's the responsibility?
Practice in this case for Christian did not meet timeline standards. There was a very narrow framework in place, meaning: "Do we remove the child or not?" Well, the mother is capable of caring for the child. You don't need to remove the child. So it's not a child protection,
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although there are instances where a parent may lose complete capacity to assess the level of risk.
There are cases — this isn't one of them — where you do occasionally have an environment where a mother may say, "I don't think I'm really at that much risk, and I refuse to participate in supports or safety planning," which then exposes the children to high degrees of risk. This wasn't that case. But a narrow lens — which is "Mother is protecting, therefore no removal"— is not appropriate. It's looking at harm, looking at the dynamics and then working positively to support safety and also risk.
I think the recommendations were very focused here. I think it is important for me to note this because the coroner's panel has come out with a set of recommendations focusing mostly on the criminal justice side, which I think are extremely welcome and positive. The one area where the recommendation of the coroner's panel didn't talk about much…. They said to pilot things in the civil and family justice system and so on.
I think the report from my office was very clear to say that we need to improve the legislation in this area, to have a definition of domestic violence, a stronger understanding of what should mandatorily happen in these cases, and clearer practice direction and support for people at the front line to do the job.
There is a need to move it beyond the simple, "Mother is protecting; we don't need to remove," to as in other jurisdictions where their child welfare legislation allows for a broader test and a broader basis for engagement with children exposed to domestic violence. So you'll see the approach that the report has taken to say: "We need to get in and improve this area."
The same holds with the family justice system. There are recommendations in the report which you're not going to see picked up in the coroner's panel. I just highlight this for points of difference. I think it's important to note that I'm an independent office, so I'm able to make a recommendation, which is: "Go and look at your legislation." It might be that an office that's not independent can't recommend legislative changes — right? It's just the way the rules are.
From my perspective, I recommended that the Attorney General look at the family law in British Columbia to modernize it so that there is a definition of domestic violence, so that it's easier in that system to get protective orders and that those protective orders across the system can work in the same way, so you don't have one order in the criminal justice system and a different one in the family justice system and maybe one in the child welfare system. So there's a need to look at that as well.
There are some specific recommendations around the family justice system because, of course…. Let's say that one didn't go to the criminal justice system at all. Let's say that today in British Columbia someone is living with significant domestic violence. There are children, and the ministry responds and says, "I think you should go to the family justice system," because the person says: "I don't want to go to the criminal justice system. There's a stigma. I just don't want to have to face that. I don't want my kids to have to testify against their father or mother about how they were abused, how he beat me, or what have you."
There are many parents who would choose not to go to the criminal justice system if they have an option, but they'd have to go somewhere. Where would they go? They would go to the family justice system, which should provide an option to say: "We need a peaceful separation of these parties with the best interests of children at mind, and we need to restrain the parent from engaging in behaviour that's harmful to the partner and the child."
The family justice system does not provide an easy remedy there. I think there are people on the committee who are more expert in the family justice system, and have probably worked in it, to know that there are significant costs associated with using it. Legal aid is not always available. Moreover, listening to and looking at the child doesn't always happen in the family justice system either.
The family justice system needs improvement. I'd also say…. In some provinces, like in Ontario, the family justice system, the Family Law Act, was completely reformed to be able to do this. The government even funded judicial training so that judges would be more comfortable in dealing with domestic violence cases, because, in all fairness, often they want to punt them because they're so complicated and they think that should be on the criminal justice side.
But from a public service perspective, an adult facing domestic violence needs avenues. They need a family justice avenue. There is a criminal justice avenue if a crime has been committed that should be investigated and dealt with, but not in a way that elevates the risk of harm, even greater harm and peril than was there the day before. And, of course, the child-serving system has to respond. So you'll see that recommendation difference on the legislation for child welfare and the legislation for family law.
I'm not going to go into great detail on the recommendations, because I would rather have a discussion, if there are questions. I think it's important for me to note, in all fairness, that…. I anticipate you're going to ask me a question, which is: "Where are your recommendations, Mary Ellen, and how has the response been?" Well, I have a response to the recommendations, which I think I'll just table. I'm not going to discuss it.
The Deputy Solicitor General wrote me a letter on May 12 on behalf of himself, the Deputy Attorney General and the Deputy Minister of Children and Families to provide an update. The update is the document that was
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released by the task force that was tasked by the Solicitor General to come up with some recommended responses to the recommendations. I don't know exactly how to phrase this, but I'll file it with the committee.
The recommendation response is the task force response to develop a plan on the recommendations. In some ways, I can say that there is greater opportunity to work here. I think, in all fairness, with respect to the work of my office, because of some of the difficulties I described earlier around litigation and so on, the level of engagement has probably not been what it could have been. But there's a great opportunity, I think, to get back to these.
The response to the recommendations is not, certainly, as strong as I'd like it to be. At the same time, the task force that was created and reported in March was a task force that I very much support. I met with the members of the task force, which were senior officials in the Ministry of Attorney General, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, the Ministry of Children and Families and the Ministry of Education, and chaired by someone from the Solicitor General's ministry.
I met with the task force. I was very pleased with the work of the task force. The task force was very well-served by the excellent chair. They really focused, I think, on the criminal justice side, and I really support the efforts that they put in place. They recommended creating a secretariat to then carry this forward.
