MLA Report

By Carole James

On September 30 I had the privilege of attending events at the University of Victoria and Camosun College for Orange Shirt Day. This campaign, in its third year, aims to raise awareness of our shameful history of residential schools in Canada, and the importance of implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

The origin of Orange Shirt Day started in Williams Lake, BC in 2013. It grew out of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s account of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of residential school, and it has become an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for future generations.

While I am proud we are finally acknowledging our history, it is critical that we move beyond words and start taking real action. Deepening poverty in Aboriginal communities, a lack of recognition and respect for First Nations title, especially in regard to resource development, graduation and employment rates, and the lack of action on reducing the number of Aboriginal children in foster care, are all critical issues that we face as a province.

The number one call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was for provincial governments to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in care. Yet, almost a year and a half later, the BC Liberal government has still not addressed this over-representation in our foster care system. We still have a situation where 60 per cent of children in care in BC are Aboriginal, and no real plan from the government to address these numbers and the challenges they represent.

The 2016 service plan for the Ministry of Children and Family Development calls for the number of Aboriginal children in care to be reduced by just 0.5 percent, or 24 children – leaving more than 4,390 Aboriginal children in government care. Saying this target isn’t good enough would be an understatement!

And it's not just that children are being removed from their families, home communities and culture – which is concerning enough – but once we do, we're not giving them the kind of care we would demand for our own children.

A disturbing recent report from the Representative for Children and Youth found that children and youth in government care are being sexually assaulted and abused at a shockingly high rate – in fact it is the single most reported critical injury of children in care. And Aboriginal girls are 4 times more likely to be the victims of sexualized violence in care before the age of 12 than other children.

And once foster children turn 19, they are expected to manage and be independent, without connections to their families and their communities, and with little continuing ministry support. Too many vulnerable youth are then caught in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, homelessness, mental health issues, crime and substance abuse. We must do better by these children, and it is clear that so much more work needs to done.

I am so proud to stand with Leader of the Official Opposition, John Horgan, to support his announcement that a government under his leadership would adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and implement the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s time that as a province, we work together to heal relationships, revitalize communities and build a province that’s stable and rich and healthy. I’m looking forward to taking on that difficult work to the benefit of all British Columbians.