Alberta panel on deaths of children in government care hampered by secrecy

By , on February 22, 2017


Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta party, says it's becoming clear child-care workers don't feel they can speak out publicly to the all-party committee. (Photo: Greg Clark/ Facebook)
Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta party, says it’s becoming clear child-care workers don’t feel they can speak out publicly to the all-party committee. (Photo: Greg Clark/ Facebook)

EDMONTON –Members of an Alberta legislature panel investigating deaths of children in government care say the committee will be ineffective unless it starts getting candid answers.

Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta party, says it’s becoming clear child-care workers don’t feel they can speak out publicly to the all-party committee.

“What I think we saw evidence of is a culture of fear, “ Clark said Wednesday during a break in a committee meeting Wednesday.

“I don’t want to be in a position of cross-examining anyone and making them feel uncomfortable, but there’s some essential questions that need answers. “

Two child intervention workers repeatedly deflected or declined to answer questions Wednesday about how they felt the system could be improved.

Russ Pickford and Gillian Colquhoun outlined how there can be between five to nine separate reviews stretching over years when a child dies in government care.

Panel member Jason Nixon of the Wildrose party asked if they felt there was a way to streamline the reviews.

“Would it make more sense to have fewer (investigations) and to make it more centralized? “ Nixon asked Colquhoun.

Colquhoun responded:  “I think that I would bounce it back (to you). “ She noted the panel has a mandate to make such recommendations.

Clark later asked if there might help to have multiple investigations, but just one shared interview with a family that has lost a loved one so as not to re-traumatize relatives.

“It’s one of the things that you’re going to bring to the table and that you’re going to explore, “ replied Colquhoun.

Clark tried again:  “What do you think? “

“I have opinions but I’m also not here to be a spokesperson in terms of the child intervention system, “ said Colquhoun.

At that point, Ric McIver, interim leader for the Progressive Conservatives, turned to panel chairwoman Debbie Jabbour and said,  “We were told they were free to talk. “

Jabbour told the pair:  “We’re hoping that this is considered a safe place where you can speak freely without any fear of any negative repercussions. “

Heather Sweet, an NDP panel member, pressed them on whether there is a better way to avoid duplication and stress on a family through multiple investigations.

“I would be pretty nervous about reviewing another ministry or organization’s behaviour or supports, “ said Pickford.

“I would not want to try to minimize anybody else’s expertise. “

Sweet said outside the meeting that there has been a long-standing culture of protection within the Children’s Services Department, but the panel will continue to push presenters to give more information.

“We have to just keep calling it out, “ she said.  “There is still some trust there that needs to be developed. “

Nixon said the non-answers are becoming a pattern.

“This was exactly what we were worried about (when the panel was created) “ he said.  “We’re not getting answers in my opinion to most of the questions. “

McIver said he wonders why Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee is putting up experts who can’t or won’t give the panel the answers it needs.

“There’s some work to do probably within the ministry to make sure that the people that present to us feel like they can give the answers, “ said McIver.

“There’s still time for the minister to correct the course. “

Larivee was expected to comment later Wednesday.