British Columbia

NDP accuses B.C. Liberals of child protection coverup

The provincial NDP leader has accused the Liberal government of hiding serious problems in the child protection system and misleading the legislature and the public.

B.C. New Democratic PartyLeader Carole James has accused the Liberal government of covering up serious problems in the province's child protection system andmisleading the legislature and the public.

James tabled documents that she says show that Solicitor General John Les misled the legislature when he said child deaths were being properly reviewed by the B.C. Coroners Service.

The governing Liberals abolished the position of an independent B.C. Children's Commissioner in 2002. They said the coroner's office could handle the child death reviews.

In November 2005, Lestold the legislaturethat B.C.'s chief coroner can independently enter any child death investigation and that the government has high standards when it comes to child death reviews.

ButJames said the NDPhasobtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act that show the B.C. Coroners Service has no legislative authority to review all child deaths.

"I want to be very clear. These documents explicitly show the premier and the solicitor general knew that what they were telling the public was not the truth."

James cites a document from the coroners service written in September 2005 that says as many as 40 per cent of all child deaths may not be reported to the coroner.

The document adds that necessary reviews may not be conducted because the coroner doesn't have the legislative authority to review all child deaths.

Appointment of new children's commissioner stalled

James said the NDP would seek some means to have the issue debated in the house despite the government's planfor a one-day sitting with just one item on the agenda: the appointment of a newcommissioner.

Later on Wednesday afternoon, the NDP followed through with its plan,refusing to give unanimous consent to appoint a new children's representative.That means the house will have to reconveneon Friday.

James said she wants a thorough airing of her concerns about what she called a "scandal in the child protection system."

Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong accused the NDP of playing politics with the appointment.But James said her members will approve the motion on Monday.

Toddler's death became politicalissue

The question of how the government deals with deaths of children became amajor issue following the beatingdeath of 19-month-old Sherry Charlieby her uncle aftershe wasplaced in his home in Port Alberni in 2002 by a First Nations social agency.

Last year, the solicitor general revealed that the deaths of 713 children had not been properly reviewed after the government eliminated the Children's Commission the same year.

The children's commissioner had turned over his files on child deaths to the coroner's office in 2002, with the understanding the reviews would continue. But the investigations were stalled.

That led to an admission by Premier Gordon Campbell last November that the government's transition plan for the commission had failed and that he was responsible.