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Attack on child rep's right to know will impair office: Hughes

British Columbia cabinet ministers said the government will consider Ted Hughes' suggestion that it withdraw or delay amendments that would curtail the right of the representative for children and youth to cabinet documents.

In 2006 Hughes wrote a report that made 62 recommendations for fixing the child welfare system, including creating a position for an independent representative for children and youth. Today, in a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell, he criticized the government's plan to amend the Representative for Children and Youth Act.

“Section 10 of the Act, as it presently stands, is an integral and critical part of what both you and I were attempting to achieve in 2006,” Hughes wrote. “To amend the section as you propose will result in a substantial impairment of the ability of the Representative, as an independent officer of the Legislature, to fulfil the responsibilities that she was put in place to meet.”

On April 29 the government introduced amendments that would restrict the documents the representative could see.

“I'm hoping they will take a pause and consider and very carefully digest the words of Ted Hughes,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative for children and youth.

The government should withdraw the amendments, she said. “I don't think there's much use for mediation if the amendment goes ahead.”

B.C. supreme court justice Susan Griffin last week found that the existing legislation does give the representative a right to see cabinet documents and that was in line with the government's intention in 2006, despite the government's argument's last week to the contrary.

Asked if the amendments would be withdrawn following Hughes' letter, children and family development minister Mary Polak said, “I can't say that yet, but certainly we are looking at his statement, his letter.”

She called both the letter and Griffin's ruling last week “thoughtful”.

Attorney General Michael de Jong said the government is interested in exploring with Hughes ways to balance the interests that gave rise to the disagreement with the representative.

NDP leader Carole James said the ruling was clear and the government should act on it immediately. “There's nothing to study,” she said.

“I don't know what more it will take to get this government to recognize that one of their most important roles is to protect vulnerable children in British Columbia and they're failing badly,” she said.

The amendments to the Representative for Children and Youth Act are expected to be debated in the Legislature this week.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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