But the actual update on the recommendations…. I'm not sure I can have a very productive discussion of it today. I don't think it will really be helpful to anyone if I go into it. I think what I should do, under the circumstances, is say that the response I received I don't think is adequate.
I would like the opportunity to go back between now and, say, September and actually give you a report on the recommendations, on where they are, and give me a chance to engage a bit with officials who may, now that the coroner's panel is out, have an opportunity to have a more fulsome discussion of where this is.
I'm happy to respond specifically, but I'll leave that with the committee. I think that would probably be the more productive course.
With that, I'll open it to any questions.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thanks very much, Mary Ellen, for a very detailed and thorough examination of the report — or a portrayal of the report. Could I just ask a question, just to clarify? Is that because it's sort of a work in progress?
I know the panel just came out yesterday — right? The secretariat was formed. I understand there have been steps in March and May and June. It's ongoing, so you'd like some time to sort of dig into it and then match your recommendations to what's going on — just so I fully understand and we understand? Other members may have a question, but I defer to your judgment about it.
M. Turpel-Lafond: I think the challenging issue is…. I'll file it, and in some instances the response to the recommendation is one word — like "underway." It really doesn't give me an ability to look. If I could go back and look, then I could probably give more — what it means to be underway and so on.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I think that's quite fine.
N. Simons: Thank you very much, Mary Ellen, and thanks to John and to Cory for their work on this. I know that these are very difficult investigations to undertake. They're hugely complex. I just want to thank you for that.
Mary Ellen, there are 29 bubbles, as far as I could tell, on this chart, representing different agencies with different responsibilities and different individuals within agencies. I remember soon after the tragic event many people were talking about victim assistance workers.
I know that the province of B.C. did have Crown victim services at one point, where a victim assistance worker would be sitting in the same office as the Crown prosecutor. They would have maybe a blind on a window between their offices. They would communicate on issues, I think, germane to this particular case — whether it's in assessing the risk to the child or planning for a safety plan for the parent. I notice that none of the 29 bubbles have a victim assistance worker involved.
To me, as a former social worker, I do know the complexity in coordinating the various responses. I remember getting faxes from police departments with very little supporting information. I remember getting previous contact checks from other ministry offices that really didn't have the detail that an entire file would have.
In my opinion, this is about the capacity of these agencies to do what they want to do. In many cases the lack of support, whether it be personnel or resources to do what they need to do…. When I see social workers…. You have a ministry social worker. You have their backup social worker. You have the intake team. You have the acting team leader after hours. I know that the social workers right now…. When they go on maternity leave or sick leave, there's no one to cover their file. What I see here is, except for the tragic results and the specific nature of this crime, all too common in our communities. The ingredients for other tragedies are still there because the resources are not there.
I'm just wondering if you could comment on those few points.
M. Turpel-Lafond: Certainly, I can.
First of all, I think there's very strong evidence that we reviewed in preparing this report. Cory Heavener
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can correct me if I'm wrong with this. Only 10 percent of victims of domestic violence use a transition house support. I think that's the last assessment.
Now, there might be a variety of reasons for that. One: transition houses may not be available. In this instance, for someone such as Sunny Park, she may have been very stigmatized by using a transition house. She might be somebody who would go to a hotel, for instance, or try to go out of town to somewhere else.
But I think the evidence that we've reviewed was very strong, which is if you do happen to go to a transition house, you probably will get the best safety planning in British Columbia, because you'll have very skilled, trained people who have a relationship with the local police, prosecutor and so on.
Now, are they integrated? No, but by force of personality and experience, many of these people do a superb job. How do you replicate that for the people that don't go to a transition house? You have an integrated system.
One of the good things that did come out of the report, I think, into the death of Christian Lee — which isn't a high-level government response, but it's a very important response, because it would have kept, I think, Christian safe — is that, as of yesterday, the Victoria police department has made operational their domestic violence unit. That didn't exist.
This means you have police officers trained, with a lead person who really understands the dynamics of violence, the risk and safety issues both. You have that person coordinating with the Crown counsel. Now, we don't have dedicated Crown counsel, although the Coroners Service has said we need that. You have a social worker. And you have people meeting right away to say: "Is this a high-risk case?"
Now, we haven't yet developed in British Columbia a high-risk protocol so that you know what it is across…. A lot of times, families move. So it's okay if they live here. What if they happen to move to Nanaimo or to Langley? It's that issue of the high-risk protocol, consistent definitions, consistent approaches, but you need integrated teams who will actually sit and bring it forward.
In Victoria there was a domestic violence working group that met every couple of months, but they weren't tasked to deal with individual cases. Now in response to this report, in particular, that was reactivated. It had been abeyance for some time. I'm very positive about it. I give full credit to the chief of police for Victoria and, I think, the Solicitor General, as well, for supporting that and for people to come together. I mean, they're integrating.
You're absolutely right on that comment, which is: if people are on it and working on it, a great deal can be accomplished. But what are they doing with their time? What are they tasked to do? What are they supported to do? We don't have these integrated units throughout British Columbia. The Vancouver police department has operated one for some time. We had one in Victoria; it shut down. We need to have that.
That would have kept, I think, Christian and Sunny in a safer place, because there would have been a much better appreciation of the degree of risk. There was a senior police officer that said: "I think he could kill her." And she said: "I think I could be murdered by my husband." I think it would have been very different, how prosecutions, bail and others work together — and probably child welfare as well.
