EDMONTON – Most children who die in care will remain nameless and faceless because the Human Services ministry will quietly pursue publication bans under a complex new law, critics alleged Friday.
NDP leadership candidate Rachel Notley said the ministryâ€™s new internal policy undermines the governmentâ€™s promise to provide more transparency and accountability in the child welfare system.
â€œThey promised they would be transparent about the deaths of children in care, but yesterday they took a major step backward,â€� Notley said in a statement. â€œTransparency has been lost.â€�
Earlier this year, Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar overturned Albertaâ€™s draconian publication ban that prevented media from publishing the names and photos of children who died in provincial care, even if their families wanted their identities made public.
Under the new law, families and news outlets may identify children who have died in care using both a name and photograph, unless a judge grants a publication ban.
Before granting the ban, a judge must consider the deceased childâ€™s wishes (if known) and the best interests of his or her living siblings, as well as the public interest.
Anyone â€” including the childâ€™s biological family or the ministry â€” can apply for an ex-parte ban, which means there is no requirement to notify the media or others who might fight against a ban.
On Thursday, at a meeting of the standing committee on families and communities, assistant deputy minister Mark Hattori explained the ministryâ€™s internal policy will require government to notify families, First Nations and the media â€” even though itâ€™s not required by law.
Typically, he said that if a child is still in the care of his or her parents at the time of death, the province will leave it up to the parents to determine if there should be a publication ban.
However, if the child is in the care of the province â€” either in foster care, kinship care or in a group home â€” the province is more likely to apply for a publication ban, particularly when the deceased child has siblings, which is the case in roughly 62 per cent of deaths.
He said these bans would be â€œfor the right reasons.â€�
â€œThe bans, or the provision for the (ministry) to apply for a ban, would be the exception rather than the rule,â€� Hattori told the standing committee.
â€œThe decision regarding any application is a matter for the court to make a decision on, and not for the director to independently put in place,â€� Hattori said.
â€œOur preliminary assessment of past cases using these considerations suggests that applications by the director will be rare.â€