Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 9 - Evidence - Thursday, September 21, Afternoon meeting
VANCOUVER, Thursday, September 21, 2006
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 1:16 p.m. to
examine and report upon Canada's international obligations in regards to the
rights and freedoms of children.
Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chairman) in the chair.
The Chairman: Honourable senators, our first witnesses this afternoon
are Victor Porter of MOSAIC and Sister Deborah Isaacs from the Separated
Children Intervention and Orientation Network — a long title.
Sister Deborah Isaacs, Representative, Separated Children Intervention
Orientation Network: We tend to call it SCION, which means "heirs."
Madam Chair and honourable members of the Senate, the SCION Project
appreciates this invitation to present to you a submission on some of the areas
where we see that Canada is not fulfilling its obligations under the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC. As a project dealing with
separated children, we deal mainly with children who are refugees, or victims of
trafficking, and I will make this presentation from their vantage point. I agree
with the observations made in your interim report, Who's in Charge Here?
about the inadequacies of Canada's method for implementing the convention, and
about the need to adopt legislation to give the CRC the force of law in our
country. Many prior presentations have spoken on why this is important legally,
and I will not repeat those arguments, but I will supplement them with examples
of where Canadian laws and policies fail to meet up with their obligations
despite the claims that they are in conformity with the convention.
In keeping with my objective in this matter, I will cover five areas: poverty
and discrimination; best interests of the child; reunification of separated
children with their families; separating a child from a parent; and a national
policy for separated children. Another major area of non-compliance for Canada
that I see regarding refugee and immigrant children, namely, reunification with
the family, will be covered by another panelist.
Article 2 of the convention states that State parties are to ensure that the
rights set forth in the convention are to apply to every child in their
jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, including status of the parent.
Article 18 provides for childcare services for children of working parents.
Articles 26 and 27 speak about the entitlement to social security and the right
of a child to a standard of living in accordance with national conditions. Yet
we find that Canadian law excludes children of refugee claimants and non-status
persons from getting the child tax credit.
These children are more than often the poorest of the poor and they include
children born in Canada. In other words, Canadian citizens. To add to their
poverty, they are most often ineligible to receive subsidized housing and
daycare, and their parents have difficulty obtaining adequate jobs because of
their status. This is discrimination based on the status of parents. In fact, we
have two types of Canadian children.
Article 3 states that in all actions concerning children, the best interests
of the child shall be a primary consideration. Yet the Immigration and Refugee
Protection Act states that the best interests of the child must be considered in
humanitarian and compassionate applications. However, that is not applicable in
any other applications or actions, and even in H and C applications it is not a
primary consideration. In their last report, the committee stated that the
principle that the primary considerations should be given to the best interests
of the child is still not adequately defined and reflected in some legislation.
Also, since humanitarian and compassionate applications — H and Cs — may take
years to process, the question of the best interests of the child is often never
looked at before drastic actions such as deportations are taken. The best
interests of the child is also never looked at in applying the draconian IRPA
117(9)(d), and, therefore, punishing the children for the mistakes of
A separated child who is an accepted refugee in Canada cannot make
application to be reunited with his family despite the fact that Article 10
states that applications by a child for his or her parent to enter or to leave a
State party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by State
parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner. Canada's explanation for
not permitting this type of application is that they fear the parents will send
their children to gain a toehold in the country so that they can follow.
However, that does not make sense. If a child has been accepted as a refugee,
that means that there is a justified reason for him or her coming here. If it is
just in order to get a toehold, the child would never be accepted. To condemn a
child to perpetual separation from his or her family is cruel and inhumane, not
respecting the rights of the child and not fulfilling our obligations under the
convention. How can we say that our law here is in compliance?
Article 9 states that State parties shall ensure that a child should not be
separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent
authorities, subject to judicial review, determine, in accordance with
applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary in the best
interests of the child. In Canada, separation of a child from a parent through
deportation occurs quite often. Deportation proceedings can occur without anyone
ever looking at the issue of best interests, as we mentioned earlier. On the
other hand, the issue may be looked at, or at other times it may be looked at
and refused because family separation is not considered an undue hardship. The
authorities state that the person should be deported and then apply for
immigration from outside the country. However, what is never really looked at is
the reality of the application succeeding, or succeeding within a reasonable
time, in light of Canadian immigration laws and processing times.
I have heard of a case where there was a family divorce, and custody was
awarded to the mother, who is not Canadian. However, the Family Court also
ordered that the child not be removed from the province, since the father is
Canadian. Yet the mother is ordered deported. A Federal Court then ruled that
custody does not mean that the child must live with the mother, and that the
mother can apply for immigration status from outside the country. The mother,
though working and supporting the child now, would never have enough points to
immigrate as an independent immigrant to Canada, so the child may never see the
In Article 46 of the 2003 concluding observations on Canada, the Committee on
the Rights of the Child remarked that they were especially concerned at the
absence of a national policy on unaccompanied or separated asylum children. In
2001, Senator Landon Pearson, along with the Child Welfare League of Canada and
the International Social Services, organized a national round table on separated
children in Ottawa. One of the recommendations of this round table was to form a
working group, led by CIC with NGOs, to work on a national policy for separated
children. This working group was formed but has really made very little
progress. We have gone through several persons representing CIC — Immigration
Canada — some of whom have very little understanding of the problem, and the
last one of whom retired in the spring. As a member of the NGO group, I can tell
you that I am extremely frustrated. Without a law implementing the CRC, we have
no way of advancing this issue except advocacy, which is going nowhere at the
We NGOs would like to see another national round table organized to look at
what has been — and has not been — accomplished since the last round table, and
to have another look at the issue. In another couple of years we will again be
before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and referring to their 2003
comments, nothing has changed.
Victor Porter, Community Outreach Manager, MOSAIC: Madam Chair and
honourable senators, good afternoon. My name is Victor Porter. I work for
MOSAIC, which is an organization here in Vancouver. When I shared with friends
and colleagues the fact that I would be presenting to this committee, some
suggested that I read my presentations. Others said, "No, talk to them."
Senators, I will make the best of both worlds: I will read some parts, and then
talk to you.
Before I start, I would like to thank you for the time you are affording me
here today, and also for the help of your very able staff who were able to
accommodate us and my crazy schedule to enable me to make a presentation before
As I said, I am working for MOSAIC. MOSAIC supports new immigrants and
refugees through a range of programs and services, including employment, family
support, volunteer information support, interpretation and translation services.
MOSAIC has 130 employees, 300 volunteers and close to 250 trained, freelance
interpreters and translators. Our intimate knowledge of the issue of family
reunification is based on the work of our 11 bilingual counselors who, among
them, speak a total of 24 languages. They are primarily focused on the project
funded by the Foundation of British Columbia. I am also a member of the Canadian
Executive Committee of the Canadian Council for Refugees. That council is based
in Montreal, and I suggest that if your tour takes you to Montreal, you contact
and invite to appear before you Janet Dench, who is our executive director.
In relation to our submission, as members of the Canadian Council for
Refugees, we support their submissions as a whole. I will start by reading from
the June 1995 conclusions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Paragraph
The Committee recognizes the efforts made by Canada for many years in
accepting a large number of refugees and immigrants. Nevertheless, the
Committee regrets that the principles of non-discrimination, of the best
interests of the child and of the respect for the views of the child have not
always been given adequate weight by administrative bodies dealing with the
situation by refugee or immigrant children. It is particularly worried by the
resort by immigration officials to measures of deprivation of liberty of
children for security or other related purposes and by the insufficient
measures aimed at family reunification with a view to ensuring that it is
dealt with in a positive, humane and expeditious manner. The Committee
specifically regrets the delays in dealing with reunification of the family in
cases where one or more members of the family have been considered eligible
for refugee status in Canada as well as cases where refugee or immigrant
children born in Canada may be separated from their parents facing a
If there is one point that I want to get across to you, it is the fact that
the convention speaks to governments' facilitating a timely reunification of
children with their families. This is not happening. I would like to share with
you the story of a person close to our agency who travelled to Congo once he
realized that he had three nephews who were orphaned. He went to Congo at the
risk to his own life, located the children who were in their early teens, moved
them to the safest location, returned to Canada and began the process of
bringing them over through the immigration process. Time went by; he dutifully
complied with every requirement. The situation in the region where these
children were living became increasingly dangerous. He moved them again, now to
Ivory Coast where the order to which Sister Deborah belongs, the Sisters of the
Good Shepherd, provided them with shelter and looked after their safety. Then a
crisis broke out in the Ivory Coast Republic; a crisis where foreigners were
targeted in the streets. Thus the safety of these children was still in
What this family experienced was a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare: Their
visas were ready, but by the time the children knew that their visas were ready,
their medical examinations had expired, so they had to go and have their medical
examinations again. Then by the time their medical examinations were done, the
visas had expired.
I see your faces, but we are no longer surprised by instances like this
because it is not an isolated phenomenon. It happens regularly in family
Finally, by chance, the children were ready to be transported to Canada, but
they needed to have pictures taken. At severe risk to their safety, they went
and had pictures taken, took them to the Canadian delegation and, three weeks
later, they were called back. The pictures were not the correct pictures: The
background was blue, and they needed a white background.
I am raising this as an example of how the best interests of the child are
not on the screen of the people who are dealing with these cases. As I said,
this is not an isolated case. We see these kinds of things again and again.
