Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Children's advocate to stay in job: Howard

Province ignores call to fire independent officer

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MANITOBA'S aboriginal leaders renewed their demand Thursday that provincial children's advocate Darlene MacDonald be removed from her position.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, MKO Grand Chief David Harper (representing northern First Nations), and a representative of the Southern Chiefs Organization sat in the public gallery of the Manitoba legislature as Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard introduced a petition calling for MacDonald to lose her job.

MacDonald is responsible for representing the rights and interests of children in Manitoba. She reports directly to the legislative assembly, not to the government, and her dismissal would require a legislative vote.

Neither the governing NDP nor the Opposition Conservatives -- who represent 56 of the 57 seats in the chamber -- have called for MacDonald's resignation over comments she made to the Free Press in June.

During an interview, she expressed doubt about the value of the public inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair's death. She noted the inquiry's "huge" cost and the fact that several reports looking into it had already produced 200 recommendations to the child welfare system.

She said money directed to the inquiry could better be spent on services for kids.

MacDonald later said her comments were taken out of context. She said her office "fully supports the public's right to know the facts leading to the cause of (Phoenix's) death."

Gerrard and the chiefs expressed disappointment Thursday that the children's advocate didn't seek standing at the inquiry.

"We should expect that a children's advocate should be willing to take the stand and to seek standing in a process where they can advocate," Nepinak said.

Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard said it would set a dangerous precedent to remove MacDonald because of her comments.

"My belief is that if it becomes a practice of this legislature to fire an independent officer every time we don't agree with something that independent officer has said, that no independent officer will be able to hold any of us to account," she said. "And that I don't think is going to serve the people of Manitoba well or this legislature well."

Nepinak said the minister raised a good point, but "at the end of the day, we're looking out for our young ones and we don't want to see any more young people die in the hands of an agency or in the hands of the CFS system."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 A4

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