That was a missing ingredient. Luckily, that's here in Victoria. And I hope — because I worry about things that get started and stopped and started and stopped — that will continue and become a provincewide policy. It would be extremely valuable for providing safety for children and families exposed to domestic violence in British Columbia to have that in every police force and every judicial district.
I'd say, on that point, something very positive happened after this report was released, and it was quite a significant event for me. It really telescoped to where I think we could be in British Columbia.
I was invited to Ontario by all the police forces, all the child-serving workers, the Crown counsel, who had a provincial conference in Ontario. Every court district had their lead police officers that work in domestic violence, their victim service workers in domestic violence, transition house people and other supportive workers. Every region was there. They actually reviewed this report. They asked me to come and present, and we talked about it.
They sat together to talk about how they can make sure that the risk protocols are in place, that the work is done, that things that they believe are barriers, like information-sharing, are eliminated. So there they were, all working together. They had a high-risk protocol. They have representatives from the police who do high-risk cases. They actually are sitting together and working in every court district for Ontario — police officers, victim services people — already having a system but actually talking about how they can improve that system.
What's their conversation like? It isn't like this one. It's very pragmatic, which is to say: "We have these problems in Hamilton. Here's how we're investing. Oh, I guess we don't have enough transition house places, so we're going to build it." Their Attorney General is sitting with them, and their Minister for Children is sitting with them — totally, all on the same page on this area.
Do they have problems there? Yes, but there has been very significant leadership in having a system. In British Columbia these are tough problems, but when things fall off the desk of that person — as you suggest, Nicholas — that has to respond to the call for the child and now is responding to something else and can't respond to those
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domestic violence calls or they're given a lower priority, you lose that system. So the child welfare piece has to be also in it.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you for your work on this. Just by reading the report and listening to your presentation, it's very tragic. I think we all feel that and, obviously, want to prevent that. That's why we're here.
I have a question about…. At the bottom of page 31 of your report, it says: "Legislation permitting the free exchange of information between the ministry and all police departments already exists, yet the exchange of critical information did not take place."
What I'm trying to get at, and this comes up in other jurisdictions and other debates, is that there seems to be a disconnect between everybody wanting to improve communication between these 29 or 30 bullets, with regards to everybody being on the same page. Was it so-called jurisdictional jealousy, or was it an issue to do with privacy? We seem to come up with these two issues. If we have a coordinated database, which at first breath, to me, seems like the obvious choice….
We have all of these people that are these professional expertise people that are involved in this case, and they're not talking to each other or not coordinating or not communicating for the safety and the ultimate — obviously not repeating the same thing — protection and risk mitigation that you spoke of and allowing all of this information to be available to child welfare, police, education, health, etc. Would that be interpreted…?
What would outweigh the risk of any privacy breaches? How do we reconcile those two opposing…? If we do all of this, then are we going to get the privacy people saying: "Well, you can't do that"?
M. Turpel-Lafond: I'm going to ask Jeremy to respond to that, because he's had a lot of experience at the front lines with those issues.
J. Berland: To be sure, there are significant questions around confidentiality and privacy. The Child, Family and Community Service Act, which is the child welfare legislation, provides that if the child welfare worker is pursing an action under that act, they have a right to any information that is the hands of other organizations.
From the child welfare side, it is very clear that that information should be available. From the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act side, it's not always clear to people how they're supposed to behave or what their obligations are.
There is often quite a bit of confusion about how people should interpret that legislation, but the legislation actually provides a pretty clear path for what to do in these circumstances. There's a provision — I think it might be section 33; I'm not sure — around consistent purpose. In this situation, it's quite clear that the consistent purpose is the safety and protection of the child and the family.
A lot of the issue that you described really revolves around the training and education of the people who are doing the work and the need for them to actually sit down, as we've described in some of the other recommendations in this report, to have a way to communicate with each other but also to understand what the legislation actually says, rather than what they believe it says.
Quite often we see how people develop their own local understanding, local knowledge of what ought to happen, and sometimes it's at odds with what really can happen.
There are some very good examples in the criminal justice system, in the prolific-offender pilots that are underway in many communities around B.C., in the community court, where the information-sharing issues actually do get sorted out with the involvement of the province's chief information officer and the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
There certainly is a way to do it. It's not nearly as complicated as people believe, but it does come down to people having to talk to each other first and sort out their various mandates and responsibilities, because the most important primary mandate of the public safety ministries is public safety. Whether that's in child welfare or in bail supervision on the criminal side, those people do have to talk to each other. The fact that they don't is where the problem arises. It's not that they can't; it's more that they don't.
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): Mary Ellen, I'm quite concerned here about what's happening in real communities right now. If you look at the timeline here, the case that we're talking about here, Sunny Park…. That occurred in September 2007. Your report came out in 2009, and yesterday we had the domestic violence report come out.
Now 2½ years have gone by, and by all evidence here, there is still such a patchwork of resources and responses to this. When I even think about the fact that you're talking about…. In the capital region we have a domestic violence team. But that doesn't apply to Langford, where it's RCMP, and certainly around the rest of the province.
I'm very concerned that there are more Sunny Parks out there right now and that we are still, it looks like, a long way away from having an adequate system in place. Can you comment on that? I am very concerned by the time that has gone by here and the slow pace of responses to this.