Having said that, I do not want to point my finger of criticism at the
immigration officers. They are in the field; they are always understaffed; they
have a limited budget to work with and they already have a backlog. No matter
when they arrive at their destination, they are dealing with a backlog. They,
our immigration officers, have done extraordinarily good things in removing
children or people who are at risk but, as I said, these are extraordinary
instances. The rest of the instances are slow, cumbersome and put children at
Even if the children are not at risk, they will be separated from their
families in any event for years, and those years make a mark on those children,
on their families and, eventually, on all of us. The rest of Canadian society
will have to deal with the harm done to these children.
My time is up, but these things can be solved. It does not need a change of
legislation; it simply needs a change in regulation to allow such children to be
reunited with their parents or family in Canada and to be processed inland, in a
similar fashion to what has been done with spouses. Through a change of
regulation, spouses now can be processed in Canada to resolve their situation.
The Chairman: You are saying that the change required is in the
regulations. My understanding was that the regulations gave the minister
discretion, but you are telling us that it would actually take a regulation
change? I might remind you that the Immigration Act changed three years ago, and
it gave unusual and, in my opinion, too many powers to the minister by way of
regulation; powers which traditionally had been in the act.
However, my understanding was that they could act. They would simply need to
file. I did not think a regulation change, per se, was required. Your
understanding is that a regulation change is required?
Mr. Porter: My understanding is that it does not require a change in
the law; it requires a change in the guidelines, actually.
The Chairman: Yes.
Mr. Porter: An amendment to the guidelines, I am sorry, to provide for
The Chairman: My point was that it is even simpler than a regulation
Mr. Porter: Yes. All it requires is the political will and the best
interests of the child as the centrepiece.
The Chairman: Sister Isaacs, you talked about a number of the issues
that we have dealt with. Can you tell us what types of children you work with?
Could you explain a little about your organization and how you come to deal with
Sister Isaacs: Separated children are children who are outside their
country of origin, without parent or legal/ customary caregivers. These are
children under the age of 18, according to the convention, who arrive in Canada,
let us say in this case. Sometimes we are dealing with separated children in
other places where they have a relative here in Canada. This applies to children
who come as refugees or refugee claimants, victims of trafficking or migrants.
We do not yet have that many migrants in Canada but we do have victims of
trafficking, and we do have refugees, both making claims here.
We have had a moratorium on refugee children separated, coming to Canada for
resettlement, but some protocols about guardianship, et cetera, have just been
put into place. I do not know if anybody has yet come under these new protocols.
These, then, are the children who come.
Here in British Columbia, we have the Ministry of Children and Family
Development which has a special team that takes care of totally unaccompanied
children. "Unaccompanied" would mean that they are not accompanied by any adult.
It is a much narrower definition than "separated." A separated child can come
with a distant aunt or a cousin or someone, but that person is not their legal
guardian. First of all, here in Canada we have no obligation that such persons
become legal guardians, which burdens them with serious problems. This in
itself, I think, is contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In
other words, these children have nobody who has any legal responsibility for
them. They can make it happen, but it is not an easy matter because it is not
always easy to get hold of the parents, if they exist, and if they have the
proof. It also costs a great deal of money, and here in British Columbia there
is no legal aid available to them to go about doing this. Thus, most of the time
it does not get done.
The Chairman: I think your paper adequately explains that and your
other work. What I really want to know is where is the point of entry of your
organization into such situations?
Sister Isaacs: I work at MOSAIC but not for MOSAIC. I have access to
these children through the staff of MOSAIC. I also work with or have contact
with the ministry. Some of the children come directly off the street. I have
also made contact with them through other organizations who might have contact
with children like this, such as Covenant House, which is there on the street
for street kids. We organized this network SCION — and this is where the network
comes in — of organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, that meets
fairly regularly to look at the problem of separated children here in British
The Chairman: You then work with them after that and advocate for
them, is that the point?
Sister Isaacs: I advocate and try to help them settle different
matters that may arise. I can give you an example: We had a child who was
adopted from overseas, but then the adoption broke down here and the child was
on the street with absolutely no identification. He was legally in Canada, that
was no problem, but he had no identification; he had neither health care
coverage nor anything else. We helped him to get some sort of health coverage
and we tried to get help for him through the ministry, but because of different
policies now within the ministry, they were not too interested because he was
over 16 at that point. At least we helped him at least to get papers so that he
could do some work, such as at McDonald's or somewhere, and get health care when
he needs it and other things that he is entitled to.
The Chairman: How many children are we talking about? This is one of
the issues that we are faced with as we go around the country. For instance, how
many such children do you deal with in a year? Some people are telling us that
we are talking about small numbers and others say that there is an invisible
number of such cases. I want your opinion.
Sister Isaacs: Yes, I know that kind of statement. At times we have
had more such children, like when the boats were coming in here from China and
elsewhere. At other times, it is less. Now it is much less because the Safe
Third Country Agreement has cut back on the numbers of refugees coming in, even
though the category of separated children is one of the exemptions.
The method of calculating numbers is problematic. The immigration authorities
decided to calculate how many refugee claims were being initiated by a minor
alone, where the main applicant was the minor. However, that does not always
take into consideration the fact that some of these claims may involve a couple
of minors, and that is not always clear. Sometimes, especially with separated
children as compared to unaccompanied minors, their claim will be established
through the family with whom they are living. If they are living with, let us
say, an older brother or an uncle or something, the claim may just proceed as if
the child was a child of that family, and they are not the primary claimant.
Sometimes, in fact, children's claims are not being heard on their own merit,
even though sometimes the child has his own claim.
The Chairman: In relation to your project, could you give us just a
rough, ballpark number. Are we talking 10 or 20 a year? How many? Just a
Sister Isaacs: For here in Canada, I have dealt with, I would say,
about 10 a year, though I also deal with other cases, such as the example I gave
you of the three children who were in the Ivory Coast, trying to bring them
here. I am dealing now with two young girls from Ethiopia who have already been
trafficked to Saudi Arabia and then returned to Ethiopia. Their older sister is
here in Canada. On being returned to Ethiopia, they were living in a home with a
family, and in the violence in Ethiopia in December, the man of the house was
killed. The two girls then fled with the son of that family to the Sudan. I am
not sure if they are going from the frying pan into the fire.
The Chairman: It is close.
Sister Isaacs: Yes, it is next door. They were now in Khartoum. Again,
I have been lucky. My congregation has sisters in Khartoum, and through a
telephone number we have been able to make contact with the girls and they have
been taken into care, and they are at the moment trying to get them refugee
status in Sudan so that they can be resettled here in Canada with their older
The Chairman: One of the other concerns that we have heard is with
respect to the trafficking problem and that the people who seem to fall through
the cracks are those that are 16 to 18, and female. Do you have any comment as
to whether that is an issue? In other words, if a young girl comes into this
country and she is 17 years old, she is not looked upon as a child.
Sister Isaacs: It depends on the province.
The Chairman: It depends on the province? Is it because of the
regulations or their attitude or what?
Sister Isaacs: No, it has to do with regulation. For instance, in
Ontario, it has to do with the regulations of that province for children under
age, where the ministry —
The Chairman: In other words, it is 16?
Sister Isaacs: It is 16 for intake. They will take care of children
beyond that age, but for intake, it is 16.
Here in British Columbia, it is the opposite: We take them in up to 19, so
there are differences by province. I would not say that it is limited only to
girls because it also includes boys. Here in British Columbia, by policy, we
have problems with some of the 16 to 19 year olds in that they are not quite
open to being taken into care. Then the authorities will just let them go and
sort of ignore them and that type of thing. We do have this problem with some
children who are being trafficked. I am using the word "trafficked" here because
children cannot give their consent —
The Chairman: That is right.
Sister Isaacs: — to sell drugs from Honduras, for example. We do have
this repeat situation. They are being brought here, and they owe debts for their
transportation. I know they do make some money; for them, a lot of money, but as
far as I am concerned, they are being trafficked, at least the ones under 18.
With respect to the ones over 18, then you can get into a debate.
The Chairman: My final question has to do with the situation that
arises when they come into this country. A comment has been made that the
children may go into custody — in other words, they may be deprived of their
freedom, in contrast to cases involving adults, where an adult would have been
released. That is because the children may then come into the orbit of the
Children's Aid Society, or whatever. There are no facilities for such children
where they may be held, and they probably do not receive the support services as
would another child in care in Canada who has been apprehended for other reasons
— in other words they are not getting access to some of the counselling,
education and other services, and some of these children coming into Canada are
Sister Isaacs: This, again, depends on the province. Because of the
arrival of the boats here in British Columbia, we have developed this migrant
services team in the ministry to take care of separated children — or perhaps I
should say unaccompanied children. Because of the actions of the ministry in
this respect, most such children here in this province do not now go into
Previously, however, I was in Quebec, and I know that we have had children in
custody at the Immigration Prevention Unit at Laval, where there are no
facilities for children. There, they had no schooling for months while they were
being held. They were Chinese and Pakistani. They were starting to get a little,
you know —
The Chairman: They were difficult.
Sister Isaacs: Well, their problems were mental, too. They were
traumatized, and it was a problem because Quebec at that time had a hole, a
juridical hole. Any separated children became the responsibility of SCION but
they had no legal guardianship or any of the protective measures that that would
entail. All children are entitled to education, but there were no educational
facilities within those detention facilities and there was no provision made for
the months that they were there to give them any education, or even to teach
them English. The only activity they had was to watch television, and, as you
know, when you are dealing with youngsters, having them sit inside for most of
the day is not the healthiest solution. They had no-one to talk to because they
were not learning English — or French, in Quebec's case.
