by Dennis L. Stuebing, Ph.D.
Sunday, November 20th, marks National Child Day. It is the annual day to acknowledge Canada’s commitment to children and their rights. Canada became party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991 and since then, has achieved many positive milestones for children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (2022) has most recently acknowledged the progress Canada has made on “housing and homelessness, enhanced engagement with adolescents, and awareness raising of mental health issues”. It also commended Canada’s legislative and policy efforts in which ‘the best interest of the child’, a guiding principle of the CRC, was considered within the 2021 amendments to the federal Divorce Act, as well as the 2015 release of the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the subsequent creation of the 2020 Act to respect First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. However, much more remains to be done and Canada continues to fall short in realizing all rights, for all children.
Wisdom2Action (W2A) has worked with, and for, young people for many years. We know that Black, Indigenous and other racialized children continue to experience personal and systemic discrimination despite the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the 2020 Act to which the Commission referred. We know from our work in Nova Scotia that Black and Indigenous children in particular are disproportionately represented amongst those removed from their family homes, and communities, and placed into ‘care’. Across Canada, the pervasive pattern against Indigenous children and families has been clearly demonstrated in the 60’s Scoop and Millennial Scoop. We also know that environmental racism results in children from Black and Indigenous communities experiencing exposure to pollution and the impacts of climate change. The persistent and intergenerational affects of racism and colonialism won’t just disappear. We must continue to unlearn and redesign our systems (not only child welfare, but all systems) to ensure that the best interest of all children is realized without discrimination.
2SLGBTQIA+ children continue to face unsafe environments in the homes in which they live, the schools in which they learn, and in public spaces. We monitor the politically hostile climate and rising levels of hate against 2SLGBTQIA communities. According to Egale (2021), 2SLGBTQIA+ students face higher rates of verbal, sexual and physical harassment and bullying than cisgender and heterosexual students. 2SLGBTQIA+ racialized students as well as non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming students are specifically targeted, demonstrating the importance of analyzing findings like these in a way that considers the intersecting identities of marginalization. Our public spaces, especially schools in which many children spend a significant portion of their day, must be safe for all children. We must do more to ensure 2SLGBTQIA+ children including racialized 2SLGBTQIA+ students, and 2SLGBTQIA+ students in Catholic schools, are protected from all forms of harm. More must be done to educate school boards, staff and faculty, to prevent and gender-based violence, racism, and discrimination.
We know that while progress has been made, 1.3 million children are still living in poverty across the country (Children First Canada, 2021). We also know that Nova Scotia (Mi’kma’ki), the province in which W2A was founded, has performed the worst of all provinces and territories in reducing child poverty with almost 1 in 4 children living in poverty (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2021). Moreover, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (2021) has found that racialized, new immigrant, and off-reserve Indigenous children, experience higher than average rates of poverty in Nova Scotia. Despite progress nationally, child poverty continues, and is experienced more often, by children from marginalized communities. We must do more to address these shortfalls and realize children’s right to benefit equally from the progress being made nation-wide in poverty reduction efforts.
Canada has a lot to celebrate on National Child Day. But the story we tell must acknowledge that there is more to be done to ensure that all children have their rights realized. Canada’s diversity is one of its strength. Creating an enabling environment free from all forms of discrimination including racism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, ableism, and misogyny, will aid us in achieving the best interest of all children. When we do better for marginalized children, whether they are Black, Indigenous, racialized, 2SLGBTQIA+, disabled, immigrant, or experience exclusion on some other grounds, we do better for all children. And we MUST do better.
Frank. L, Fisher, L. Saulnier, C. (2021). Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Can be retrieved from: https://policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/2021-report-card-child-and-family-poverty-nova-scotia
Children First Canada (2021). Child Poverty: The Facts You Need to Know. Can be retrieved from: https://childrenfirstcanada.org/blog/child-poverty-the-facts-you-need-to-know/
Commission on the Rights of the Child (2022). Concluding Observations on the Combined Fifth and Sixth Reports of Canada. Can be retrieved from: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CRC/Shared%20Documents/CAN/CRC_C_CAN_CO_5-6_48911_E.pdf
Peter, T., Campbell, C., and Taylor, C. (2021). Still in Every Class in Every School. Final Report on the second climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Egale Canada. Can be retrieved from: https://indd.adobe.com/view/publication/3836f91b-2db1-405b-80cc-b683cc863907/2o98/publication-web-resources/pdf/Climate_Survey_-_Still_Every_Class_In_Every_School.pdf
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