After almost a decade of lobbying, and a promise to make the position a priority six years ago, Nunavut has appointed its first representative for children and youth.
The legislative assembly unanimously approved a motion last week to appoint long-time bureaucrat Sherry McNeil-Mulak to a five-year term starting June 16, 2014.
It’s something Finance Minister Keith Peterson has been lobbying for since he was first elected a decade ago.
“It was very clear to me there were issues affecting our children and youth,” he said. “I'd like to see those kind of issues overcome.”
With 30 per cent of the population under the age of 14, Nunavut has the youngest population in Canada. The territory also leads the country when it comes to suicide, poverty, hunger, violence and a low high school graduation rate.
Peterson made appointing a child and youth advocate a top priority when he served as Health Minister in Eva Aariak’s government in 2008.
That promise took six years to come to fruition.
Other child and youth reps applaud move
Most provinces and territories now have a child advocate, and others across Canada are applauding Nunavut’s move.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond represents children and youth in British Columbia.
She says it's important to ensure youth meet their full potential.
"We see a lot of gaps where that isn't happening today and I know that's [the case] in British Columbia and I know for a fact that's also the case in Nunavut."
Turpel-Lafond's office reviews injuries and deaths of children to see if lessons can be learned and future tragedies prevented.
She also gets calls from children and youth living in foster care, group homes or in difficult situations with their families.
“Everything from... calling me directly to say they're dealing with a situation of serious family violence, they're not safe, there are serious addiction issues,” Turpel-Lafond says.
Darlene MacDonald is the children’s advocate for Manitoba.
She says the advocates all meet as a Canadian Council.
"As we get together with the counterparts across Canada, I think we can influence change for children and really make sure their rights are heard."
Both MacDonald and Turpel-Lafond say Nunavut's new representative can come to them for support.
10 years in Iqaluit
McNeil-Mulak, originally from Nova Scotia, has lived and worked in Nunavut since 2004, holding several senior positions with the Nunavut government, including director of policy, planning and communication with the Department of Health, and director of the Social Advocacy Office.
She holds a Master of Health Services Administration degree from Dalhousie and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University College of Cape Breton.
She’s served as a board member with several organizations in Iqaluit, including the Nunavut Food Bank, First Steps Daycare, the Nakasuk School Parents Committee and Habitat for Humanity Iqaluit.