Therefore, with respect to the other provinces, there is nothing specific
available, and the situation varies from province to province. Ontario, as I
said, these children are considered children up to age 16. After that age, they
are just left to make their own decisions and arrangements, and Covenant House
in Toronto ended up dealing with an enormous number of such youths. At one
point, nearly 50 per cent of their clientele were separated children. That was
back in 2001, when they gave us their report, but it varies from year to year.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Perhaps both of you could comment on whether or
not you see any gender differences in the treatment of such children. Of course
you will see gender differences, but among the children that you deal with are
there different issues for girl children than for boy children, and if so, what
would they be?
Sister Isaacs: Yes, there would be differences. The vulnerability of a
girl child is much more. She may not have been trafficked in here, but a girl
child of 16 who is sort of left on her own in Ontario, or perhaps in some other
countries, for the first time in her life without supervision, is much more
vulnerable to being picked up by people who will then use her in prostitution
than, say, a male child who can go out and find some other type of work much
easier. That is what I would basically say is the difference in the
vulnerability of the person. Other than that, no.
Mr. Porter: I could only add that in some communities, some cultural
communities, the expectation of what a young male will do are different to the
way in which a female young person will be regarded, and the stigma or
stereotypes applied to those children are very different. For instance, in some
cultures, the fact that a young person is out in the world at 15 or 16 is looked
at as an asset, as a show of courage or heroism, sort of thing. Yet to see a
young girl of 16 alone in the world does not have the same connotation. People
in particular communities look at them as a lost case. Thus there are, I would
say, a number of differences, and it depends on the communities: the system as a
whole, the education system, the child welfare system. However, those are the
attitudes that I can point to in terms of community, or the ethnic community's
perception of such children.
Senator Poy: Sister Isaacs, can you please tell us how prevalent is
trafficking of children into Canada? We read a lot about that. What, in your
experience, is the situation, say, with regard to such children from Europe, and
The Chairman: The question is with respect to "trafficked" children;
we have been talking about unaccompanied children, separately. However, you are
talking total — ?
Senator Poy: Yes, yes.
Sister Isaacs: You are talking about children being trafficked?
Senator Poy: Yes.
Sister Isaacs: I think the problem is a lot greater than we realize.
It is very easy to hide children, much easier than for adults, even.
Senator Poy: Why is that?
Sister Isaacs: Well, first of all, I think it is easier to bring in
children. You can pass them off easier as your own, in the case of a trafficker,
than you can with an adult. I myself have seen what I would call "trafficked"
children. I have dealt with such traffic situations. I remember one case in
Montreal, involving a 13-year-old boy, supposedly a younger brother of a woman.
We were an emergency shelter at that time and, right from the beginning, right
under our eyes, this child was doing all the work for the family: the cooking,
the cleaning, the laundry. He would not eat with the rest of the family, even
though he has supposed to be the younger brother of the woman. Of course, we
also noted that this child was illiterate as compared to the rest of the other
children that the woman had, and we immediately took action. This was not
acceptable. We prohibited him from doing anything, at least in the house. We
spoke to the outside agencies involved. We warned them, but they did not take
any action at that point. As soon as the family left the shelter, I had the
suspicion that that child would not go to school, but we lost contact. Then,
just by accident, one year later I was at the immigration board at the same time
as this family, although I was there for some other purpose. At that time I was
able to speak to the child, and as we had predicted, he still was not going to
school. I again contacted the authorities on his behalf, and I had to do a lot
of pushing to get them to start investigating. The next thing we knew, the
family had moved to another province.
Senator Poy: How would you have known this family? They were really
under your nose, is what you are saying.
Sister Isaacs: By chance, but I am sure there are many others like
that. I know I have heard stories of other kids coming into families, supposedly
as a relative, or whatever. I am also hearing a lot of stories in certain
communities of children being trafficked for sexual exploitation, but I have not
come into contact with any such. I hear such things both from some of the
organizations dealing with prostitution and from other, different sources, but
we have not been able to put our hand on any such cases. We do know that there
are the children — the Honduran children, for example, who at times have been a
fairly large number. First they were telling us their proper ages, but then they
found out that the ministry would try to take them into their charge, so they
started lying about their ages. However, it was quite clear that they were not
Senator Poy: These are groups of children that are brought in. I think
you mentioned something about age, that depending on which province they go to,
the age at which they are considered children is different; right?
Sister Isaacs: Right. In some provinces, it is 16; in other provinces,
it is 18. I think here in B.C., it is 19. We are unique in that respect, in that
we meet the convention standard.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I am just so overwhelmed by your testimony.
Can these children eventually attain citizenship?
Sister Isaacs: That is another problem. These children cannot attain
citizenship. The ministry here, if they are accepted as refugees, will make
application for their landing, and so on, and keep them in charge in foster
care, et cetera, but the Citizenship Act does not allow them to apply for
citizenship until they are 18, even though we are sometimes talking about
perhaps 13 years. In fact, this is a big problem. It does not allow the province
to apply on their behalf for citizenship, which hinders these children from
partaking fully, sometimes, with school activities. For example, where there
might be an outing, or an exchange visit to the United States, they cannot go,
et cetera. If they were brilliant, there is a difference. There are a lot of
benefits to citizenship, even for a child, but the Citizenship Act does not
allow it, for such children.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: But they can apply for citizenship because
they do not have guardians?
Sister Isaacs: They have the provincial government as a guardian, but
that body does not look at them in the same way as a parent might. Thus there is
a restriction on separated children becoming citizens until they are 18.
However, at that time they are no longer children, and therefore the provincial
government cannot apply on their behalf. They can then apply for landed
immigrant status, but not for citizenship.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Please tell me of a success story. Is there
a success story?
Senator Nancy Ruth: Good question.
Sister Isaacs: I can tell you a story. Mr. Porter brought the three
kids he was talking about. They have been in the country now for a few years.
They have graduated from high school and are going to university. But I will
tell you something: It took quite a while, over a year to get them out, and a
lot of continuous prodding. For example, Mr. Porter mentioned the photographs.
The photographer was the one recommended by the Canadian Embassy. It took four
sets of photos before we finally got the right ones, and it was only because,
for the fourth set, the sisters finally took them to another photographer.
First, it was blue, then it was gray, and on and on. Meanwhile, there is a civil
war going on.
With some cases, it is just horrific, time-wise. There was another case where
it took eight years to get the children here to Canada, and in all that time
they had no schooling. If we can get the children here in time, they can make a
contribution to Canada. They can get the schooling they need. They will not be
lagging behind. They can know their parents because, let us face it, if they are
separated from their parents for years, kids do not know their parents,
especially in the case of a 2 year- old.
There was a case several years ago in Belgium, I think it was, where the
Prime Minister of Belgium made an intervention to move a child from the Congo to
his mother here in Canada because somebody had been trying to sneak the child in
Some situations can be very difficult. We do hear some good stories, and the
system does work, but there is no provision to fight it. You hear some crazy
things sometimes. There was the case of the Afghani child — no, correct that, a
Canadian child of an Afghani father. The father is here, and earning a living,
but he should go back to Afghanistan to apply for immigration from outside. He
is married and he has been here for years, but the only way he can get his
landed immigrant status is to go back to Afghanistan and apply, but he may never
come back here. What about the child? Must he leave the child? It is suggested
that the mother can take the child to Afghanistan to visit the father, despite
the fact that Canada has a travel warning about Afghanistan. The whole thing
seems to be divorced from reality.
Mr. Porter: We see success stories constantly. One of the beauties
arising out of the work that we do is that every month or so, we have a mother
or a father coming to us to introduce us to their children and saying, "We
finally landed them. Here they are. You know, this is the person who helped us."
Those are success stories. The concern is that there is such a waste of time and
resources. Parents send money to where their children are. The children come
here and they do not know that their parents have tried very hard to get them
here. Some have this feeling of resentment against their parents. "Why did you
not bring me earlier? Why did I have to wait five years, three years, four
years?" Those are some of the issues that we see again and again through our
family programs, where there is counselling and parenting groups, and so on, and
it is not an isolated event. It is recurring. There is a pattern of this kind of
connection between the children who arrive later, and their parents.
We have been talking here about children, but the same situation arises
between spouses as well. The mother or the father is here; they become
functional in Canadian society, then the spouse arrives. He or she arrives from
an experience of separation. These are two different people. They have three,
four, five years of different experiences. It takes a big effort for all of them
to catch up, and it is energy that is devoted to family issues that could be
devoted to studying or working or opening up a business. Therefore by not
streamlining the family reunification system or the laws, it affects not only
the particular family, it is affects you and all of us as a society. We lose the
contribution that these children and parents can make.
Sister Isaacs: There are also whole other areas of what we call the
"moratorium countries." Those are countries that Canada has deemed are unsafe to
return anybody to. But if a person from such a country is not accepted here by
the authorities, then he or she cannot ever bring their family over. Some of
these countries have been out of that loop for years. Of course, such applicants
cannot bring their children over. Sometimes crazy things happen: They might put
in a request for humanitarian or compassionate consideration, and you get an
answer like, "Well, because you do not have part of your family here, you have
not really integrated. Therefore, we will not accept you on humanitarian and
compassionate grounds." In some ways the word "humanitarian" has lost its
meaning. I mean, sure, he is following the law. He is not bringing his family
here because he is not allowed, but then that is held against him when he tries
to improve his status. At the same time, he may be working and contributing
through his Canadian taxes and everything.
The same thing could be said about the Child Tax Credit. You have people who,
through their taxes, are contributing to the Canadian economy and yet they are
not eligible for the Child Tax Credit. Some of the children are actually
Canadian children, Canadian citizens. However, eligibility for that program is
not based on the child, it is based on the status of the parent.
The Chairman: You raised the issue of stateless children basically.
Might I ask, do you deal with any of those?
