Alberta NDP leader slams Tories’ publication ban rules

EDMONTON – In a searing minority report, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said a Tory-dominated committee flouted 12 expert opinions and ignored opposition pleas to reconsider new rules governing publication bans for children who die in provincial care.

Notley said the committee passed a regulation written by Alberta Human Services “with barely any deliberation,� despite expert concerns from the Child and Youth Advocate, the Privacy Commissioner, several child advocacy groups and the Canadian Media Lawyers Association (CMLA).

In the three-page report, Notley says the committee was “carelessâ€� and the resulting regulations “effectively reinstate the publication ban and further reduce transparency and accountability in the … death review process.â€�

“Both the process and the regulations as passed are deficient and do a disservice to the children in government care and to the public interest in improving conditions for them,� Notley wrote.

Early in 2014, the province repealed a sweeping publication ban that prevented media from publishing the names of children who died in provincial care, replacing it with a law that allowed families, government and others to apply for a ban when required. That application process is ex-parte, which means it can be done by going before a judge without notifying anyone.

This means the government can apply for a ban without notifying family members, and anyone can apply for a ban without notifying the media.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has explicitly stated that publication bans must be exceptional and that the removal of notice requirements … is a ‘significant step backward’ in Alberta law,â€� Notley wrote, citing the submission from the CMLA.

“Several of the government’s own appointees and acknowledged subject experts noted that the use of an ex-parte process … will create imbalances in application,â€� explaining that court applications are easier for government lawyers to navigate than vulnerable families who have lost children in care.

Further, Notley said the new guidelines governing when the province will seek a ban means “virtually all children who die in the care of this government will remain subject to a publication ban.�

Human Services Minister Heather Klimchuk said she is aware of the report but hasn’t read it, and that she has no plans to reopen the legislation. However, she said she will look at the concerns about ex-parte applications.

“If that’s something I need to look at, I will look at that,� she said. “As the new minister, these are issues that are very important to me. All I know is that as of late, we have not applied for any publication bans.

“I can assure you they’re only used for very good reason.�

kkleiss@edmontonjournal.com

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