A National Advocate for Children

The government of Canada website provides an overview of the national and international framework for human rights treaties, stating that:

Canada has been a strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values, from our central role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947–1948 to our work at the UN today. Canada has ratified seven major UN human rights treaties and must submit periodic reports on how it implements each of these treaties.

The government further acknowledges that: “Canada plays a major role in promoting universal respect for human rights on the international stage. While we provide support abroad, we must also account for our actions within our country to identify strengths and areas where improvements are needed.”

According to both domestic and international opinion, one area where improvements are needed in Canada is child rights.

The treaty governing compliance on these rights is the United Nations – Convention on the Rights of the Child – UNCRC, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which oversees compliance, has noted fundamental problems with Canada’s record and reporting on child rights since the first round of review after Parliament ratified the treaty in 1991. The gap created by a federal-provincial jurisdictional split arises as a repeated and major concern in these early discussions, such as this exchange between Committee member Mrs Santos Pais and Mr McAlister from the Canadian delegation:


46. Mrs. SANTOS PAIS said that she had two main comments to make regarding the replies of the Canadian delegation. First, while regional differences between different provinces and territories must be taken into account during the ratification process, the Federal Government was committed, once the Convention had been ratified, to enforcing the Convention’s provisions throughout Canada, and was responsible for reporting to the Committee on implementation. Under article 4, States parties were obliged to adopt all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures required to implement the Convention, and the Committee needed to know what mechanisms existed to ensure such implementation. While it was true that various human rights charters had existed in Canada before the Convention had been ratified, the Convention to some extent marked a new departure or new “common denominator”. What mechanisms existed to ensure that real progress was being made in implementing it? How were data on implementation collected? Were there adequate means of overcoming existing disparities among different population groups and giving particular help to the most vulnerable groups?

47. Mr. McALISTER (Canada) suggested that attention needed to be focused primarily on whether Canada was fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, rather than on the ways and means by which it did so. While Canada was quite prepared to provide more information on, for example, coordination between the federal and provincial governments, the Committee would do well not to lose sight of the actual situation with regard to the rights of children in Canada which was very favourable. The federal system of government was a complex one which had developed over many decades, and under which the provinces had exclusive rights in certain areas of jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the commitment to human rights and, in particular, to the rights of children was universal throughout the country, a fact attested by the existence of various commissions and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the overall level of protection for those rights was excellent.

Despite this reassurance, the concluding observations of the Committee, published a few weeks later, state that jurisdictional gaps in protection of child rights in Canada continue to be a ‘principal subject of concern’:

CRC/C/15/Add.3720 June 1995 – COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD, Ninth session, CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS SUBMITTED BY STATES PARTIES UNDER ARTICLE 44 OF THE CONVENTION. Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Canada

C. Principal subjects of concern

9. The Committee, while taking note of the statement, reflected in the report of the State party, that the federal nature of Canada is a complicating factor in the implementation of the Convention, and that the exact division of responsibilities between federal, provincial and territorial governments over matters affecting children may involve an element of uncertainty, stresses that Canada is bound to observe fully the obligations assumed by ratifying the Convention. The Committee is concerned that sufficient attention has not been paid to the establishment of a permanent monitoring mechanism that will enable an effective system of implementation of the Convention in all parts of the country. Disparities between provincial or territorial legislation and practices which affect the implementation of the Convention are a matter of concern to the Committee. It seems, for instance, that the definition of the legal status of the children born out of wedlock being a matter of provincial responsibility may lead to different levels of legal protection of such children in various parts of the country.

This disparity ‘between provincial or territorial legislation and practices’ remains more than 20 years later, although a remedy for the problem of divided jurisdictions and responsibilities for child rights in Canada was suggested long before the UNCRC was ratified in 1991.

A member of the Canadian Commission for the International Year of the Child, rights activist and former Senator Landon Pearson (founder of the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Childrens’ Rights), first proposed in 1979 that the children of Canada should have their own advocate; an appointed person and an office that operate with national scope to deal with matters of child interest in all regions and jurisdictions of the country. The advocate would have comprehensive scope to speak on behalf of children in Canada, bridging gaps and ensuring that each and every child receives protection and the benefit of their rights under international treaty requirements. 

