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Sherry Charlie reforms dropped: BC youth watchdog

Promises to reform B.C.’s child protection system appear to have been dismissed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s top bureaucrat, who wrote that “the recommendations were not possible to achieve.”

This, according to correspondence between the ministry’s Lesley du Toit and the province’s child protection watchdog, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

In April 2006, former conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes released 62 recommendations to improve the province’s child protection system following the tragic death of toddler Sherry Charlie. The government committed to acting on those recommendations.

But, in a July 19, 2007 letter, Turpel-Lafond stated her understanding – following earlier meetings with du Toit – was that the deputy’s plans to reform the ministry weren’t “particularly informed or inspired by the Hughes Review but by a different set of transformative principles.”

In fact, according to Turpel-Lafond, during a July 16, 2007 meeting between herself and du Toit, the deputy “clarified that many of the recommendations were not possible to achieve” because the Hughes Review was “informed by ideas which are entrenched in an old system.”

“I take from this that the Hughes Review recommendations are something which should be left behind in light of transformation,” continued Turpel-Lafond in her letter to du Toit. But, despite that change, the representative noted there had been no “public indication” the Hughes Review recommendations had been “set aside in part or in whole.”

Responding to the representative’s observations, du Toit stated her plan was “strongly influenced” by the Hughes Review. But she acknowledged the review won’t “be used as a blueprint for transformation.”

The reason, according to du Toit, “Hughes himself makes the point that his report is not a blueprint.”

Instead, “the principles and process we are using have arisen out of the various reviews (of which Hughes is one) and the multiple consultation” the ministry has had with stakeholders – including service providers and First Nations leaders.

Four months later, the representative released a scathing report that found “too little evidence” within the ministry of children and family development “of a coordinated effort to implement numerous Hughes recommendations where its leadership has been required.” Indeed, according to that report, the ministry had achieved no or limited progress on 22 out of the 43 recommendations directly related to children and family development.

The B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell’s administration has since released a ministry action plan that states the Hughes Review “continues to inform MCFD’s planning.” In an April 14, 2008 letter to the representative, du Toit states “The Premier’s Office has played a strong role in assisting in the finalization” of the plan.

24 hours unearthed the correspondence between Turpel-Lafond and du Toit by via a freedom of information request. It is part of what appears to be an increasingly conflict-driven relationship between the two women.

Sean Holman edits Public Eye Online and reports for 24 hours.

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