Sister Isaacs: I have had one case, but so far it has gone nowhere. It
is not taking place here, actually, in Canada. The mother is here. The child has
been left in the country of origin, but is not a citizen of that country, and do
not ask me how we are ever going to get it out of there. The child is caught up
in what I call the draconian 117(9)(d), which is the excluded family
members, for some cases where parents, for some reason or another, did not list
a person, a family member, on their initial application. Sometimes it is because
applications went in when that person did not exist, as in the case of a child.
Perhaps because of the long processing time, they were born in the meantime, and
then people tell the parents, "If you notify them now, the process will take
much longer." Or they do notify somebody, but it is the wrong person. They think
they are notifying the Canadian government, but it might be —
Mr. Porter: UNHCR.
Sister Isaacs: — UNHCR or something like that, of the existence of
this other child, and then they come here to this country. However, because the
child is not listed, they can never bring it to this country. What I mean is
that the child is suffering for the mistakes of the parent. This child is
deprived of a parent because the law is so absolute, and so far, we have not
figured out, in most cases, how to get around these lies. There are no time
limits. If they misrepresent anything — and another thing is that there is a
two-year time limit, but not for this.
The Chairman: What you are telling us is that you want another
national round table. However, it seems to me that we know what the issues are.
It is not time for another round table; it is time for action, is it not?
Sister Isaacs: Because the immigration structure tends to change so
often, many of the people who are there now are not aware of what the issues
are. For example, I have had the immigration person in charge of the working
group say to me, "What difference does it make whether he has a legal guardian
or not, as long as he has a roof over his head."
The Chairman: My point is if you leave it at the bureaucratic level,
you may train new ones who will then also retire. Are you really not talking
about putting children first?
Sister Isaacs: First, definitely.
The Chairman: Then that has to have some political will behind it.
Sister Isaacs: Right. What would be even better would be to have a law
implementing these proposals, because that would put much more of a priority on
the Department of Immigration to develop this sort of policy.
The Chairman: Or a direction from the government to say that it shall
be handled this, that and the other way. You are talking about the national
round table, but I produced a report before that — and hundreds of others have,
too. This is not a new issue. It is just a revolving round table. That is why I
am trying to —
Mr. Porter: Absolutely.
The Chairman: You are just desperate, looking for some —
Sister Isaacs: — we are looking for some way to push it again, because
as far as I am concerned it has not advanced at all.
The Chairman: Very well.
Senator Poy: Mr. Porter, you were telling us about the children that
you finally were able to bring in from the Congo. Did they come in as refugees
or as family members of the —
Mr. Porter: The came in as family members of a landed immigrant, yes.
Sister Isaacs: As adopted children.
Senator Poy: As adopted children, I think, by their uncle, is that
Mr. Porter: Yes.
Senator Poy: We had other witnesses this morning who gave us some
information in this regard, and this is what I want to find out: I do not want
to know how old those children were, but it seems that if the adoption was a
foreign adoption, those children are not Canadians. That was what we were told
Mr. Porter: They are not Canadians —
Senator Poy: Until they reach 18?
Mr. Porter: — until they become Canadian citizens. In their case, the
adopted father or mother can apply for their citizenship once they have resided
here for three years.
Senator Poy: Then these children do not have to wait until they reach
the age of 18 to become Canadians?
Mr. Porter: No.
The Chairman: There is a parent.
Senator Poy: There is a parent, yes.
Mr. Porter: There is a parent.
Sister Isaacs: An adopted parent, but a parent.
The Chairman: But the problem arises if those children are given up
into an agency and the government — the provincial government — cannot apply.
That was the point, I think.
Sister Isaacs: Or if they are in the care of a legal guardian. For
example, Muslims do not like to adopt. They do not believe in adoption.
Therefore, they will take legal guardianship but they will not adopt.
Senator Poy: If you are a legal guardian, can you apply for
citizenship for such a child?
Sister Isaacs: No.
Senator Poy: You cannot. You mentioned earlier that there was an
adoption that did not work out, so the child —
Sister Isaacs: That was another case.
Senator Poy: That was another case, and the child was, as you implied,
Sister Isaacs: No, he was not stateless. He was a landed immigrant.
Senator Poy: Yes.
Sister Isaacs: But he just had no papers with him.
Senator Poy: How would that child manage without papers? How would he
get a job?
Sister Isaacs: You cannot, unless it is under the table. This is why
it was very important to get him his papers, and get him his entitlement to
medical coverage. What I mean is that he already had the entitlement; the
problem was getting the proof of it and interceding on his behalf to try to get
Senator Poy: I do not quite understand. Are you saying that when
someone adopts a child, they can just say "Go, it is not working out. We do not
like you anymore."? Is that how it works?
Sister Isaacs: Sometimes. Or sometimes when it is not working out,
what happens is that after several years, the child just takes off.
Senator Poy: The child just takes off. Very well, thank you.
The Chairman: You can give up a child voluntarily. Not in all cases,
but they will try family reunification, if I may call it that. Whether it is
your adopted child or your natural child — permit me, I am using my Family Court
experience here — and you work on a family. However, if there is a total
breakdown then you take the child into care permanently under provincial
authority until they reach adulthood, or you can take them in temporarily to
continue to work on the situation.
Equally, a child can just leave home and hit the streets, and there is a
total severance between him or her and their family. There is nothing done
legally. You can also give up a child; you may say, "I cannot work with that
child. I have not bonded with that child. I am giving that child up." The
authorities are obliged to continue to try to reunite you and to counsel you,
but if it does not work, the child will then end up in the hands of welfare.
This issue is not as well known about in Canada as is the plight of those who
want to adopt internationally. The difficulties of international adoption have
been publicized quite a bit. However — and this is my own opinion, not on behalf
this committee — I do not think there has been a proper tracking of such adopted
children; that we do not track what happens to adopted children after they
arrive here. That is, I think, where you are going here with this submission?
Sister Isaacs: In the same way as you were saying about tracking, and
so on, the problem sometimes with separated children, as compared with
unaccompanied children, is that if they are coming in with somebody who claims
to be an uncle, or that they are joining some family member, there is not always
an investigation of the house to see whether that is really the case. In other
words, the authorities do not check out the home situation, not in the same way
that they would do for, let us say, a foster care home. Is it a safe home? Is it
a suitable home? Is it really parental or consanguineous? It is not always done.
I would say that, more often than not, it is not done.
I remember going into The Bay to buy a bathing suit and we got talking with
the clerk a bit, and she said, "You know, this man comes in here to buy this
skimpy clothing for his nieces, and he seems to have a large number of nieces."
The Chairman: I think the one issue on which we have received e-mails
is if a child is given up here, that causes difficulties.
Senator Poy: They are deported.
The Chairman: They are deported when they are given up, but what was
Canada's obligation in allowing the adoption in the first place, in handling
that child and then deporting them? I mean, is this pro- or anti- the Convention
on the Rights of the Child? There was recently a case here in British Columbia
of that nature.
Sister Isaacs: I have also had a problem with a child from a Muslim
country — and this is an immigration case rather than a refugee case. The
parents were immigrating but the child was not actually their child. However,
because there is no adoption, the child would have been, at birth, registered as
their child. The mother was in danger of becoming the victim of honour killing,
and this couple took the child when it was newborn, one-hour old, to save the
mother and registered it as if, you know, the mother had given birth. Our laws
just could not cope with that situation. They were giving immigration visas to
the parents but they did not want to give a visa to the child, because it is not
of their blood. The child is not adopted; as I said there is no adoption in
Muslim countries. Nevertheless, the authorities here wanted papers that were
impossible to get.
The Chairman: I think part of the problem is that we have started to
identify these problems within our immigration system. For example, with the
countries where children are treated as your own, even if they are not your
blood children — they could be your nieces, nephews, or what have you — I think
that is where the aboriginal community has been instructive for us on having the
extended, broader definition of "family."
What I am hearing from you and others is that we have not caught up with the
concept of looking at the situation from the child's perspective, and all the
consequences of a child being here, or not being here. Adopted, immigrating,
coming in under the rubric "refugee." We have not worked it out fully yet.
Sister Isaacs: The authorities will say certain things, but they have
not really put all of these things together. Also, this whole question of DNA
testing for immigration. It has been said that if the children of existing
Canadian families had to undergo DNA, there would be some very surprising
The Chairman: It is true.
Sister Isaacs: There have been cases where men have thought their
whole life that these were their children, and then they find out now that that
is not so.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Women have been very clever in order to save their
Sister Isaacs: Then we insist on this DNA testing, and it causes havoc
in the family on all levels.
The Chairman: I think this is a reaction to the behaviour of adults,
but we have not looked at the consequences to the children.
Sister Isaacs: No. The reality on the life of the child, that does not
get consideration. As I said, with Section 117, they will say, "You
misrepresented. You did not put down the child's name, therefore you must be
punished." In cases such as that, though, are you really only punishing the
parent? You are also punishing the child. That has never come out.
The Chairman: That is always the age-old dilemma in protection cases.
The consequences to the parent usually are visited on the children.
Sister Isaacs: Even in cases of humanitarian applications, it is up to
the parent to spell out everything in detail. Why is that in the best interests
of the child? Some parents can do this; some parents do not understand how to do
it, especially if they are not employing a lawyer or could not afford a lawyer.
Then, if they do not do it properly, it is sort of not considered.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I would like to ask about the international
connections that you must have. I was impressed by your comments about your
congregation here, there and everywhere. What other networks do you use to find
kids, to track them, to help them?
