Edmonton

Rachel Notley worried kids death will go unreported

NDP MLA Rachel Notley is warning that a regulatory change could make it easier for the province to undermine the public release of names and photographs of children who die while in government care.

Opposition says changes to Bill 11 could be exploited by province

NDP MLA Rachel Notley says a regulatory change made on Wednesday may allow the province to undermine Bill 11, which lifts automatic publication bans that were once put in place when a child died while a ward of the province. (CBC)

An opposition critic is warning that a regulatory change could make it easier for the province to undermine the public release of names and photographs of children who die while in government care.

Bill 11 was approved in July, lifting the province’s automatic publication ban in such cases.

The move was made after media reports revealed that the identities of nearly 600 children who died while in government care over a 14-year period were never made public. About 150 children were identified during that time period.

NDP MLA Rachel Notley said she is worried that a change made to the ex-parte application process on Thursday may be used by the province to withhold details in many future cases.

According to the province, the new regulation was added to the ex-parte application to make it easier for family members to apply for a publication ban after a child has died in care.

Notley is concerned the regulation will be exploited by the government to prevent information from going public.

Because no limit has been placed on when such an application can be made, Notley said the process could be overused by the province.

A representative for the province said Thursday that while the director of children’s services can apply for publication bans under the new regulation, such cases would be exceptions rather than the rule.

“The Statutory  Director will only use the ex-parte process in extraordinary circumstances, as a last resort, such as if a sixteen-year-old in care with terminal cancer says that they want their identity protected after death,” Kathy Telfer, a spokesperson for the Human Services Ministry, said in a statement.

“We are not aware of any circumstance at the moment where the Statutory director would use this process.”

Regulation could affect how stories are reported

Notley is not the only one concerned about the change.

The Canadian Media Lawyers Association made its own submission at Thursday’s all-party committee meeting, saying the regulation “significantly curtails the media’s ability to properly report on issues relation to the deaths of children in care.”

“The regulation overturns the media’s established right to receive notice of any application for a discretionary publication ban; or even to receive notice of the ban itself,” said Sean Ward.

Notley agreed with that argument.

“I suspect that there will be a fast-tracked ex-parte application to the courts seeking a publication ban before the media knows about it, before they get notice, before the family knows about it and then the media will not be able to publish information about the child or their picture,” she said.

The CMLA said because the media serves as the eyes and ears for the public, journalists should have the opportunity to speak to any publication bans before they are put in place.

Telfer said operational policy will still require her department to notify family and the media after publication bans have been granted, and will give interested parties the opportunity to apply to set aside those bans.

With files from CBC's Gareth Hampshire

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