Last week Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar made a shocking announcement—741 children died in government foster homes or other forms of government care since 1999. This is 13 times higher than the 56 reported by the government in its annual reports and five times higher than the 145 uncovered by investigative reporters who pursued the story for years.
The government owes these children and their families an apology.
An apology is a regretful acknowledgment of an offence or failure—and therein lies the problem. To this day the PC government has not acknowledged that it failed the 741 children and their families.
In fact the PCs are anything but apologetic…they’re defiant.
Premier Redford and Mr Hancock’s “talking points”
Last fall Premier Redford and former Human Services Minister Hancock stood shoulder to shoulder deflecting a joint-Opposition demand for a public inquiry into 145 child welfare deaths (now we know why).
They stuck to three simple talking points:
- The Redford government came into power in 2012. Since then it passed the “children first” legislation, created an independent child advocate and ensured that the quality council reviewed every death. Message: Kudos to the Redford government.
- The majority of the 145 deaths occurred before 2012. The Redford government was not in power and as such not accountable for the actions of its predecessors. Message: It wasn’t me! (a peculiar argument given that both Redford and Hancock were MLAs in these previous governments).
- “Reportable” deaths are deaths that (1) occur in foster care and (2) are not “natural”. Message: Two lawyer/MLAs use legalese to define “reportable deaths” narrowly and reduce the number of deaths to the absolute minimum.
The only time Mr Hancock came close to revealing the real number of deaths was in response to a question from Ms Notley (NDP). (Sometimes it takes a lawyer to trap a lawyer). She asked Mr Hancock to provide the number of children who died while receiving protective services (other than foster care) over the 14 year period.*
Mr Hancock replied, “That would require a historical review. I don’t have that information at the tip of my fingers today. Then he reverted back to the first talking point: “But I can tell you we publicly disclose, as of 2012, the death of any child in care.”*
When he stated he didn’t have this information at his fingertips “today”, Mr Hancock echoed the “not at this point in time” responses given by John Dean (another lawyer) in the Watergate hearings. Unfortunately the Legislature is not a court of law and Ms Notley could not force Mr Hancock to go back to his office and get the information she requested. It turned out not to matter.
Mr Bhullar’s revelations
Mr Bhullar achieved more in a month than Mr Hancock achieved in the years leading up to the media’s disclosure of the 145 child welfare deaths—Mr Bhullar uncovered the truth, convinced the Premier to release the truth and persuaded Cabinet (including his predecessor Mr Hancock) to make a clean breast of it.
Full credit to Minister Bhullar for getting this far. I sincerely hope he achieves his goal of eradicating the “culture of fear” he says exists within agencies, staff and families.**
May I suggest that a good place to start would be with an apology to the families of the 741 children who perished under government care?
Given the role that Ms Redford’s government played in fighting the FOIP requests and obscuring the true number of children who died, it is only fitting that the apology should come from Ms Redford herself.
However given Ms Redford’s refusal to acknowledge her government’s role in this tragedy, the chances of getting an apology from Ms Redford are slim to none. Sad.
*Hansard, Nov 26, 2013, 3101
**Calgary Herald, Jan 11, 2014, A4