The call for a National Advocate for Children in Canada has been endorsed and repeated many times since 1979 – by Landon Pearson and by other voices – with a recommendation for a National Strategy for Children. But there has been no action from the succession of Canadian governments responsible for making a decision on this matter since then or in the 26 years since ratification of the Convention.

Meanwhile other state parties have successfully adopted and implemented their own national child strategy. So while Canada still operates at the national level with an association of regional child advocates (Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates – CCCYA), the EU has an international coalition of state party  advocates (European Network of Ombudspersons for Children – ENOC), coordinating laws, services, and actions in the interests of children arriving and living across diverse jurisdictions. 

The next report for Canada to the UN-Committee on the Rights of the Child, due in July 2018, is an opportunity to fill this long-standing and widely recognized national gap for child rights protection. As part of its submission, Canada can commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by appointing a National Advocate for Children and creating an office that is mandated to fulfill international human rights treaty obligations to children under the UNCRC

This office will also move Canada into the position anticipated by its published claims as a state party that lives up to and leads on human rights commitments, and will provide credentials for an expanded role in global actions.

Universal Children’s Day & Child Rights in Canada

Governments first began recognizing that young people need special protection and rights in the 1800s.

This was the start of the industrial age, when children worked long days running massive and lethal machinery in airless factories. Their suffering, the frequent accidents, and the aftermath of maimed, dying and dead children caused distress to witnesses, embarrassment to the factory owners, and led to social activism and the start of child-labour laws in some jurisdictions.

But it wasn’t until after World War I that major advances were made in child rights internationally, largely due to the efforts of Eglantyne Jebb [1876-1928].

She was a dedicated humanitarian and social reformer from Great Britain, and an unmarried woman who did not enjoy the company of children. She took up the cause of children’s rights after she learned of the devastation to civilian populations in Europe during the war years from 1914 to 1918 and after.

Quotes from Eglantyne Jebb

It’s impossible only if we make it so. It’s impossible only if we refuse to attempt it.”

All wars are waged against children.”

In 1923 she drafted a Declaration on the Rights of the Child and presented it to delegates attending the 4th annual assembly for the International Save the Children Union, an organization she helped to establish in 1919 with her sister Dorothy Buxton [now operating as Save the Children].

The delegates adopted the Declaration and the Union published it. Eglantyne Jebb then took the Declaration to the League of Nations in Geneva where it was ratified in 1924.

This was the first human rights treaty signed by an international organization.

The 5 principles of the Declaration were later expanded to 7 in 1948, when the newly organized United Nations adopted the document in the course of taking over international duties from the disbanded League of Nations.

On November 20th, 1959, the UN adopted a further revised Declaration of the Rights of the Child with 10 principles. Universal Children’s Day on November 20th celebrates this date. Twenty years later the UN assembly recognized the anniversary of the revised Declaration by designating 1979 as the ‘Year of the Child’ [UN 31st Session,  31/169 .pdf – 2 pages] and by setting to work writing a new and updated international treaty on child rights.

Ten years later and 65 years after the League of Nations ratified the 5 principles drafted by Eglantyne Jebb, in 1989 the UN General Assembly adopted the 54 articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. On November 20th the Convention, known as the UNCRC, was opened for signatures.

The UNCRC in still in force today with 140 signatories. It has been signed by all eligible UN parties except the USA. Twenty nation-states have ratified the Convention which binds them to the terms by international law. Governments of these nations must report to and appear before a UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to be questioned on matters of concern. Government reports and Committee responses are posted on the UN website.

Canada signed the UNCRC in 1989 and ratified the treaty in 1991. [Gov’t of Canada > Dept of Justice > Overview: The Convention on the Rights of the Child]

Twenty-six years later, the country is receiving a good international grade on reviews of child rights practices, but with significant and persistent gaps.

These chronic problems prompted the Canadian Bar Association to write a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau in May 2016 regarding Canada’s compliance with the Convention, to ask the government “to create a detailed action plan to effectively implement the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN Committee) offer a road map that could prove transformational in improving the lives of Canadian children.”