Many of the recommendations seem to me to be pretty straightforward, pretty pragmatic. Ontario seems
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to be way ahead of us on the game here, and yet there is so much patchwork here. I am very concerned about that and how much longer it will take for the RCMP to get involved. How do we integrate them into these kinds of recommendations, and how does that work on the front lines?
That's a ponderous and dysfunctional system, I think. Everybody can see the number of barriers that could be there. So what do we do in the meantime, and how can we speed this along? What are some of the solutions to moving forward so that there are not other women and children experiencing this and that we have a potential death again next week that could have been prevented?
M. Turpel-Lafond: I think the first point I would make is that leadership with respect to it…. There are multiple ministries at the provincial level, and it requires a provincial view. To be very technical, there is a definition: what's a K file? But what's a domestic violence file? That is something that's been a bit of a controversy. That's been worked out pretty easily elsewhere. You have to have a provincial view.
I think in some other jurisdictions there has been more consistent interministry leadership over a longer period of time. If I take Ontario as an example, the Ontario women's directorate, which is part of the Attorney General's office…. It's moved around a bit, but it's been consistently there for a long time. It's been a very significant mover in the area of domestic violence for a long period of time and has worked really effectively on an interministerial level on these issues.
So you've had a group and done research, and of course, in Ontario again in 2003 there was a detailed plan on domestic violence which was involving these three systems. There were changes to legislation. There was funding. There was leadership provided.
In British Columbia I give full credit to the fact that we have constituted — I mean, just recently — a secretariat, which will be in Public Safety and Solicitor General. But that's new — right? We have in other jurisdictions…. We've had long leadership to promote this, and because people are working under different legislations and systems, that's important. So I think in terms of the missing ingredient, that might be a bit of the missing ingredient. In British Columbia we haven't had consistency. There were periods of time where there was more emphasis on it. Then it seems to have drifted a bit.
The other issue with respect to some parts of the system, like the criminal justice side, is the money. There was a very successful project that I have spoken publicly about — it's not in this report, but I've learned about it in preparing this report, looking at systems of what's the best practice — which is the Langley project with the dedicated Crown counsel. And I know for a fact — in preparing this report and looking at the case, that protocol and that model — that families were spared violence because it was there. It was a very trained Crown counsel working with police, making sure orders were enforced and so on.
That's a small step, but every judicial district should have dedicated Crown counsel. That means you have it fund your Crown prosecutor system to be able to have that. And I will go to speak to the education session of the Crown prosecutors at their fall session to talk about this.
I've been working closely with the prosecution service. They're very supportive. They actually have some enormous expertise. I mean, someone is a very expert…. They were reassigned from where they were doing this incredibly important work to another general criminal court downtown Vancouver.
There is expertise, but it takes resources and training, and it takes something that I think is really important, and that is stability — stable commitment, regular reporting on improvements. It has to be motivated by a common appreciation that this is something that we want to achieve together.
I think with the domestic violence panel reporting from the Coroners Service, as I said at the outset…. The report that I produced…. The very same recommendations — except it isn't as strongly focused on children — are in this other report. I think we have a good idea of where the work has to be done. It's just: now what's the cost? What's the task? But someone has to get out and do it.
The challenge, of course, that I see in these investigations is that you can send an edict from the high levels of the administrative offices of Victoria to say, "Do a better job on domestic violence," but someone at the front line has to actually be equipped and tasked and assigned and be able to do it, and actually have some experience. You need tools and so on.
I think, actually, in fairness, that there has been work commenced. I think the secretariat is positive. I think it's there. I think we don't want it to stop. I would like to see it…. The tide has turned. I would like to see the prosecution service develop that expertise in every judicial district in British Columbia. I would like to see the domestic violence units there. I would like to see improvements in the child welfare system so people know what to do and best approaches are taken to do both prevention and important intervention.
But it's going to take real commitment across ministries to see that happen — and a lead. Who's the lead? A lot of it comes down to being able to keep it going. I'll be tracking it very carefully, and I'd like to report, as I say, in September on: has there been leadership to bring this down to the systems level?
I think we should recognize that in some instances there have been very positive changes, like Victoria and elsewhere. Tomorrow you could put your prosecutors back in. It could happen. It's a matter of choice, I guess.
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L. Krog: This is fairly specific question. You may or may not be able to answer it. My niece and her husband are city police officers in Vancouver. If they have one complaint about their work, and they may not forgive me for mentioning this, it's that they're doing an awful lot of social work. I mean no disrespect to social workers when I say that it is an important aspect of what they do. My constituency is served by the RCMP under contract to the city Nanaimo.
The first contacts, when you look at your timeline of significant events, are all with police forces — the previous events. The main event that starts this is Sunny calling the Oak Bay police on July 19.
I don't think the situation is going to change in terms of the work that police officers do out in the field. I just want you to comment if possible. I don't know. You've touched on recommendations — standardized police policies, etc. — in recommendation 2. What is your sense, if any, of how much training the police receive in being able to assess these situations?
It is a senior officer who makes a report on August 3 in the timeline. A senior officer. It's kind of like being the only brain surgeon in Houston. Chances are Houston doesn't have a brain surgeon because there's not a lot of call for brain surgery. I don't mean that in a humorous way. The reality is that you go where the work is.
But the kind of work that police officers have to do dealing with domestic violence exists in every community in this province, large or small, where there may not be that level of expertise, where you can't establish a task force, where you can't have a Crown prosecutor dedicated especially. The fact is you have to reach out to those communities.
