March 20, 2019

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Editorial

Irvin-Ross must stop stalling on children’s advocate reform

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin- Ross. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin- Ross. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/9/2015 (1295 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 12-year-old girl is forced to have two abortions in 2012 by her abusive stepfather, who impregnated her, and no one thought to call in child-welfare workers? Or, in fact, were they notified?

Three years later, those in charge at various government offices are now scrambling to figure out how an adolescent Winnipegger was left in the clutches of the man who repeatedly abused her, starting in 2011. The sex assaults, pregnancies and abortions were discovered only after her stepfather broke into her best friend’s Pembina Highway apartment, savagely attacking that girl and her mother with a screwdriver in late 2012.

He was arrested and charged with numerous offences. The following year, the stepdaughter disclosed the abuse and the abortions, the first of which was performed in Newfoundland and the next in Winnipeg.

The court case, which ended last week in a 16-year jail sentence for the man, heard the stepdaughter was told to say her boyfriend was the father.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/9/2015 (1295 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 12-year-old girl is forced to have two abortions in 2012 by her abusive stepfather, who impregnated her, and no one thought to call in child-welfare workers? Or, in fact, were they notified?

Three years later, those in charge at various government offices are now scrambling to figure out how an adolescent Winnipegger was left in the clutches of the man who repeatedly abused her, starting in 2011. The sex assaults, pregnancies and abortions were discovered only after her stepfather broke into her best friend’s Pembina Highway apartment, savagely attacking that girl and her mother with a screwdriver in late 2012.

He was arrested and charged with numerous offences. The following year, the stepdaughter disclosed the abuse and the abortions, the first of which was performed in Newfoundland and the next in Winnipeg.

The court case, which ended last week in a 16-year jail sentence for the man, heard the stepdaughter was told to say her boyfriend was the father.

The provincial government’s cabinet communications office — those who speak for the ministers — expressed "shock" at the case Tuesday, noting "child-welfare authorities immediately investigate when they are informed of instances of suspected abuse."

But was an agency notified? Did a social worker visit the girl?

Under the provincial Child and Family Services Act, anyone in Manitoba with reason to suspect abuse must report to police or CFS. That includes medical personnel.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said Tuesday health-care professionals are aware of this, but stopped short of saying whether the rules were followed.

Yet, the 12-year-old was left to fend for herself and returned to the care of her abuser.

Even if the medical practitioners believed the girl’s story about the boyfriend, there ought to have been a referral to a child and family services agency. The legal age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16, and exceptions are made in cases of younger children only if the partner is close in age.

Children’s advocate Darlene McDonald launched her review when the case was reported by media in early July. Her authority, however, is limited by the CFS Act. She can compel information from child-welfare agencies and workers, but can only request it from other public services involved, such as police, hospitals and medical workers.

Retired B.C. judge Ted Hughes, who conducted an inquiry into the 2005 death of little Phoenix Sinclair, recommended the advocate become independent with greater powers, allowing her or him to probe any public office that delivers care to children.

But Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross has yet to see the wisdom of that recommendation. She has no good plan yet to implement it, despite the fact it’s been on her desk for more than 18 months, along with a consultant’s report on how to put it into action.

Calling this lethargy is being kind. It borders on abdication of duty by the minister and cases such as this illustrate the effect of the limited powers of the children’s advocate.

Ms. McDonald’s task is to determine who knew what and when, and why the girl was left in the care of a predator. Even with the best of co-operation from police and the hospital, she now is asking people to recall the circumstances around a medical procedure performed three years ago.

Ms. Irvin-Ross has complicated that job by refusing to move on reasonable and necessary reform to the powers of the children’s advocate, giving the office the same authority counterparts in other provinces already have. It is time for the minister to stop stalling and act.

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