A few months later, an article in the December 2016 edition of the CBA National newsletter reiterates these concerns, starting with the question: “Rights of the child: Have we really come such a long way?

International monitoring groups are also noting gaps in protections for the kids in Canada. A review from child rights organization Humanium lists serious issues of child discrimination, sexual exploitation, and mistreatment of children in Canada with “a legal weakness in opposition to the principles stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child” in related Canadian legislation: 

A report adopted by the Canadian Senate in June 2007 has revealed that the country has been doing little on the national scale to ensure the application and respect of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The basic legislative and constitutional structures are not sufficient to respect these rights. The majority of Canadian laws do not take into consideration the superior interests of the child; thus, few legal resorts are available to this end.

Moreover, these laws vary from province to province. For example, the mandatory school age or the age at which certain protections are given to children vary from province to province.   Finally, Canada allots only a minimum budget for the evaluation of children’s conditions in the country, thus hindering improvement in the protection of their rights.

Even if Canada does not deploy children under 18 to war zones, it authorizes the recruitment of children as young as 16 for military training (with mandatory parental consent).

And while this EU-based humanitarian agency gives Canada a generally high rating for child rights, their global info-graphic map paints the country as yellow for a “satisfactory” situation, not green for “good,” as life could be and should be for all kids in Canada.

Copyright: Humanium

Estate & Legal Planning

An important part of estate and legal planning is to appoint substitute decision-makers.

One of these appointments is to choose an executor in your Will. This person manages your estate after you die and distributes your property to the beneficiaries according to your instructions. The executor has a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of opportunity for misconduct, because this person has control of the estate until it is settled.

In BC, there is no supervision of executors. If there is a problem with the way an executor is managing an estate, one of the beneficiaries has to take them to court. The legal process is slow, complicated and expensive. There are no ‘pro bono’ or volunteer legal services for beneficiaries, while the executor can use estate funds to pay for a lawyer. So unscrupulous executors are rarely caught or punished, and it is very important to appoint a reliable person.

There are other types of appointments for substitute decision-makers that are separate from the executor of a Will, and not a part of estate planning because they take effect during a person’s lifetime. But again the selection of a trustworthy person is critical.

For these lifetime appointments, as outlined in the Law Students’ Legal Advice Planning Manual, Chapter 15 – Adult Guardianship and Substitute Decision-Making:  “[t]he law allows a capable adult to appoint a substitute decision-maker for financial or health care decisions in two types of legal documents: Enduring Power of Attorney (for financial decisions only); and Representation Agreement (for health care consent, personal care decisions, and routine financial decision-making). The law also allows a capable adult to provide instructions giving or refusing consent to specific health care in an Advance Directive.”

Also during their lifetime, if an adult is declared incapable and needs a substitute decision-maker, the BC Supreme Court is authorized to appoint a legal guardian for them.

The prospective guardian petitions the court for appointment in an action called a Committeeship. The incapable adult and immediate family members are notified by legal service but have no right for representation in the proceedings. Once the Court appoints the guardian, costs for the action are typically charged against the assets of the incapable adult as the unsuccessful party.

Obviously, Committeships create opportunities for financial and elder abuse.

In BC, legal guardians for incapable adults are supervised by the Public Guardian and Trustee (“PGT”) and case workers monitor each situation. But there is no external oversight on case workers and no reporting or public accountability on the outcomes for people under adult guardianship.

With a rising demographic in the world of older adults, many experiencing mental decline with age, problems of financial-legal abuse against this group and their estates is a growing concern internationally.

Other jurisdictions are ahead of Canada and BC in recognizing the problems and creating a framework of standards, oversight, and accountability on substitute decision-makers and legal guardians.

For example, the protective framework for seniors and their families in the USA includes:

This type of programming provides the basis for law reform and higher standards for conduct in BC to better protect vulnerable seniors and their assets.

The State of Elder & Estates Law in BC

In October, BullyFreeBC is posting articles advocating
law reform to address concerns for seniors in BC.
If you have a comment or a story to share,
email info@bullyfreebc.ca.


