Public should know more about child deaths, privacy commissioner says
Anne Bertrand says government is using privacy law to maintain 'secrecy' around child deaths
New Brunswick's access to information and privacy commissioner is calling on the government to release more public information about child deaths.
Anne Bertrand says the government is incorrectly using privacy law to maintain a level of "secrecy" around the child death review process.
She said transparency should trump privacy in cases of public interest, such as this one.
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"I think they're using privacy law in a way it was never intended to be," Bertrand said in an interview on Information Morning Fredericton on Friday.
The government has said privacy law prevents it from revealing the findings of the committee that reviews child deaths.
It has also said reports written by the child death review committee are confidential advice to minister.
Bertrand, the independent officer who is responsible for interpreting New Brunswick's privacy laws, disagrees.
"This is not advice to minister," the commissioner said.
"These are recommendations from a properly constituted committee that reports publicly."
Bertrand's comments follow The Lost Children, a CBC News investigation that found few details are made public when a child known to the Department of Social Development dies.
No specific changes
"We are not doing policy on the fly," Rousselle said. "I just want to make sure that we understand exactly her opinion."
The minister also questioned why Bertrand, along with child and youth advocate Norm Bossé, haven't raised concerns about the child death review process until now.
Bossé accused the government of trying to deflect blame.
"I believe we're doing our jobs, both myself and commissioner Bertrand," he said. "When issues like that come to us, then we speak out on them."
Car crashes, drowning, neglect
Nineteen children known to child protection officials have died from homicide, suicide, abuse, neglect or "undetermined" causes over the past two decades.
Another 34 children under government watch have died from accidental causes since 1997, including car crashes and drowning, according to an emailed statement from Elaine Bell, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice and Public Safety.
Four First Nations children known to child protection officials have died from unnatural causes over the past two decades.
They include Mona Sock, a 13-year-old girl who was placed in a foster home with a convicted sex offender. She took her own life on Elsipogtog First Nation in 2007.
Bossé would like to see more detailed numbers. He wants to know where these children died and when it happened.
But he's pleased with how quickly government has shifted its tone on providing more information.
"We're at the precipice," Bossé said. "We need to do this and I think it will happen."
'This is not rocket science'
She suggested the government could release case summaries that give the public context about how children are dying, without violating a family's privacy.
"This is not rocket science," she said.
"I don't believe it requires a lot of amendments to existing legislation."
Bertrand cited a section of the province's Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act that overrides the privacy of third parties in cases of "significant public interest" where "public health or safety or protection of the environment" is at stake.
On Thursday, the government tabled two reports that detail what was done with 20 years' worth of recommendations on child deaths.
But the public still doesn't know why many of those recommendations were made.
Without context, it's hard for the public to understand what the recommendations mean, Bertrand said.
"I can't make sense of them and I'm pretty good at doing that," the commissioner said.
New Brunswick's child death review system was created 20 years ago, sparked by anger and a desire to do better following the death of 28-month-old Jackie Brewer.
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With files from Information Morning Fredericton