I'm just wondering — any comments about police training to recognize the seriousness of the situation which, as you say, many would not, and if there's some sort of standardization. Has the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General or the Attorney General had any comments about this? What are your feelings?
I realize it's fairly broad, but I think it's a very important thing, because again, this is typical. It's the police who first have contact with the family. Do those police officers involved have enough experience, intelligence and wisdom to be able to send somebody on to deal with the other issues?
M. Turpel-Lafond: Well, I think first of all, the first responders — the police — are the gateway to all kinds of things. They're a gateway to social services. They're a gateway to the criminal justice system. Not everything ends up in a charge and a prosecution, as you know.
I think the police forces, and the RCMP in particular…. At training depot, there is training around family dynamics and violence. It's not extensive, but there is. The after-appointment training…. There's a one-day, on-line training course that police officers can take in British Columbia. But I think it's the team piece. It also comes, I think, to what is sort of behind your question, which is the issue of: where's the training, and where's the priority?
I mean, if you look at policing, there is a very significant initiative for accident reconstruction and driving offences. It's funded. It's trained. People get out there. There's an accident. They take pictures. There are charges. The whole area of safety on the roads is…. That's how it works. That's how the system works. It's very clear. You go to where you're looking for. You only see what you're looking for. You only know what to look for based on how well you are trained to see what you're looking for.
The other thing is, with respect to the criminal justice policing side, there can be an emphasis on gangs. All of these are very important issues. Your emphasis will be on this crime, this particular area of the criminal…. This particular anti-social behaviour crime, or impaired driving over 80 — whatever. You can set whatever priorities you want to your police force, and they'll go with it.
Police forces always deal with domestic violence. They have always dealt with it. They're always going to have to deal with it. I'd like to see a lot fewer calls, based on a stronger system, but I think, also, they need to know what to do. They are one silo of a system. They are going to knock on the door. They're going to see the child hiding in the closet or the person injured, and they're going to respond. They respond very well to immediately protect the safety.
But they may not be required to make a phone call to the Ministry of Children and Families and say: "I've just been to a family's home. Please become involved." Is that mandatory? No, it isn't. They may not be required to document that in a certain way so that when the tenth phone call comes, and the family has moved from Oak Bay to Prince George, we know that that's, in fact, the tenth phone call. It's how you prime, how you train. If it's a public safety priority, you can have a public safety response.
The police — one side of it…. I think here we saw exemplary police service with respect to this area. We saw a very senior police officer so distraught about the level of concern for this victim that he personally phoned the Ministry of Children and Families. He didn't say: "I'd like to make an intake under section 13 of the CF and CSA." He didn't know what to say about that. But he said: "I'm so concerned. Someone must be out there to do something to provide for the safety of this person, because I can only do as much as I can do."
I think very much that there are very capable, competent police officers throughout the province that want to do the right thing. They just need to know: what are
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they going to do? What is the system? I think that's the key point.
But your issue about: how do they function? Is it social work? Well, it's not social work, but it is an offence. Assault is an offence. Confinement is an offence. Threats are offences. They are in the Criminal Code for a reason, and they have to respond. They can't choose not to respond, and in some regions where they do, that's not acceptable. It's how they respond.
I think they deserve better support. Certainly, the senior police officer that was involved here went back and actually is engaged in extensive training. There is great leadership in the police force to strengthen it. Leadership can come anywhere, but I think the police are very supportive of a strong system for domestic violence. But they need the resources. They need to have a domestic violence unit. They can't just walk in and leave and say: "Oh, I can do a lethality risk assessment in my brain as I'm running to my 50th call of the night."
They need support, and I think that part of the recommendations is to get them in that system.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I'm going to jump in the queue here as well. I was very interested in…. You actually made the allusion to another program in Ontario, the friends and neighbours. One of the things that has concerned me personally — and, I'm sure, others — is that as a society we have to stop accepting domestic violence.
I'm really interested. I appreciate all the details and analysis of this particular case and our systems, but I would love to hear your insights about: as a society, what are steps we might take, or some leadership we might all take as legislators or as leaders in our own communities? How do we make sure that this is not acceptable?
That does touch on friends, neighbours, family. Instead of hiding it inside your family and all of the kinds of things that have been going on in the past, how do we get the message out that it's not acceptable? I'd just love to hear your thoughts on that.
M. Turpel-Lafond: That program in Ontario, the friends and neighbours program, which the coroner's panel referred to, is an extremely positive program. These programs exist in different places around the world. It's the notion that….
There are these three systems — right? There's the criminal justice. There's the civil justice. There's the family justice. If there's conflict in a family, there has to be a peaceful way to resolve it. The response to violence in the family can't be: "Let's get a gun." It has to be peaceful resolution of disputes. So the society has to norm that through its official systems but also through its social values.
In British Columbia we're a society that cherishes children. We value children. We need to explain more carefully and consistently that children who are witnessing and living in homes where there is domestic violence and their parents — mother or father — are struggling in the workplace or as friends and neighbours…. We need to be involved in a friendly and positive way, and I think that's about our social responsibility as individuals, and it's about corporate responsibility.
How does business respond to mom, who's experiencing domestic violence? She's terrified, and she's afraid she's going to lose her job. How does a neighbour and friend respond? I think that that is where…. Sometimes it's called social marketing. But we're not exactly bombarded in British Columbia with messages against violence in the home — are we? I haven't seen a billboard in my travels around British Columbia about that.
