The Law Commission of Canada's report Restoring Dignity: Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions is an important contribution to our understanding of a complex and sensitive issue. In both its analysis and its recommendations, the report provides insights and suggestions that will be of great value to the Government of Canada in carrying out its commitment to the protection and well being of children. This commitment is fundamental to the Government, and is reflected in a great many programs and initiatives. But in putting it into practice, we are faced with continual challenges - and few are as difficult as resolving the damage done by the abuse of children in institutions run, funded, or sponsored by government.
In responding to the Law Commission's report, the Government has chosen to take a practical approach. We are in strong agreement with the principles and values identified by the Commission, and believe that these are fully consistent with the intentions underlying many of our policies and programs. This document is organized according to three themes that we believe reflect the key concerns of both the Commission and the Government:
- Protecting our children
- Making the criminal justice system more responsive to victims
- Responding to the legacy of Indian residential schools
Under each theme, we discuss the government's efforts to address these issues in the light of the report's findings, including efforts to work with partners to this end. In some cases this takes us beyond the scope of the Commission's report, but we believe it was important to provide a more complete picture. A major factor is that the Commission's recommendations cut across many jurisdictional boundaries and have implications not only for the federal government but also for provincial and territorial governments and non-governmental organizations such as law societies and bar associations. While this document naturally reflects a federal perspective, we have kept in mind throughout that there are many others with responsibilities and critical roles to play if the problems identified in the report are to be addressed effectively. Both the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Justice have provided their provincial and territorial counterparts with copies of the report, and the Deputies had an opportunity to discuss it shortly after its release.
Before moving into the three themes, it is important to set out the context, notably the background of the Commission's report and a brief overview of its contents. The full text of the report is available from the Commission on their Web site at www.slaw.ca.
In November 1997, the Minister of Justice,
the Honourable A. Anne McLellan, asked the Law Commission of Canada
"undertake, pursuant to subsection 5(1)(b) of the Law Commission
of Canada Act, a report addressing processes for dealing with
institutional child physical and sexual abuse" in government-run,
as well as government-funded and -sponsored institutions. Recognizing
that civil and criminal trials are not ideal processes for dealing
with child institutional abuse, the Commission was asked to consider
"would best address wrongdoing, while affording appropriate
remedies, and promoting reconciliation, fairness and healing".
The Minister's request recognized the useful role that the newly created
Law Commission could play given its mandate to adopt a multidisciplinary
approach to its work, an approach that views the law and the legal
system in a broad social and economic context. The Minister believed
that the Commission was well suited to
"provide governments, and
Canadians generally, with an inventory and comparative assessment of
approaches available". In keeping with the Minister's request,
the Commission conducted its research and study in consultation with
all interested parties and constituencies.
The Commission presented its report to the Minister of Justice in March 2000 and publicly released it shortly thereafter.
The report is in three parts. In Part I, the Commission sets the context for its analysis by examining why children were placed in institutions and the range of abuse issues which have been raised, including an examination of the history and legacy of the residential school system.
The Commission examines the needs of those who suffered from abuse as children in such institutions, the needs of their families and communities, and broader societal needs for prevention and public education. The Commission also discusses the specific needs of Aboriginal communities and persons that suffer from the legacy of the harms caused by residential schools.
Part II of the report assesses possible approaches to redress from the perspective of survivors of abuse and recommends changes to each process which the Commission believes would better meet survivors' needs. The processes considered are: criminal justice, civil actions, criminal injuries compensation programs, ex gratia payments, ombudsman offices, community initiatives, redress programs, children's advocates and commissions, truth commissions, and public inquiries.
The importance of preventing future occurrences of child abuse in out-of-home-care settings is discussed in Part III, along with preventive measures.
Finally, the Commission makes a series of general and specific recommendations.
The Commission states that its general recommendations frame the way the specific recommendations are to be read. The general recommendations stress that any response to institutional child abuse should:
- take into account the needs of survivors, their families and their communities;
- address the unique needs of every survivor with respect, engagement, and informed choice; and
- avoid causing further harm to survivors,their families and their communities.
The general recommendations also stress the Commission's belief that:
- promoting community initiatives is a significant means of redressing institutional child abuse;
- redress programs negotiated with survivors and their communities are the best official response for addressing their needs; and
- establishing programs of public education, protocols and other strategies for prevention of further institutional child abuse are crucial.
The specific recommendations propose changes to existing redress processes, as well as steps to enhance public education and prevent child abuse in institutions.
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