Sister Isaacs: First of all, with respect to my own congregation, we
are international. We are represented in 72 countries in the world, including
some very difficult countries. We are also members under ECOSOC of the United
Nations, so we can use some of the United Nations links. I also use links with
other refugee organizations, such as the Red Cross and other religious
communities. I will use anything and anyone I can think of.
Senator Nancy Ruth: The Red Crescent too?
Sister Isaacs: Yes, when it is applicable. They have many of the same
services and it is really part of the same international organization. They just
do not use the same word and they do have the tracing services for family
reunification, et cetera. I must tell you, however, that it is not always
successful. Perhaps UNHCR is trying to find somebody in some of the camps.
Sometimes it is a challenge.
Mr. Porter: Last June, the Canadian Council for Refugees convened an
international conference for refugee rights that brought together NGOs from
different parts of the world, and we are now in the process of establishing an
international network of refugee organizations, and already there is a high
traffic of e-mails and questions and help being given, and so on.
The Chairman: I think we have come to the end of our session. We want
to thank you for adding to our understanding of a very complex but, I must say,
very bureaucratic system internationally, some of which is within our national
and provincial confines. Some of it is an international dilemma. It is very
difficult to explain and it is very difficult, I am sure, to work within. We
appreciate that you focused the "children first" aspect in this submission,
rather than on all of the other issues, and it will find its way into our
Thank you for coming this afternoon.
The Chairman: Our next witness is Fiona Kelly, a PhD candidate at the
University of British Columbia.
Ms. Fiona Kelly, Ph.D. Candidate, University of British Columbia:
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. What I want to talk to
you about today are Canada's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of
the Child to children who are born to lesbian mothers. Over the past four years,
my research has been in this area and, in particular, looking at the topic of
the legal recognition of lesbian motherhood in Canada, focusing specifically on
children who are conceived by a donor insemination and born into lesbian
relationships. I am not talking about children who are adopted, or children who
are born into heterosexual relationships that then ended.
I conducted 48 interviews with lesbian mothers in British Columbia and in
Alberta whose children were born via donor insemination in these circumstances,
and I should say that these couples are the tip of the iceberg. Researchers
these days are talking about a lesbian baby boom. In Canada, we are talking
about thousands and thousands of children. The estimates in the US are in the
millions. My concern, and the reason I am speaking to you about this issue
today, is that in my view Canada is currently failing these children. They
remain legally vulnerable at the same time that identically situated children
who are born through donor insemination to heterosexual couples are legally
protected. In other words, Canadian law currently denies them an equal start to
life. This is important for you as a committee because Canada's obligations
under the convention are to all children, not just to children who are born to
The CRC does not distinguish between family form and, in fact, Article 2
explicitly states that children cannot be discriminated against on the basis of
the status or activities of their parents or family members. I want to cover two
points in this submission. First, to explain how the current law fails children
who are born to lesbian mothers and then, second, what effect this has on the
daily lives of the children.
When a child is conceived via donor insemination and born to a heterosexual
couple in Canada, whether they are a married couple or not, the name of the
mother's male partner is simply placed on the child's birth certificate and for
all legal purposes that man is the child's father and parent. In contrast, a
child that is born via donor insemination to a lesbian couple is treated very
differently, and that treatment varies from province to province. In some
provinces, a child born to a lesbian couple will be fortunate enough to have
both of their mothers appear on their birth certificate from birth, providing
that the donor is anonymous. In other provinces, however, there is an absolute
prohibition on that action. In those provinces, the non-biological mother has no
legal relationship to their child when it is born. Even in those provinces where
two mothers can appear on the child's birth certificate, that is new, and it
does not apply retroactively, so there are still thousands of children who are
not covered by this new law.
The usual alternative to birth certificate recognition that has existed a lot
longer in Canada has been second parent adoption, and that is where a
non-biological mother can seek to adopt the child. This usually involves a
waiting period of at least six months in most provinces. It requires the consent
of the biological mother and usually application fees of several thousand
dollars in order to become a legal parent. Even in provinces were both or either
of these options are permitted, non-biological mothers remain legally vulnerable
because of issues around consent, cost, and the intervention by known sperm
There will be different opinions particularly about how to go about
rectifying the situation, but my point in discussing this law is that the
children born to lesbian mothers through donor insemination are treated
differently than children born to heterosexual couples by donor insemination.
What are the effects of this situation on the children involved? The first
point I would like to make —
The Chairman: Can I get some clarification here? You are saying that
with the heterosexual couples, it is the mother's partner who is registered, and
not the donor?
Ms. Kelly: Yes.
The Chairman: Thank you.
Ms. Kelly: The first point to make is that there is extensive research
dating back now almost 30 to 40 years that shows that children who are raised by
lesbian mothers do not make any distinction themselves between their biological
and their non-biological mother. They regard both women as mothers; they bond
with both of them and they are harmed by loss of contact with either of them. As
with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children do not define their
parental relationships solely on the basis of biology, and I think that if our
laws are to be truly child centered, they need to acknowledge that reality.
My second point is that the current state of the law makes children both feel
— and realistically are — quite legally vulnerable. In my own research, I have
heard countless stories from children about the fears that they express when
they get to the point in their lives where they realize that their families are
legally precarious. Many of them become fearful about what might happen to them
if their biological mother dies or if their parents separate. Others express
frustration with the attitudes of teachers, of doctors, or of members of the
media who do not consider their non- biological mother to be a real mother.
In fact, in the case of one family I interviewed in Vancouver, an 8 year-old
girl sat in a room in a Vancouver hospital for over an hour with a broken arm
because the doctor on duty refused to accept the consent of her non-biological
mother to treatment.
Put simply, and in conclusion, the children of lesbian mothers enter this
world as second-class citizens when compared with children of heterosexual
couples. Canadian law leaves them emotionally and financially vulnerable, in
spite of the fact that non-biological mothers want to be legally obligated to
care for their children, and in reality are providing daily support and care.
What I think is most harmful, though, about the current law is that it denies
the child's sense of who is his or her own family. By refusing to grant legal
recognition to one of the child's parents, the law tells that child that this
person who imagined them, who dreamed of their existence, who raised them from
birth is in fact a legal stranger, and if Canada is serious about its
obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I think it needs to
work towards ensuring that the child's sense of his or her own family is not
only protected but permitted to flourish.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I have two questions: Does the law treat these
children any differently if the lesbian couple is married? That is my first
question. The other question relates to something that arose just this morning.
We had a presentation from Parent Finders of Canada, and this gentleman was big
time into the need for all sperm donors to be registered as the fathers. How
would you deal with his argument?
Ms. Kelly: To deal with the first one, whether the existence of a
marriage makes any difference, no it does not. We have a rather unusual
situation in which a child can be born into a legal marriage in this country and
one of the parents will not be that child's legal parent. That is currently the
state of the law in Canada. If you are lucky enough to live in a province where
there is birth registration, you can do that, and there are a number of
provinces where that is the case. Otherwise, you still must go through a second
parent adoption. Then there are some provinces which have neither of those
The second one, the Parent Finders and the registration of sperm donors as
fathers — I guess I have two responses to that. This is obviously not an issue
that is particular to lesbian parents. Obviously, the vast majority of people
who use donor insemination are, in fact, heterosexual couples. I do not see any
problem with the registration of donors for medical purposes, for example, or if
we are moving to a system, as a number of provinces in Canada already have, of
only allowing what are often called identity release donors. Thus men who are
willing to be identified can allow that to happen when the child turns 18. That
is one alternative, and I think that that would apply across the board.
The second, I guess, interesting situation is that lesbian couples are the
few couples conceiving in the donor insemination context who actually use known
donors. Many of these men have ongoing relationships with the child through the
child's life. They are often close friends of the couple. There is far less
secrecy. It is obviously very hard to hide that you have a child by donor
insemination if you have two women as mothers, and because of that situation, it
tends to be a healthier environment.
If you look at outcomes for kids who are raised by lesbian parents who have
gone through anonymous donor insemination versus heterosexual couples who have
gone through the same process, children of lesbian parents tend to have less
issues around identity, if any at all, because it has been so open from the
start. If anything, I would say that the lesbian community perhaps actually
provides an interesting, maybe better model of being honest around issues of
donor insemination and donor involvement at post-birth.
Senator Poy: Ms Kelly, you mentioned that both mothers, the biological
mother and the partner, whether they are married or not, should be registered
both as mothers. As far as the donor is concerned, if that person is registered
then that child will end up with three parents.
Ms. Kelly: Yes.
Senator Poy: Perhaps you would not really see that as a problem,
having three parents?
Ms. Kelly: It would obviously be a radical change. I think that what
we would need to look at is what legal rights and responsibilities would flow
from registration. If we are registering a donor for the purposes of medical
information and for the purposes of that child having an option to later contact
the donor and have some involvement with him when they are older, then I have no
problem with the registration. I do not know if that even needs to be on the
birth certificate. We already have a system of identity release donors, for
example, in Ontario where that is currently happening.
In terms of the day-to-day decision-making about medical decisions,
education, religion, et cetera, again family law already deals with allocating
parental responsibility and guardianship rights to one or two parents, so I do
not see that actually as particularly confronting for the current system.
Senator Poy: What you are saying, then, is that even if the donor is
registered, the lesbian couple should be the two mothers on a day-to-day basis?
Ms. Kelly: On a day-to-day basis, yes. I would treat that as not
dissimilar to a custody and access arrangement, perhaps, in terms of trying to
make it make sense within the current system.
There are certainly some families that I have interviewed where the donor, or
in some cases the donor and partner, are actively involved in the child's life
and, in fact, that child does have three or four parents, and I do not see a
particular problem with that. I think that having important adults in a child's
life will only benefit that child in the long term.