The friends and neighbours program does do very important social marketing, which is reminding people about this, particularly for children who, I feel very strongly, have a right to be safe in their home. When they're not safe, they should feel comfortable to speak about it.
They should be comfortable at school. They should be comfortable with friends and neighbours, and there shouldn't be a stigma. It should be promoting a very strong message of anti-violence. Violence has no place in the home. Child abuse has no place. Violence has no place. We have to take a very strong message. We are fooling ourselves if we think it doesn't exist — the second most reported crime. But what are we doing about it?
For me, with respect to honouring the life of this child who died…. He lived a life exposed to domestic violence. People in his life knew that he experienced domestic violence. What happened to him? He died, tragically, being murdered instead of living the full potential that his life should have had. When we have this type of tragedy next door, if you like, we need to step back and say: "Are we doing enough, if we're a society that cherishes children, to respond to domestic violence?" I think the short and plain answer is that we're not.
Friends and neighbours is a good approach. We should look at it. If you're interested, when I bring you an update on the recommendations…. In particular, you can hear from the chief coroner, if you like, who did the domestic violence panel report, to talk about friends and neighbours. Or I can make sure I can bring some material to the committee for you to look at, but it's a good thing to spearhead in your constituencies, to have that support — and of course, in the schools.
In Ontario, they spearheaded for middle school students, where they felt that it was really a key opportunity developmentally for children to learn what a safe relationship is and what an unsafe relationship is. Kids who have grown up in domestic violence have trouble understanding those boundaries, of what's acceptable. Adolescence is a time where kids don't always understand boundaries and can be manipulated and so on.
Aggressive and very positive programming and messaging about peaceful relationships is really helpful.
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Some of that, in British Columbia, is hit and miss. We don't have a consistent education program either. So there are huge opportunities in British Columbia to make progress.
I completely endorse the idea that government has its job, and it needs to do its job. But citizens have their job, too. We raise the children. Government plays a big role in creating a positive environment, but we raise the children, and we must send out a much stronger message.
The corporate sector and business community. In Ontario they developed, through friends and neighbours, good ways to talk about domestic violence in the workplace. Some employers in B.C. have that — I know they do — but not all of them. Certainly, WorkSafe B.C. and other opportunities could be explored to promote those messages.
J. McIntyre (Chair): You remind me of the anti-bullying campaign, too, which I guess is part and parcel of that, but an example of trying to get the message out on a widespread basis. As you say, if it's in the home…. It starts with youth, actually. They need to be learning at a young age that those things are not acceptable behaviour as they go through life.
M. Dalton: Mary Ellen, thank you very much for your report and for the recommendations. It's a very sad case, and I think that we can definitely take from this and learn.
One challenge that I see, perhaps, is dealing with having a response that is both effective in protecting our children — those that have families that are involved in domestic violence — and also in being efficient. I've seen from my background as a teacher that sometimes the paperwork can be so immense that it just takes away from the actual work.
So my concern is…. Improving the checklists and standards to minimize the risks to children — is it taking away from our effectiveness? I think it needs to be there, but I'm just wondering that we're not impacting our actual services and the professional ability of the social workers, also, to be able to make decisions. Can you comment on that, please?
M. Turpel-Lafond: I think the challenge here…. The conclusion that I reached in looking at the material is that there isn't a final training program for social workers in B.C. There isn't a standard. There's sort of a best-practices draft document. And the best-practices draft document, while it's laudable, doesn't seem to land on some of the key issues that we found here, which is: what happens from one system to the other?
It's a draft best practices. It comes across the desk of a practitioner — social worker, youth worker, teacher — and you don't know what to do with it. You don't know what you're supposed to do. The very practical sort of checklist thing is a good idea. Namely, a child comes to school with bruises and discloses whoever did this to them in the home. What do you do? Well, it's pretty easy to know what you do as a teacher. I hope to God you call somebody, because it's a pretty serious issue. And I hope that if you call somebody, somebody responds, because that's what the system's about. It's just that important — right?
So we don't want to mire people in paperwork, but we need responsivity. I think we saw with the coroner's panel…. I had recommended, in this report, domestic violence courts, or somehow to bring that expertise here. They recommended fast-tracking them in the criminal justice system — like these many days from appearance to trial and so on. That's an extremely costly but important thing too.
But even on the other side: someone comes to school; there's the bruise. If someone doesn't respond, the bruise is gone. Or there's another bruise. So I think that that process has to work. Does it work? Sometimes, yes, but the direction that's given on domestic violence and involvement of the ministry in the lives of the children is, I would say, ambiguous at best at the moment. It can be improved, and it should be improved.
We need to see standards and good agreements with things like schools. Because even the issue for Christian…. Let's say Christian made it to school for grade 1. His dad was on bail. Maybe the dad's condition was not to be at the school. Would the school even know what the bail conditions were? What if dad showed up on the first day?
In schools across British Columbia this is an enormous issue in domestic violence. The parent, the alleged battering parent or possibly convicted parent, shows up and creates enormous problems for principals. Sometimes there's actual violence against the front office staff at schools, because the conflict comes into the school.
Do schools get a copy of the bail order? Do they understand? Do they know that they can call the police too? These are very basic things that, unfortunately, are not in existence yet. It depends on place to place. But clearer directions…. If we have an order, the school, the day care, the child care centre should know what it is so that there isn't going to be conflict there.