For several years I have been researching the legal framework for wills and estates in BC as a reluctant experiential learner.  My mother died in 2015, and since then the family has been going through an odyssey of negotiations and court dates to settle her small estate, administered according to a Will that was written under a previous legal framework and probated under new and improved legislation.

At the conclusion of this long process, problems are still not resolved and the beneficiaries are finding that not much remains now that the self-governing professionals in charge of the estate have taken their fees.

And settlement of the estate was the last stage of many after more than a decade of legal planning difficulties for our family that started with a weird Power of Attorney package and then a Representation Agreement signed after several incapacity diagnoses. All of these documents were prepared for a frail and easily confused older client by lawyers specializing in the field of elder law.

The new legislation for elders and estates law, crafted to address such difficulties, has been in effect since April 2014 when the BC government passed the Wills, Estates and Succession Act [SBC 2009, Chapter 13], known as WESA.  Enactment of WESA brought sweeping changes to an estate planning and administration framework that had been in place for decades. Several older Acts disappeared with WESA, including the Estate Administration Act, the Probate Recognition Act, the Wills Act, and the Wills Variation Act, and the new legislation required amendments to more than 40 other Acts.

But from ongoing discussions with people in the demographic of older adult children with increasingly vulnerable parents, it seems many families are finding that the legal framework in BC, despite changes introduced by WESA, still does not serve or protect the human rights of seniors.  Problems include lack of good legal and care decisions for seniors, financial needs of family members improperly addressed while the estate is in the hands of one elderly spouse who survives the other, then wastage in the course of maintenance, consolidation, administration and distribution of the final estate when both parents are gone.

The situation is particularly worrisome in BC given the generation of land-owning seniors who hold wealth in equity and who might have more than one generation of cash-strapped offspring waiting impatiently to access the assets.  This province could be facing a crisis of financial elder abuse as part of borderline estate fraud, as problems emerge like ticking time bombs placed in packages of badly devised personal planning documents for BC seniors with estates to pass on when they do.

The decisions involved in creating these legal planning documents are critically important to each person and family.  But this is generally not understood or appreciated by the client, who might have no other contact with legal paperwork.  Easy mistakes like appointing the wrong person as a substitute decision maker, giving that person too much authority with no oversight and remedy, or creating too much latitude for the trustees of an estate – these decisions and choices made quickly and perhaps under time pressure during a legal appointment can change the fate and fortunes of a family forever.

People need to understand that they could be determining the quality of the last years of their life and perhaps their right to life when they sign on the line in a lawyer’s office, or even worse on the last page of a form from the printer.

The professionals in charge of these arrangements – the financial and legal professionals who manage the wills and estate business in BC – have no stake in the decisions made, so long as the documents resulting are properly prepared and signed.  From their perspective, any estate plan is a good plan so long as it can be legally enforced in a court of law, and doesn’t use online forms.

This lack of human rights oversight on elder and estates law needs to change, in order to reduce the opportunities for fraud and to protect against abuses of elderly people and their property.

And the risk has increased with the new June 2016 physician-assisted dying legislation in Canada [link to Bill C-14 Royal Assent] introducing the possibility of seniors being encouraged or persuaded to ask for an assisted death.  The conflicts of interest and temptations for beneficiaries created by assisted dying legislation could increase further if a current campaign succeeds in allowing alternative decision makers, who might possibly inherit under a Will, to make this most final of decisions for another person.

These gaps and snares in the legal framework must be fixed through law reform, because the  current state of elder and estates law in BC creates too many opportunities for abuse, not only of property but more critically, of the rights, well-being and safety of people entering the final and most vulnerable phase of their lives.

A Brief History of BFBC – Part II

BullyFreeBC is an advocacy and law reform agency operating to address problems of bullying and harassment in BC.

The group first formed in 2007, meeting in a Vancouver constituency office to discuss personal harassment in the workplace. The organizers came from different sectors and professions, but all had experienced bullying as a serious personal and professional problem – as an employer unable to resolve a situation between staff members engaged in mob warfare, as a co-worker who stood by helplessly and watched abuse happen repeatedly to a respected colleague, as a target who lost a career when the new boss used harassment to avoid paying severance. So those involved in the initial planning for BullyFreeBC already knew the damage that bullying and harassment can cause to individuals and workplaces.

