Nunavut's new health and social services minister says he has the support of Premier Eva Aariak to work toward creating a children's advocate position, years after he started lobbying the government for such a position to be established.
Keith Peterson, who was sworn in Wednesday as Nunavut's Health and Social Services minister, said he wants to make the protection of children in government care one of his priorities in cabinet.
Department officials say 374 Nunavut children are currently in foster care, with some placed outside the territory. Some children have even been removed from their homes due to concerns for their safety.
Peterson said those children, and others in Nunavut, need an independent voice to represent them when they run into trouble with police, their foster care, schools, or government. A children's advocate could also investigate ways to improve programs and conditions for children in care, he added.
"Half the population of Nunavut is under the age of 22, and there's a lot of children in the care of the government and a lot of children in situations that they don't have a voice to speak for them," Peterson told CBC News.
There is no children's advocate in Prince Edward Island or any of the three northern territories. The other provinces have a child advocate or ombudsman's office.
Peterson, who has called for the establishment of a child-advocate position in Nunavut since he was first elected in 2004, said he talked about the idea with Aariak this week.
Aariak had voiced her support for the a child-advocate position at last week's Nunavut leadership forum, where she was chosen as Nunavut's second premier.
Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley, who challenged Aariak for the premier's job at that forum, said he also believes a children's advocate would help young Nunavummiut.
"I have had a number of these young people come to my office," Curley said, recalling that one time a boy came into this office to talk.
"I remember my heart was touched [when] he said … he slept under the house last night. That was in November, in a place like Rankin Inlet," he said. "It shocked me."
Peterson said discussions now need to take place in the legislative assembly, as well as with elders, families, communities and social services staff. The position of children's advocate in Nunavut would have to be culturally appropriate, reflecting Inuit values, he said.