The United Nations committee on the rights of the child has released a report expressing serious concerns about the welfare of children in Canada — particularly those who are Indigenous.
"The committee is deeply concerned about the discrimination against children in marginalized and disadvantaged situations," said the report, made public Thursday.
The committee cited structural discrimination against Indigenous and Black children, "especially with regard to their access to education, health and adequate standards of living,"
The committee also noted children with disabilities, migrant children and children of ethnic minorities had disparate access to their rights depending on the province or territory.
It's the first time the committee has examined Canada's adherence to the UN convention on the rights of the child in a decade, when a similarly scathing report was issued on the country's progress.
The federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The convention, which Canada signed in 1991, is a global treaty that lays out the full list of rights for all children up to the age of 18. Almost every country in the world has promised to protect and promote these rights.
The treaty is based on four main tenets: the right to non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, the right to life and development, and the right to participation.
The UN experts, including lawyers, social workers, child protection administrators and a physician, pointed to several areas where those tenets are not being upheld in Canada,
In one example, the experts said the government needs to provide specialized health care to the children of the Anishinaabe community of Grassy Narrows First Nation, Ont., who are suffering severe and chronic physical and mental health problems as a result of mercury contamination in the water.
The report also noted the discovery of unmarked graves discovered at the sites of several former residential schools.
The B.C. First Nation Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced in May 2021 that ground-penetrating radar had detected what are believed to be the remains of some 200 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Since then more potential grave sites have been located.
Indigenous and Black children are still overrepresented in alternative forms of supervision like foster care, often outside their communities, the report said. They are also at higher risk of abuse, neglect and violence in alternative care than other children in Canada.
"In addition to these specific groups of children, the committee also called out the federal government for failing to protect the rights of all kids in our country," said Children First Canada founder Sara Austin.
UNICEF ranked Canada in the bottom one-third of 38 wealthy countries in terms of the wellness of children in 2020, pegging the nation at 30th place behind Greece, Latvia and the United Kingdom.
"Most think it'd be on the top, a world leading country for children," Austin said. "So there's a big gap between perception and reality."
Among several recommendations, the committee called on Canada to institute a federal, independent children's right commissioner that is able to receive, investigate and address complaints by children "in a child-sensitive and child-friendly manner."
Other recommendations include making sure children's access to public health care is not dependent on their parents' immigration status, and repealing section 43 of the Criminal Code that allows the use of "reasonable force" in disciplining children.
Several federal bills aimed at banning corporal punishment of children have failed in Parliament, Austin said.
The committee called for a national strategy to prevent violence against children, and said Canada's child welfare system continues to fail to protect Indigenous children from violence in particular.
Austin said the report represents Canada's failure to implement basic rights for all eight million children in the country.
Several of the recommendations were initially made by the committee in its last report about a decade ago, but have not been acted on.
Bill Jeffery, executive director of the Centre for Health Science and Law, said in a statement Thursday that Canada ratified the convention on the rights of the child in 1991 "and has spent the last three decades rationalizing its failure to comprehensively implement those rights in national and provincial law."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2022.