The group widened the discussion and search for solutions at a 2008 symposium to consider how law reform might deal with this complex of problems. The participants looked at three options of where to put new coverage as a protection under law:

Employment Standards Act > … But the ESA does not cover enough people. It is designed to protect worker rights on statutory holiday pay and the number of hours of work in a day before overtime applies. There is no capacity in this legislation to deal with a toxic workplace or problems between employees.

Human Rights Code > … But the Code is not workplace specific, and it protects people from discrimination only on the grounds of group status. This is not the same as bullying which is personal harassment, targeted against an individual and not a member of a group.

Workers Compensation Act > … But the WCA only addresses injuries, not conduct and ethics at work. And the health and safety sector is not trained, equipped, or mandated to deal with problems of dysfunctional and potentially abusive relations between people at work.

In 2010 the BullyFreeBC Legislation Working Group carried on the symposium initiative and crafted a proposal for workplace bullying legislation. The proposed legislation addresses the various concerns and issues associated with the complex of problems for workers and workplaces dealing with bullying, and also allows for simultaneous changes to other affected laws and regulations as needed to harmonize with existing frameworks.

But in 2012, following on Saskatchewan and Ontario, BC passed Bill 14 to create coverage for workplace bullying and harassment under the Workers Compensation Act.

BullyFreeBC has been monitoring implementation of the coverage since then, and held a review session late in 2016 to assess the effects of the new legislation. While the discussion group found progress in awareness, participants from various workplace settings advised that adoption of anti-bullying measures was largely dependent on individual employer compliance and interest. The question of treating bullying and harassment as health and safety issues remains problematic. Of particular concern are the small business and non-profit workplaces, which provide most of the private sector employment opportunities in the province.

However, there is growing interest in revising and expanding protections for employees under the Employment Standards Act, so that standards for conduct in the workplace might be included.

As well, BC is re-introducing a Human Rights Commission (announcement), which could also offer expanded protections for workers dealing with personal harassment as a rights violation.

And BC passed a new Societies Act in 2016, coming into full force in 2019, requiring higher standards of workplace conduct and imposing real consequences for non-profits that do not fulfil their legal and fiduciary duties as employers.

BullyFreeBC continues to engage in discussion and law reform activities on all these concerns, while encouraging adoption of five recommendations, proposed in conjunction with the 2017 provincial election, to improve conditions generally in BC workplaces.

A Brief History of BFBC – Part I

BullyFreeBC began in 2007 as a community-based dialogue group, organized by a coalition of volunteering individuals and staff from Lower Mainland human rights and legal service agencies. Participants met several times to discuss and share concerns about workplace bullying and harassment and then invited others to join in the conversation in May 2008 at an SFU-Wosk Centre for Dialogue event.

The dialogue group continued to meet over the next few years as diverse viewpoints helped to identify different types of harassment and contributed to a variety of options and solutions through working groups assigned to develop programming around law reform and awareness.

The Law Reform Working Group drafted legislation. The Awareness Group launched a website and began a social media program.

Recognizing the need for a more structured, formal and sustainable basis for operations, the organizers consulted with participants in 2010 and early 2011 to draft an agency mandate. Then BFBC registered as a provincial non-profit in April 2011.

As written into the Constitution, the purposes of the BullyFreeBC Society are:
a. to consult with various levels of government regarding anti-bullying legislation;
b. to assist government, companies and non-profit organizations to develop anti-bullying policies;
c. to educate the public about bullying;
d. to conduct research into bullying; and
e. to work with other groups to carry out the above purposes.

The duty of directors is to maintain the Society while working to fulfill the mandate. Membership supports this effort through dues and engagement.

After registering BFBC as a non-profit, the new directors outlined membership criteria and invited participants to join and help build the agency. Meanwhile, the group continued to hold dialogue sessions to discuss workplace bullying and legal reforms in Canada.