Senator Poy: What you were saying is that, at the moment, the
biological mother is registered but the partner is not; that person is not
regarded as a parent legally in Canada?
Ms. Kelly: In most provinces, yes.
Senator Poy: In most provinces. I will just give you an example. We
have friends, a gay couple, who are using a surrogate mother. They both donated
sperm. They do not know whose is the child; actually, it turns out that there
will be twins. The twins will be born soon, in November. What happens in a case
like this I just had never thought about it. Would the biological mother be the
mother, and what then happens to these two men?
Ms. Kelly: Surrogacy is actually a completely separate area of law.
Senator Poy: It is different, very well.
Ms. Kelly: I actually do not think that that particular question is
yet settled in Canadian law, when the case involves two men. We do have a case
which gives parental status to a single gay man who has had a child with a
surrogate that registers him actually as the sole parent on that child's birth
certificate. There would be no reason why the surrogate could not be registered
in that particular instance, but he went to court and had himself registered as
the sole parent.
In the case you have described, it would depend on which province they were
living in, but there is no reason why, if that particular province allows it,
those two fathers could not be registered as the child's parents on the birth
Senator Poy: But what you just said was that if you are not a
biological parent, you would not be registered. I am talking actually about
Ms. Kelly: Very well.
Senator Poy: You know, it never occurred to me, until I listened to
what you had to say. I intend to ask them about that, but at the moment, I guess
until the twins are born, they do not actually know who is the biological
Ms. Kelly: Right.
Senator Poy: It will be a big surprise.
Ms. Kelly: Just in the past month, Ontario has had a decision that
does deal directly with lesbian couples who have used anonymous donors, but that
allows, at birth, two women to appear on the child's birth certificate. I would
look forward to hearing what happens in your friends' situation.
Senator Poy: Me, too.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: My question is on adoption. If two lesbian
women adopt a child or, vice versa, two gay men, must they tell the child who
the biological parent is?
Ms. Kelly: If they go through a second parent adoption? Is one of them
the biological parent and the other one is not?
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: No. If these two people adopt a child, say,
out of care?
The Chairman: A child not of either one?
Ms. Kelly: Neither are —
Senator Nancy Ruth: Neither are biological parents.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: They are just adopting this child. Must
they tell this child?
Ms. Kelly: They will be under the same law that applies to anyone who
adopts. In Canada, we are rapidly moving towards an open adoption system, so
chances are that there will be some adoptions of that nature. It depends on who
are their actual biological parents and their ability to participate, but there
is no reason why it would not — or could not — have some open adoption component
to it. It would be no different.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Are there a great many adoptions of this
nature in these situations?
Ms. Kelly: Yes. If I were to create a hierarchy of numbers I would say
that the vast majority of children are now being born into lesbian
relationships. Adoption would be the next category, both domestic and
international, and then the third would be children who were born into
heterosexual relationships that then broke down.
The Chairman: Perhaps I could just play devil's advocate for a little
while here. We have spent many decades talking about how to bring adoptive
children closer to what we might call natural-born children have in rights,
expectations, et cetera. We have now come up with all of these new ways of
creating relationships, whether it is artificial insemination, fertility options
and all of those other medical things that I do not know anything about that
seem to be occurring, including recent reports that said that perhaps sperm will
not be necessary, as you know. With all this experimentation, it seems that the
debate has been about which parent gets on to the registration as opposed to
what is in the best interests of the child.
I recall Senator Nancy Ruth's previous comments about competing interests.
She was talking about competing rights, but I am talking about competing
interests. On the one hand is the child's need to have good parenting, support
systems, stability, security, safety and all of that. On the other hand is the
child's right to know; the child's rights to privacy; the child's right to avail
themselves of, say, medical care. That is how we opened up adoptions because we
said, why wait until they are 18? The child may be in a critical position at
seven, and has a right to know who is the biological parent who is, perhaps, is
no longer parenting, and what kinds of family history were brought in.
Ms. Kelly: Yes.
The Chairman: I remind you that I am playing devil's advocate here.
All of the discussion seems to be what is in the best interests of the adults
and who gets on to the registration form, and it would seem to me that I would
want a system where we could identify all of the adult capacities that a child
needs. If we have a registration form that says, "Here is your medical. Let us
find out who did what to get you here medically." Then, "Who is looking after
you? Who will have to pay for you?" What I mean is, we have already done that in
respect of affiliation. This is, of course, before DNA testing was available.
What we said was that if you can prove there is a chance, we may prejudice the
rights of two or three partners of a particular woman, but the child will never
get more than the child needs, although he may get it from more than one source.
The whole discussion was driven by the child's rights.
Where will we end up in this whole debate? Are we still stuck on forms of
birth registration that may be are out of date and do not really address what
the child needs, as opposed to what the parents want?
Ms. Kelly: I think I will deal with your concluding question first. I
think we may be have moved to a stage where it is important to create, perhaps,
separate documents that deal with biological information versus the day-to-day
care, rights and responsibilities in relation to children. Again, I do not think
that this is unique to the lesbian or gay context.
The Chairman: No. That is my point.
Ms. Kelly: A number of the women I have interviewed have, in fact,
suggested this model, particularly women who have used anonymous donors, that it
is really important that that medical information be available. There is strong
support for identity release donors and frustration, for example, in British
Columbia that there are not sufficient identity release donors available, which
has led to an increasing number of women going to the United States to go
through insemination in that country. I think that that is an issue that Canada
needs to address.
In terms of the child's focus, the questions, I think, have led us down the
track of who appears on the birth certificate. I think my original point in my
presentation is that the child sees these two women and, in some cases, two
women and the child's donor/father as their parents. The child's sense of who
their family is is not currently reflected in the law, and there are a number of
cases — one in particular in the U.S. from the early 1990s, where an incredibly
articulate eight year old, who is now 21 and just recently was featured in a New
York Times article, appeared and gave evidence in her own case where the donor,
who had not been involved in her life, was seeking to claim paternity rights.
The evidence that she gave was extraordinary in terms of saying who her family
was. She had a half-sibling: One of her mothers had given birth to her, and one
had given birth to her sibling, and she said to the court that what the donor
was suggesting was that her non-biological mother, her half-sibling and the
donor was one family, and that she, her biological mother and the other donor
was a separate family, and that was not how she saw we her own family.
Therefore, in terms of the rights of the child, I think we need to listen to
the children in these families who do not express "family" in the way that we
might commonly presume. In other words, that they identify these two women as
their parents. They often do identify a donor as a father or as another
significant adult in their life who they would not want to see the law separate
them from the two mothers. The way to protect that child's sense of their own
family is through things such as birth registration where those parents, because
they are put on the birth certificate, are therefore able to assert their sense
of family, the child's sense of family, in a time of crisis and conflict, and to
The Chairman: I think your eight-year-old example is exactly where I
was going because we are into an international world where there are definitions
of families of all sorts, and if we are to take the convention seriously, it
says that the voice of the child, and allowing that child to have a family, but
we really do not need to define that family.
What troubles me is one of your other statements at the start, namely, that
the child would have the right to know at 18. That is an awfully adult view of
the world. When they are like us, they will acquire the knowledge. I think that
the convention says listen to the child. They may need that knowledge at eight
or seven or five. I guess what I am challenging you to say is that the child's
right to know and to develop and to identify his or her own resources should
then lead us to determine what forms of support the children need, as opposed to
saying, "Well, we will put it on the registration and that will give the child
some security." It does not; we know that. You can put all the names on there,
and then they divorce the next day.
I looked at a number of adoptions where we tried to diminish the risk when we
adopted a child out. Let me tell you that some of the ones that looked like they
were ironclad fell apart two weeks later, and some that were a longshot lasted
Should we not just sort of not get into these registrations and biological
intricacies but, rather, have some sort of process now that supports and
reinforces whatever capacities the child needs, if we are moving into this
new-age, scientific world and new relationship world?
Ms. Kelly: Right, yes.
The Chairman: Therefore are we not dooming the old birth registration
and the secrecy of information until the age of 18, if we do that?
Ms. Kelly: The reason I said "age 18" is simply because that is the
age that is currently given with respect to identity release donors in Canada.
I think I have two responses. First, to reiterate, what we are seeing in the
lesbian community that is so different from what we are seeing in the
heterosexual community is the active involvement of known donors. If you want a
model of participation, of the child being given every option to see the various
people who have contributed to their life and made decisions, then a large
number of lesbian families are in fact doing that. On the other hand, the
secrecy that often still surrounds donor insemination in the heterosexual
community and, in particular, around male infertility, quite frankly, is
something that we hide. If we could shift, perhaps, in that community as well so
that this is something that is spoken about more openly and there is less fear
around donors being part of a child's life, then I agree with you. I think that
that is an important direction in which to be heading.
The other thing I would want to raise is that it is very easy to look back at
the secrecy that has surrounded treatments such as donor insemination, IVF and
adoption from the past practices that we have not actually practiced for quite a
long time, and to presume that all of these children have identity issues,
because what we are seeing — the children who are going through now, who are
beginning to be interviewed and researched who are maybe between about 10 and 15
— they are simply not expressing the same identity issues. There is far less
secrecy about that sort of situation. People are more open about it. There are
more children being born in these circumstances, so I think we need to be a
little bit careful about presuming that all these children will have some kind
of problem when they are older and are aware of the contexts of their birth.
The Chairman: It is not a question of a problem. The right to know is
the issue, so it is not a problem. It is simply, I think, the right of an
individual to know, that that would be right.
