Manitoba children's advocate can now release reports on deaths of children in care under expanded powers

New legislation coming into effect Thursday will give Manitoba's children's advocate new powers, including the option to release internal reports on the deaths of children in care.

New legislation came into effect Thursday, expands role of children's advocate Daphne Penrose

Manitoba children's advocate Daphne Penrose says she hopes the report into 'the services that were or were not provided' to Tina Fontaine will be released in June. (CBC)

New legislation that came into effect Thursday will give Manitoba's children's advocate new powers, including the option to release internal reports on deaths of children in care.

The changes expand the role of Daphne Penrose beyond child welfare and allow her to examine youth services in areas such as education, health and justice, and to release findings from her office's investigations to the public.

"We are an independent body and we are the body that will start looking at government services," said Penrose at a press conference Thursday. 

"We have to speak truth. Children in our province deserve truth and that's what we're going to talk about."

Additional powers

The additional powers were recommended in 2013 by the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair, a five-year-old girl who was beaten to death by her mother and mother's boyfriend after social workers closed her file.

The advocate's office is currently conducting a review into the death of Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in a Winnipeg river in 2014 after she had run away from a hotel where social workers had placed her.

Penrose said she hopes to release the report in June.

"We have been given the all-clear to start the investigation — we received that this morning and we will be moving forward," she said.

"But … it's not as important to have a completion date, but that we cover all the material that we need to cover in order to provide a thorough report on the services that were or were not provided to Tina."

The new rules, however, do not allow her to release information from investigations that have previously been completed, she said.

Penrose also announced a new name for her office — Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth — and an updated mascot and logo.

Daphne Penrose with 'Wavy Guy,' the new mascot for the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth. (CBC)

The new powers are the first phase of a three-phase plan in the legislation to expand the advocate's powers, according to the provincial government. 

Phase 1 includes expanded advocacy, young adult death reviews, special reporting to the public, research and public information, and tracking of compliance with recommendations.

Phase 2 will see expanded reviews of the deaths of children and youth in the areas of mental health, addictions and youth justice, while Phase 3 will include the reporting of serious injuries to the advocate.

Penrose said she's confident her office has sufficient resources for the first phase, but added she anticipates asking for additional resources as the office's mandate expands.

Final Tina Fontaine report will take months

5 years ago
Duration 2:09
The province's children's advocate says it will be months before a report is released into how Child and Family Services handled Tina Fontaine's case — and it will be released only after a change to provincial law and at her discretion.

With files from Sean Kavanagh and The Canadian Press