Those things are not complex, but it needs consistency, continuity. It has to be worked on. The policy is just simply too vague at the moment. It's too vague that you'd probably end up creating more paperwork.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Mindful of the time.
N. Simons: Just to get back to the Crown victim services. I think in your answer we didn't quite get into that. What was the circumstance around that resource available to the family?
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M. Turpel-Lafond: In the case of Sunny Park, she was referred by the social worker to supports for victims of domestic violence. So basically it's: "We'll give you a name. You can call them if you'd like to." The difference between those and more integrated processes — say, in other jurisdictions — is that they're all there. You don't have to call them; they're there to assist you.
She may very well have called them and said, you know: "There might be a program for children who witness violence. My son has witnessed violence." They might say: "Well, we're not running it because we don’t have enough numbers" or "We can get it at this time." The social worker's role here is sometimes just to refer people to a phone number to go.
In other places the victim assistance piece is right in the integrated unit, which is really helpful. Not only are they there, but the person, as in the case of Sunny…. She had a very seriously broken arm, serious injuries. She'd just had surgery. You don't really feel like having a referral circus and phoning and phoning.
You have an experienced worker there who says: "Well, I know this program is available. I know it's full. This is a high-risk case. Let me get you in." And you lead — right? It's that whole idea of what the work is. It's leading. When your instructions are vague, and you don't really know what to do, you probably don't do much.
So she was referred to something. She never phoned, in the sense she never got a meeting with them. But was she referred to something that does safety planning in high-risk cases? No, because it didn't exist.
N. Simons: Anymore.
S. Cadieux: I guess it’s more of a comment than a question. It would seem to me that in a lot of what we're talking about…. We continue to focus on the domestic violence piece, because a child may be a witness or may ultimately become a victim when there is a domestic violence situation between spouses or partners.
Really, what we're suggesting is that we need to somewhat flip it on its head, I'm guessing. When there is any kind of domestic violence, if there is a child, the child needs to become the centre of the situation in many respects, and we have to do whatever is possible, whatever is necessary to protect the child — which, actually, will ultimately protect the parent as well, it would seem.
A bit seems to come back to…. There are all these pieces here, where every person who has come in contact with this family wants to help, but they have their piece, and then they say: "Well, I've done my piece. I don't do that." There is no handoff where, as in the corporate world, we would say: "Own it." You own it until you know the next person has taken on the challenge. Unless you've passed it and you know it's now being actioned at the next level, you own it. You own the problem, if there's a problem that's brought to you.
In this regard, it's similar. We're looking at a standard…. What you're recommending, I understand, is sort of a standard set of: "This is what happens. This happens. This person gets notified. This person does this, and this person does this." There isn't that ambiguity between, "Well, that's not my job; so-and-so will have to make that call in a few days" and their making an assumption that that call gets made in a few days — right? Is that what you're getting at with some of the recommendations, if we just want to simplify it down a little for our purposes?
M. Turpel-Lafond: I think that’s just an excellent summary of how basic, really, it is, which is that you have to own it. Every reported incident of domestic violence requires…. There's an opportunity, and there's a response. What we learned here is that because in British Columbia we don't have an assessment of which is the high risk and which is the low risk, sometimes things percolate for years without involvement. Very few of them do, though. There is something that comes out, but it's not always recorded and documented.
I think this issue of "own it; assess it…." If it's high-risk, treat it as a high risk, and do something quite intensive. If it's medium- and low-risk, okay, fine. Then watch what works, but prevention…. I mean, we don't want homicides. In the very best system, can you prevent every single homicide? I'm not saying that you can, but probably, given the report from the coroner's panel on this one, there were multiple lost opportunities.
I would ask Jeremy, though, just to speak to one issue that has come up and is highlighted in your question. It's sort of the issue of what a good referral is. Like, if you own it, what do you do? It's really important to understand what a good referral to someone is, and what is appropriate in this area.
I can refer you to a dentist. You may have an abscess and need a root canal, and I could refer you and say: "Oh, these people can take you in today." Or I can refer you to a dentist because…. "We can actually improve your smile." It's not a priority. It's not that you can't function. It's really the issue of what a good referral is. On the practice side, if people don't have good instructions and responsivity, the good referrals are…. Jeremy could speak to that, because that's really a reality here.
J. Berland: Yeah, and it's a little bit of an echo of what we talked about in the Housing, Help and Hope report, around helping the persons to get to the organization that's going to provide them the service or the resource that they need. There's some really interesting work that has been done in the U.S. on good referrals and some studies that have been replicated across a number of different
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U.S. states, replicating exactly the same program funded by the U.S. government and the Health and Human Services Department.
Their good referral process really is that before you let go — which is just what you're saying — first, you make sure that it's the right place to refer the person to. You make sure that that organization is going to receive the client or provide the service, and you don't finish with that issue until you're sure that the person has gone. If they haven't gone, or it's not the right resource, you keep going until you find the right resource. You don't just say, "There it is. Go off and find it yourself," and that will be all right.
The second part of the good referral idea is also that you lead by example, so that not only are you showing the person how to get the service, but you're helping them to understand how they could get it themselves the next time around, because things don't always start and stop, and it isn't a one-time event.
People need to know how you access that service and what you would do next time around.
