Hon. Jim Munson:
Honourable senators, I rise today in celebration of National Child Day. Children bring so much to our lives. They give us joy and laughter; they help us see the world differently and bring creativity and enthusiasm to a simple task. We are lucky to have the contributions of children in our lives and in our country.
I have made it my purpose to participate in this chamber with an emphasis on the rights of the child. What we do today — the bills we pass, the policies we study — will impact our youngest and most vulnerable Canadians — children without a vote and very often without a voice.
Children trust adults to give them what they need to grow and thrive. They rely on adults for everything they need: housing, education, safe water, food and protection. Sadly, we do not give children the start in life they all deserve. They don’t all have the same chances for success. It is our responsibility as policy-makers to keep the rights of children at the forefront so that all children have someone with a vote and a voice standing up for their rights.
We can’t afford to be smug in this country, honourable senators. According to a UNICEF report card, last year Canada ranked twenty-fifth out of the 41 countries on the Index of Child and Youth Well-being and Sustainability.
Honourable senators, I was extremely disappointed to learn last week that a strong voice for children in Ontario will be silenced. Last Thursday the Ontario government announced that it was closing the province’s Child Advocate office. This is an office I know well. I have worked closely with Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Child Advocate, on many occasions and I know how effective his office has been in the last 10 years. It follows the example of an advocate in my former province of New Brunswick, where tremendous work is being done.
These offices have an impact on issues such as challenges facing Indigenous children and kids with special needs. The Ontario Child Advocate office has been that voice of independent oversight for all children in Ontario, and now their voice has been taken away. Colleagues, this is a giant step backwards.
At our Senate Open Caucus meeting on child welfare just two weeks ago, we heard about the hardships and inequities facing Indigenous youth and the high rates of suicide and poverty among children in this country. We need more, not fewer, advocates for children. UNICEF Canada has said that our youngest citizens need an independent voice at the highest level to make sure they’re not at the end of the line when it comes to deciding on policy, programs, laws and budgets.
I will continue to stand up for the rights of the child, to advocate for a child advocate in each province, and for a national children’s commissioner for this country. These would be giant steps forward in children’s rights.
Senators, today, on National Child Day, it is easy to remember and celebrate the young people who will shape this country and change the world of tomorrow; however, we need to include children — their views, ideas and voices — in our decision making every day. Senators, human rights apply to all children, at all times, without exception. Let’s be the voice they need and encourage all governments to do the same.
Thank you, honourable senators, and happy Child Day.