At that time, several provinces had already enacted workplace anti-bullying legislation (Quebec 2004 – website, Saskatchewan 2007 .pdf – 4 pp, Ontario 2009 .pdf – 10 pp), most recognizing the problem as an occupational health and safety concern.

As well, in 2009 the BC Supreme Court found that WorkSafeBC was treating workers with mental injuries differently from workers with physical injuries. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits this type of inequity, guaranteeing every Canadian equal treatment by public bodies (Section 15 – Equality Rights).

As a result of the BC Supreme Court decision (Plesner v. British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority, 2009 BCCA 188 – CanLII), WorkSafeBC had to extend coverage to more mental stress injuries and deal with avoidable causes of workplace stress like harassment and bullying.

In March 2012, BFBC organized a law reform conference to consider the new coverage. Interested participants gathered for a day of presentations and discussion on how best to support employers and employees through the transition and requirements. The group attending and presenting helped to identify priorities and strategies, outlined training programs and how standards could be created, and made plans for connecting to different groups. Based on information collected and researched, BFBC distributed a grant-funded e-binder of resources on workplace anti-bullying programs, policies and law reform to people requesting the research.

According to the Workers Compensation Amendment Act 2011 – Bill 14, claims relating to mental disorders, including bullying and harassment, may now be accepted under the Workers Compensation Act. WorkSafeBC Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations and policies outline responsibilities for both supervisors and employees to prevent and address bullying and harassment in the workplace, and the WorkSafeBC website provides free resources such as guidebooks and forms.

Next time > Part II – Since Bill 14

BullyFreeBC – Plans for growth in 2018

Starting next month, BullyFreeBC is launching a three part series of articles for September, October, and November to discuss current programming and explore new ground for 2018.

September will feature the world of work in British Columbia, from the start of BFBC anti-bullying and harassment programming in 2008 to next steps for the Workplace Recommendations project launched in conjunction with the 2017 provincial election campaign. (Details are in the May 4th post.)

In October, BFBC shifts focus to look at challenges to fairness and safety for older people, especially newcomers to Canada and people with disabilities such as dementia who are dependent on others for their quality of life and vulnerable to abuse which is difficult to detect and address.

November will be all about the kids. BullyFreeBC is looking at what children in BC need from us and the world in order to have a good childhood, a solid education, and opportunities for success in life. BFBC can help by making sure that young people and their families know about their rights and the rights of others.

The launch of these initiatives for seniors and kids as well as workers is part of a growth plan for BullyFreeBC, as the organizers and the membership collaborate in fulfilling our mandate to address bullying and harassment in BC.

To participate, contact info@bullyfreebc.ca for information on becoming a member of the BullyFreeBC Society.

BFBC Workplace Recommendations – For the 2017 BC Election

The BullyFreeBC Society recently wrote to candidates in each constituency to ask them to consider a set of recommendations to improve employment conditions and supports in the workplace.

For BC and each region …

  1. Anti-harassment programs – to protect and assist workers, especially those in marginalized groups, who are experiencing discrimination, harassment or bullying in the workplace.
  2. Local job initiatives – to help people bridge work gaps and career shifts, and avoid entrenched unemployment or precarious employment, while addressing regional service needs.
  3. Employment-focused training – to offer everyone who experiences job insecurity the retraining and up-skilling required to maintain long-term economic stability.
  4. A provincial plan for registration & regulation of workplace training providers – to establish a framework for employment-based adult education services across the province.
  5. Co-ordination between self-regulating professions – to ensure high standards for conduct, professional development, and complaint management, and to maintain focus on serving the needs of the general public.

Responses will be posted as they arrive.

Hello world!

Welcome to the BullyFreeBC Society, which registered as a provincial non-profit in 2011.

As written in the Constitution, the purposes of the Society are:

  • to consult with various levels of government regarding anti-bullying legislation;
  • to assist government, companies and non-profit organizations to develop anti-bullying policies;
  • to educate the public about bullying;
  • to conduct research into bullying; and
  • to work with other groups to carry out the above purposes.

The Board of Directors:

  • Diane Rodgers (President)
  • Lindsay Macintosh

BullyFreeBC is not a charity, and is funded by membership fees.

For more information contact info@bullyfreebc.ca