Honourable senators, Mr. Chris Buchner has joined us. We moved the panel up,
Mr. Buchner, because we had a bit of a miscue in our program. Ms. Kelly was kind
enough to come early and start early. You have not heard her presentation but I
am sure you are aware of part of it.
We would like to turn now to you, if you would make your presentation and
then we can carry on with questions for you both.
Chris Buchner, Youth Worker, GAB Youth Services, Community Centre Serving
Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered and Bisexual People and their Allies: My name is
Chris Buchner and I am a youth worker with GAB Youth Services. That is a service
that is held at the LGTB Centre in Vancouver.
Senator Nancy Ruth: What does "GAB" stand for?
Mr. Buchner: It is actually not an acronym. It is just gabbing, like
talking. People think it is an acronym, but it is not. In my work, I try to
support youths who are under the age of 25, who are queer, questioning or
straight-allied youth, and we support them in a number of ways. We provide peer
support and one-on-one support with the youth workers. We also provide referrals
to other services that are available to them. We also provide a space where they
can feel safe and open about who they are in their sexuality and gender
orientations. We hold drop-ins where the youth decide on what activities they
want to pursue, and they participate in those activities. Then the other side of
GAB is that we do workshops in schools from the age of kindergarten all the way
to university level, on anti-homophobia, queer issues, bullying, and how to be a
What I wanted to talk about today was in terms of the rights of the child. We
are seeing a lot in the work that I do, high rates of dropouts in schools with
queer youth; high rates of not wanting to attend school. Youths having to leave
home at 15 or 16 because their parents are not supportive of their sexuality,
and then when youth are faced with leaving school or faced with trying to
transfer schools, there are a great many challenges in finding them the right
services and obtaining such services fast enough in order for them to get set up
on their own.
In reading the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it talks about the
state's rights. Our state is to try to reduce the number of absences and to
lower the dropout rates, and we have noticed that there is a high number
throughout Canada, and especially on the Lower Mainland, of youth dropping out
of school because of bullying, because of things that might happen if they have
come out or they have been outed themselves.
When youth are leaving home or are forced to leave home under age 18, it is
really difficult for them to find services in a fast enough time frame, and the
right services to help them survive on their own, to give them a roof over their
heads and the support that they need.
I am open to questions if you have any about the work that I do or the youth
that I work with.
The Chairman: You are an NGO funded by whom?
Mr. Buchner: We are funded by the Ministry of Children and Family
Development, and the City of Vancouver.
The Chairman: The province of British Columbia, and the City of
Mr. Buchner: Yes.
The Chairman: Approximately how many youths do you serve per year or
Mr. Buchner: In terms of the workshops that we give, we probably
deliver to close to 2,000 or 3,000 youth throughout the Lower Mainland. In terms
of the access to our services, it is probably, in a year, upwards of 150 or 200
youths in different capacities. Some will attend regular drop-ins; some will
just come for information. Some parents will call and want information on what
services they can access, and the youths range in ages from 13 all the way,
again, to 25.
The Chairman: What is the percentage of youth that you have, male to
Mr. Buchner: I would say it is pretty even. Then we have transgendered
youth as well, and actually there are a high number of transgendered youth who
are assigned to transition as early as ages 10 or 11. In one year, we probably
work with about 15 or 20 transgendered youth, and they are pretty evenly split:
half and half, male and female. Again, we do not really ask what their
sexualities are; we just let them come and they can be whoever they are. We do
not know if they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight allies all the time. In
other words, we deal with a variety of different youth.
We also deal with different levels of risk. We work with a large number of
street-involved youth who are in high school and provide some activities for
them to do outside of school, they being under the age of 19. We also work with
youth who are in university. Thus there are varying levels of differences in
terms of the youth who access our services.
The Chairman: When you say "Lower Mainland," would these be resident
young people of that area, or do some of them represent something that we
sometimes hear about, those who gravitate to the larger urban centres when they
have problems of not fitting in, et cetera? Are your youth those who have been
resident for some time in the Lower Mainland or are they transient youth that
have come here from somewhere else?
Mr. Buchner: I would say most are resident youth of different cities
within the Lower Mainland, but there are definitely some transient youth. This
summer, we ran a queer youth camp and we had youths come from all over B.C.,
from Vancouver Island, from Salmon Arm and from different places in B.C., to
attend this leadership camp. However, we definitely have youths who come from
other parts of Canada who are transient. A lot of street youths come from all
over Canada and access our services.
The Chairman: Senator Nancy Ruth, I am going to steal your usual
question about language. We heard yesterday in Edmonton that the youth have
returned to the term "queer" where before there had been a phase of "We should
not use that term. That it is not an appropriate term. It does not identify us."
Now there is a movement back to that term, in particular among the youth. Can
you comment on that?
Mr. Buchner: Definitely. I guess it is a form of reclaiming language
and just using a word that related — like the pink triangle symbol, for example,
which was a symbol of the holocaust. Again, that term is now used in a positive
way as referring to a place or people who are friendly and positive, and being a
safe place for queer youth. In the same way, I guess it is just a way of making
a word seem less harsh, and it is definitely widely used in a lot of different
avenues. Not everyone is familiar with it being used in that context but it is
definitely more widely accepted as a term, because there is so much that is
encompassed in the word "queer." There are so many different types of people.
You could spend five minutes talking about all the different types of people.
Thus it is an easier way of talking about a group of people.
Senator Nancy Ruth: You talked about dropouts and bullying, and so on.
I was just wondering what the gender breakout was in those instances. Are there
just as many girls dropping out as there are boys?
Mr. Buchner: Definitely. We could talk about suicide rates, too. There
have been studies, the McCreery studies, for example, and reports that have come
out that talked about extremely high rates of suicide. Young girls have a higher
rate of attempting suicide than do young boys. It has been said that that is
probably because when young males attempt suicide, they actually succeed more
often than do young women, but definitely the highest rates of suicide right now
are among youths who are either queer themselves or facing bullying around queer
issues. Therefore that, as well, can translate into the dropout rates and to not
wanting to be in school.
Quite often I have youth come in and say that they just do not want to go
back to school. They do not want to be there. They transfer a lot. A lot of
youth go to alternative schools. However, Vancouver now has two anti-homophobia
consultants with the school board, so they are really committed to trying to
tackle homophobia in schools, and Vancouver schools are doing great work around
those issues in trying to tackle that. There is also a lot of support in the
city for that to happen.
In B.C., a grade 12 social justice course will be implemented in the school
curriculum, and the school board will also be looking at the entire curriculum
to make sure that sexuality comes up in terms of history, for example, where it
might not have occurred before in the curriculum. I think things are definitely
I think the biggest thing that affects me on a daily basis is when youth do
not feel as though they can be at home. Even though the parents might want them
to be there at home, there is still that underlying bullying and harassment from
their families around their sexuality. They cannot be themselves. They feel as
though they have to hide who they are. That definitely increases the risks that
youth face from lots of different things and so it is really challenging.
Actually, I have never seen it work yet. I have worked with youth for three
years and I have not seen a youth who is not able to be at home where they can
find adequate support to survive and still attend school.
Senator Nancy Ruth: The Toronto School Board is in the midst of
starting to collect statistics on sexuality for the kids in the schools and
there is all kinds of political hullabaloo about it. Does the Vancouver School
Board collect statistics on sexual preference?
Mr. Buchner: I have not heard of any such study. I know that again
with the McCreery reports, which are older reports — I think they were reports
done in 1996 or 2000 — the reports were not really based on questions such as,
"Are you queer?" or "What percentage of youth who are queer have been
identified?" but more on the lines of, "What is happening to queer youth in the
school system?" I do not know if there are any studies being undertaken right
Senator Poy: You mentioned that the group that you deal with are all
under age 25. From what age to age 25 do you work with?
Mr. Buchner: Again, we have had youth, and parents of youth, contact
us as early as age 8 or 9, especially around gender issues. However, the youth
who actually do come to GAB and access our programs are usually around the age
of 14 to about 20 years old.
Senator Poy: You have a centre that these youths go to? Is that how it
Mr. Buchner: Yes.
Senator Poy: They do not live there, is that right?
Mr. Buchner: Right.
Senator Poy: It is like a drop-in centre?
Mr. Buchner: Yes.
Senator Poy: You did mention that you have leadership programs?
Mr. Buchner: Definitely. We train youth to do anti-homophobia
workshops in school so that even high school-aged youth can do workshops in
their own schools. We train gay/straight alliances to do work in schools and
also, as I said, we run a leadership camp so that queer youth can gain
leadership skills and do more in their community, especially in communities
where there is more isolation, such as outside of the Vancouver area.
Senator Poy: You mentioned that some of them do not want to go back to
school because they have problems in school.
Mr. Buchner: Yes.
Senator Poy: How often do they come to these drop-in centres? Do they
come every day? I would just like to have a picture of it.
Mr. Buchner: A picture?
Senator Poy: Yes, please.
Mr. Buchner: We are open, usually, Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m.. to 6
p.m.., and then Friday, 10 a.m.. to 10 p.m.. We are not open on the weekends.
Our clients do access us throughout the day. In terms of drop-in sessions, we
have two right now, with a girls-only drop-in starting in a couple of weeks. The
drop-in sessions are Friday nights and Wednesday after school time. That is when
we get about 20 to 25 youth who will come to our drop-ins and participate in the
activities. In those drops-in sessions we have workshops such as skills-building
workshops as well in those times.
Senator Poy: Do the family services ever send youth to your
organization, or do these young people have to come on their own?
Mr. Buchner: Other youth organizations have sent youth. Other youth
workers, counselors, even schools — school counselors and schoolteachers who
have heard about us do send youth to us. I have not heard of any youth coming
directly from MCFD, but definitely a lot of services refer them to us, but they
can come on their own as well.
