November 22, 2018 / Toronto – OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants is deeply concerned about the Ontario government’s decision to eliminate the position of the Ontario Child Advocate.
Children and youth in this province will no longer have an independent, non-partisan voice that puts their rights and well-being first. Ontario joins Prince Edward Island and the North West Territories as the only jurisdictions in Canada without an independent voice for children and youth.
The Ontario government has moved the responsibility for conducting investigations related to children and youth in the care of government to the Ombudsman’s office. As a result, children and youth will lose an independent, dedicated champion who puts their interests first and amplify their voices, and can support them to learn about and access their rights.
Canada has ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Canada has also signed the Optional Protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography. The elimination of the independent Child Advocate’s office weakens Canada’s ability to meet its responsibilities under the Convention, and will make it more difficult for children and youth to access their rights.
We are especially concerned about the harmful impact this change would have on Black and Indigenous children who are put into care in numbers that are far greater than any other groups in Ontario. We are also deeply concerned about the harmful impact on refugee children, especially unaccompanied refugee children and youth as well as those that may end up in care.
Black and Indigenous children are also over-represented in poverty. There are clear links between poverty and systemic discrimination that lead to their over-representation in child welfare systems, and subsequently in homelessness, under-education, unemployment and the criminal justice system.
Over the last several years, the office of the Child Advocate has strengthened its expertise and experience in understanding and better responding to the specific and unique needs of Indigenous, Black and refugee children, and expanded recognition of its work in certain communities across the province. Much work remains to be done and closing down the office at this stage will see the loss of the gains made to-date. There is a real possibility that advocacy for children and youth would become invisible and silenced in the context of the broader scope of the Ombudsman’s office.
Children and youth in Ontario need and deserve a strong independent advocacy voice that is mandated to protect their rights. The role of the Provincial Advocate is critical in holding the government accountable to children and youth.
We urge the Government of Ontario to reconsider the decision to eliminate the office of the Ontario Child Advocate and do its utmost to support the rights of children and youth and respect the Best Interests of the Child.