There are some people, including some people here in B.C., who are strongly in favour of a generalist model: everybody will do everything. That model isn't always all that effective, because we need to have specialists. We need to have people who really are very expert at what they do in order to be able to use the training and education they've received, but also, because some of the issues that we're dealing with in the social services are very specialized and very unique, and they need some specialized skills.
So the idea that everybody does everything, which might say, "Well, I'm going to get the referral. I'm going to keep it, and I'm going to do whatever is required," is not particularly helpful when the person requires a service from victim services, as Nicholas was saying earlier, or they require a specialized mental health worker or some specialized service. The good referral idea is both: help the person to get it as well as make sure that it's the right service for that person, and that person has got the skills required.
There are a number of aspects to it, but this isn't something that we have to reinvent. There is some very good referral research that's been done around how to make that work, which can be easily borrowed.
M. Elmore: Thank you to Mary Ellen and to the staff for your work on this case.
My question is with respect to — on page 61 — the services to immigrant women and identifying the lack of interpreters used in terms of communication with Sunny and just some of the cultural barriers and, obviously, other issues — being able to really adequately get accurate information from her identified as a deficiency.
I know that it's noted that there isn't an integrated or ministry policy to work with immigrant families. I think it's certainly a large…. I guess we'll wait to hear in terms of the recommendation how that's being brought forward, but certainly I think it's a large hole, I guess, in terms of addressing this from a comprehensive public policy perspective.
With our changing demographics, we have a very high immigrant population now, projected to also exceed — certainly in the metropolitan areas — the majority of the population. An important need is to have an understanding of this from the social workers right up through in terms of having that perspective of integrating that analysis, looking through that lens and being able to provide those front-line services, as well, in terms of working with families from different immigrant backgrounds.
So if you could comment on that. I'm just interested to hear, in terms of this, of other research you've conducted or come across in terms of the best practices identified in other jurisdictions dealing with this issue.
M. Turpel-Lafond: Yes, I think that's a very important question. One of the challenges with this investigation was…. Sunny Park, as I say, was in Canada for ten years. English was her second language. At the same time, she was operating a business. She seemed to be a successful, integrated member of the community, if you like, and she was.
But she had significant barriers to communicating, and it would appear some degree of intimidation with the system as well. She relied on her husband, who was more familiar with these systems, to navigate them. That put her in greater peril.
I particularly made the recommendation about the outreach in the area of new immigrants and even more established immigrant communities for domestic violence supports and services. I am very pleased that recommendation 8 of the coroner's panel recommended detailed training, cultural competency training, for everyone in that integrated system, in all of those streams, every bubble — cultural competency training, information in multiple languages, consistent information, but also outreach to highly marginalized communities.
Marginality doesn't always mean economic marginality. It can be communities where they haven't got adequate supports from the criminal justice system. So the immigrant support services are really important.
I think, in all fairness, the number of domestic violence homicides…. Immigrant women are disproportionately represented. Are they at an elevated risk? Well, probably they're not as connected to supports. Do we have a mandate and responsibility to get out there? Yes, we do. Sometimes it's one parent. Sometimes it's a family.
I think we have a lot of room for improvement. Using existing outreach supports, settlement societies, health organizations that serve particular communities in British Columbia…. Those are fantastic vehicles to empower, but they need consistent information too.
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The social marketing that we talked about, like friends and neighbours…. Friends and neighbours also need to go out. In Ontario this has been a very significant issue — delivering friends and neighbours in new immigrant and other established communities where there may be a very high level of stigma about family violence or there may be an unwillingness to call the police, or when the police show up, say: "No, no. I just fell down the stairs. I just broke my arm myself. I just drove over myself with the car." I mean, let's be realistic. The stigma is significant, so again, there's so much work to improve.
But I think Sunny Park was someone who experienced barriers: not having a Korean translator, not necessarily having someone who understood her language and her barriers, not speaking to her parents. Those were things that…. We did them wrong by not doing that. We should have done that. A good investigation will talk to parents and get a translator — at the very basic level. The broader outreach and service we can improve.
I think your question is an important one. There's a lot of work to be done. I will try and report back in the fall on that particular recommendation. I think my recommendation together with recommendation 8 are a really good start to get those supports out there.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very much. It's been a long morning but very, very informative and very serious work that we're doing. I'd like to thank you very much, Mary Ellen, and your staff for the very thorough work and your observations and reflections on a lot of these significant issues.
I think the House rises tomorrow, as we all know. I think all of us, actually, here now, on all fronts have our marching orders for the fall. With that, I would like to thank all the committee members for all the work, actually. We've been busy at work all these last six months or so. I want to thank everybody for the cooperation and support we've all had and the significant amount of work we've actually accomplished and gone through on a number of fronts.
I'd also like to extend my thanks to Kate and the staff for all the work. As Mary Ellen and others, Maurine, you've all acknowledged the support.
N. Simons: And Hansard.
J. McIntyre (Chair): And Hansard. Yes, thank you very much, Nic. Hansard, thank you.
You know, it takes a big team to put this all together, so I just want to thank everybody for all their support and wish us an adjournment for the summer, but we also have to attain an official adjournment.
J. Rustad: I was just wondering whether we need to adopt the report.
J. McIntyre (Chair): No, we don't. No, we don't formally.
I'd like to entertain a motion to adjourn, if that's okay.
The committee adjourned at 11:55 a.m.
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