Senator Poy: You did mention that families sometimes would bring them,
such as parents?
Mr. Buchner: Definitely. We get a lot of phone calls from parents and
we try to refer the parents to P Flag. Parents, for some reason, like to access
support from us more than going to P Flag. I do not know why that would be.
The Chairman: Could you explain the other one?
Mr. Buchner: P Flag is parent — it is just a group of parents of queer
Senator Poy: Thanks. Do you have psychologists in the organization to
help these youth?
Mr. Buchner: We have. We offer free counselling through the centre,
not directly through GAB, and those free counselors are usually practicing
students who are either in psychology, are psychology majors or are counselling.
We do have a referral system where we can refer youth to different types of
counselors, such as drug and alcohol counselors and counselors who are
queer-friendly or queer-identified. We also have different other psychologists
or psychiatrists who are supportive.
The biggest trouble we has is finding adequate housing for street-involved
youth. A lot of the street-involved youth programs are Christian based and the
youth have a really hard time accessing those services and feeling comfortable
in those services.
The Chairman: You have talked about acceptance problems and school
problems but you have not mentioned HIV/ AIDS and other medical education or
awareness. Is that a problem or is that something that the kids already know
about and do not need?
Mr. Buchner: We actually try to offer workshops on HIV/AIDS and sexual
health. We work with Youth CO AIDS Society, which is a youth-driven organization
that does workshops in schools around HIV and sexual health, so we do definitely
provide a lot of knowledge on that topic. We also have a free clinic and a
sexual health clinic at the centre, and the street nurses who work there are
great, and youth can go there and ask the kinds of questions that they want and
things like that. However, queer youth, because of a number of different social
factors, are definitely more at risk of many different kinds of health issues
and drug and alcohol problems and things like that.
The Chairman: We are here studying the Convention on the Rights of the
Child, and in that context we are seeing many and varied aspects of Canadian
life. Do you teach anything about the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Is
that in your thinking at all?
Mr. Buchner: Not until now, no. After reading the appendix and reading
about the convention, I would say yes, but before that, I was not really even
aware of it. We knew, of course, that there were laws and Canadian laws
especially, around sexuality. We know those laws and the rights of youth and a
lot of different aspects. There are different resources through which we
instruct youth about their rights, whether it is just relating to their age or
whether it is rights with reference to their sexuality. I would say that
definitely we do have resources on the rights of the child, but in the context
of the UN convention, this is the first I have read of it, and I like it. After
reading the UN convention information, there were a lot of things in there that
I saw that can definitely speak to what is happening with queer youth now in
Canada, and can speak to the fact that things in certain areas in Canada are
definitely improving drastically for youth, especially around bullying and
homophobia. That is a positive sign, but I know it is isolated in certain areas
such as the Vancouver School Board or in Toronto or other cities.
The Chairman: I was about to ask you the same question.
Ms. Kelly: My background is in family law, and children and the law,
and I have given a number of workshops in Vancouver schools around children's
rights with the convention, actually, as the starting point. I am intrigued by
the reaction of the young people, which is that they have never heard of it
before. This is not part of their curriculum and they are quite shocked to hear
that they have these rights in Canada, and they point to all the ways in which
such rights are perhaps not always complied with. After I leave the room, and
the teacher is always left with the disarray in this class. However, I think it
is something that perhaps needs to be taught to the children, to young people
Senator Nancy Ruth: And to the teachers.
The Chairman: When you teach about the Convention on the Rights of the
Child — and I think it was properly stated by one of the witnesses earlier today
that there is not a right that does not have a corresponding responsibility. I
often wish that if the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had come with the same
rights, freedoms and responsibilities, we would probably not be having the
debate around them that we now have.
How do you teach it? Do you say to the children, "These are your rights," or
do you say, "Because you have these rights, then you can determine your own
future take, responsibility for your life," — or is it simply an information
kind of thing?
Ms. Kelly: I start actually with a story. It is a story that I read
from Craig Keilburger and his first realization of children's rights, which is
that of a young boy in Pakistan who was 12 years old. He was a labourer and he
stood up for his rights and was eventually murdered. This is, in a sense, where
it began; that the children who were often imagined in the convention were
children living in dire situations, and that western children, perhaps, have
certain luxuries. Then I begin to look at the convention itself and try to put
it into kind of a Canadian domestic context, where they can begin to understand
from the examples I use, sort of general youth examples. I am also a Big Sister
in the Big Sister/Little Sister program. I have a lot of contact with young
people who present with the kind of day-to-day situations to which the
convention actually has direct application. I try to put it in that context. It
generally becomes a question and answer discussion where they are just intrigued
by what is actually in the convention and how it might play out in real life. I
had a number of queer youth, or at least youth who are part of their school's
gay/straight alliance, specifically ask about issues relating to queer youth, in
The Chairman: Are there any other questions from the senators? If you
have, now is your chance.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I think I have lost the question, but it is about
how boys and girls are treated differently, but again, I am not quite sure what
my question is.
We heard yesterday some testimony that the bullying in schools really applies
to boys, and that the discrimination against lesbians in schools tend to be
isolation. They are isolated and left alone. I am wondering whether that was
true in your experience, but I am also looking for more data on the way kids are
treated differently in terms of their gender. I am also interested in
trans-kids. I also want to know, of the trans-kids how many are women going to
men, or men going to women?
Mr. Buchner: I would say my experience has been that there are more
female to male trans-gender kids.
Senator Nancy Ruth: That is what I thought you would say.
Mr. Buchner: Going by the ones who have contacted us.
Senator Nancy Ruth: That is extraordinary. I cannot understand it.
Mr. Buchner: In terms of the bullying that is happening in schools
around the gender differences, definitely it looks different, usually, whether
it is male or female, in terms of the actually bullying that is happening. I do
workshops in schools, and we talk about how people feel about lesbians, and of
course a lot of the straight males would be expressing themselves, like "That is
fine, that is totally fine, but not two guys," or whatever. Again, with my
experience in actually working with bi-sexual or lesbian youth, these youth face
the same things. They are bullied physically, they are bullied by other girls
and they are bullied by males.
Actually I am recently noticing a change in terms of the way society is
viewing gay men in their schools, because the subject is appearing more in the
media. You see more in the media about gay men being open about their sexuality,
more so than you do lesbians. There is almost a side of young women having a gay
best friend, a gay male best friend, and that is starting now and we are seeing
that. In many different schools there are openly "out" youth, and youth are
coming out at much earlier ages because of many different things: because of the
way society feels about it, because of the internet, and things like that. Thus
I would say that youth are coming out at an earlier age, and being out in
schools. Again, though, if you are a youth and you do not get along socially, or
you have a hard time being social in school and you come out, it can be still be
really traumatic for them.
To answer your question, senator, in terms of gender I think there is the
same amount of bullying taking place, whether among males or females, but I
think it happens in different ways.
Senator Nancy Ruth: There was some reason, however, why you decided to
do a lesbian-only group in your place. What I mean is, where did that come from?
What were you observing? How did you analyze that situation and how did you
figure out that that was the response to the need? Is there a guy-only group?
Mr. Buchner: No, there is not a guy-only group. At our drop-ins, most
of the time it is males who are attending, more so than lesbians or bisexual
women. Lesbians and bisexual women are using our services but not necessarily
attending the drop-ins, so we decided to have a girls-only group for that
Senator Nancy Ruth: You are saying that this was the staff's decision
to do this to try and attract lesbians into your services?
Mr. Buchner: Yes, for girls to feel more comfortable about coming to
use our services, definitely.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Miss Kelly, perhaps we might hear from you in this
Ms. Kelly: I have something to say about the subject of gender
bullying. I think I agree with Mr. Buchner that it comes in different forms. I
also think you almost have to go beyond sexuality to understand bullying in
schools and how bullying is perpetrated against young women. It is a policing of
gender in so many instances, and so for a young woman who is coming out, and
ultimately kind of threatening the gender, then the bullying is often sexual. It
is reinforcing heterosexuality or correct gender performance through sexual
harassment of young women.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Including rape?
Ms. Kelly: I —
Senator Nancy Ruth: — do not know?
Ms. Kelly: I do not know, but young women are already sexually
harassed. We know that, and this is perhaps an added layer. I think also
probably bullying of trans-genders, particularly female to male youth, is very
much about policing of gender.
Mr. Buchner: Then homophobia can look quite different. When I ask
youth in schools, "Do you think your school is safe if you are openly queer?" a
lot of times what I get is that ultimately there would not be actual physical
violence, which there definitely is at times, but they say it would be more of
an ostracization or isolation of the youth: not feeling welcome, or not having
any friends. While there is not necessarily physical violence happening to
either males or females at school, or maybe after school, they say that that
could happen. Generally, however, through most of the workshops that I do in the
Lower Mainland, I understand that there are different ways that youth are being
bullied in schools, as opposed to physically bullied.
The Chairman: We have come to the end of this session. I want to thank
you for coming forward and sharing with us your experience of involvement with
the convention, whether it is recent or otherwise. That gives us more data that
we need when we are talking about implementing, in the Canadian context, the
Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Also, obtaining information about all youth in Canada is important because
the topic cannot always be studied merely from a legal perspective. As I am
sure, Ms Kelly, you understand, we must put it into the context of the daily
lives of young people in Canada.
We appreciate you both coming here to give us this information for our study.
We hope that we will be finished with that study certainly well before Christmas
when we must put out an interim report. We are looking to do a final report and
we hope that it will be of some benefit to you and, more particularly, to the
youth in Canada. Thank you for coming.