Nunavut MLA attempts to block children-youth advocate bill

“It will just be another mouthpiece,” says Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley

By DAVID MURPHY

In the committee of the whole Sept. 17, Nunavut MLAs discuss Bill 40 which would create a representative for children and youth office in Nunavut. (PHOTO BY DAVID MUPRHY)


In the committee of the whole Sept. 17, Nunavut MLAs discuss Bill 40 which would create a representative for children and youth office in Nunavut. (PHOTO BY DAVID MUPRHY)

After many delays and years of deliberation, Bill 40 on the Representative for Children and Youth Act, which would create an office of an independent child and youth representative for Nunavut, has reached the final stages of becoming law.

Bill 40 went through committee of the whole and was read for the third, and last, time Sept. 16 at the Nunavut legislative assembly — but Tagak Curley, the MLA for Rankin Inlet North, didn’t let this take place without a fight.

Before the bill could be spoken to, chairperson of the committee Joe Enook addressed Curley’s point of order from Sept. 11.

That’s when Curley objected to Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott’s speech in which he said Curley once supported the act.

Enook ruled that, in fact, there had been no point of order, and concluded the matter — but warned members against using abusive or insulting language in the house.

Curley acknowledged the result with a smile and quick laugh with Elliott, who sits next to him in the chamber.

Then Aariak, the sponsor of the bill, went on to describe Bill-40 in an opening statement for the second time in the committee of the whole — but Curley seemed to take offense to Aariak’s additional comments, and called another point of order.

“We are not provided with the additional opening comments in Inuktitut, nor any other official languages,” Curley protested.

“I suggest, Mr. Chair, that we take a break and allow the minister to table a copy and make a copy for formal comments presented to all members before we go onto details of the bill,” he said.

After a five-minute break — which lasted 10 minutes — neither Aariak nor her officials budged from the legislative chambers. The committee reconvened and Enook, again, ruled that there had been no point of order.

The committee resumed by going clause-by-clause through the bill — but had to stop frequently as Curley raised many questions.

Curley asked what budget the representative would have. Aariak responded that in 2013-14 the representative would have $1.5 million to work with, and in 2014-15 the budget would be $1.3 million.

Curley then turned his attention to a clause that spells out what powers and duties the representative has under the act.

He said the representative has “very broad powers” within the act and asked what the bill meant when it says the representative can “receive and review any matter.”

“I need to clearly understand what ‘any matter’ means,” Curley said.

Aariak answered Curley by reading the clause that states: “as the matter relates to any child or youth or any group of children or youth that comes to the representative’s attention regardless of the source and advice, assist and advocate for the child, youth or group.”

Curley said the clause is too broad and thought it “should be improved” and said he wants to restrict or limit the representative’s right to look at specific matters.

“It doesn’t have to involve the parents whatsoever. And that’s the scary part. Why is there no connection to family, giving at least permission to the special representative to go ahead and review any matter?”

Anne Macintosh a GN lawyer who sat next to Aariak at the witness table, answered Curley and defended the bill.

“It’s risky to limit information that the representative could consider in accepting it. In many cases the representative might not know the source of the information — if it comes by email or an Internet source or telephone,” Macintosh said.

And Macintosh said that the clause is specific in dealing with only government services.

“It’s not just any matter that anyone raises that has something peripheral to do with children. It’s specifically matters that deal with government services and services of government agencies that relate to children and youth,” she said.

“Whether it’s the children themselves that raise the issues or someone who works with the children or a parent, a friend, someone outside the system that raises an issue on behalf of the children and youth.

“It would be incumbent on the representative to not ignore that information just because of the source of it,” she said.

Elliott then tried to lay out the clause in simpler terms, asking — “parents will not be investigated in terms of the role of the child and youth representative, is that correct?”

To that, Aariak agreed.

After questioning the clause, Curley whispered something into Elliott’s ear and left the chambers, allowing the bill to pass through the committee of the whole without further questions.

Towards the end of the committee’s session, the bill went through its third reading, which only Curley voted against.

“The bill is not the best bill you can think of in Nunavut — it’s just a political commitment they made,” Curley told Nunatsiaq News, adding that he left the chambers during the clause by clause part of the bill because he had a dentist appointment.

“[The bill] will become a source for stats for the United Nations — children are under poverty, and all that stuff. It’ll be a source for all kinds of adoption.

“[The bill] will not be administering government programs. It will not be in charge for providing funding for programming. It will just be another mouthpiece,” Curley said.

“Let’s build stronger homes and families. Deal with specific social issues head on and find ways to empower communities,” he said.

“I’m all for more power for families.”

After reading the bill for the third time, Bill 40 is now ready for royal assent.

The bill, which would create an office of an independent child and youth representative for Nunavut, also ensures that:

• the concerns of children and youth relating to government services receive appropriate attention;

• the rights and interests of children and youth are protected and advanced by the Government of Nunavut;

• the views of children and youth are considered by government departments and designated authorities; and,

• children and youth have access to the services of government departments and designated authorities.

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