Thunder Bay

Supporters of Ontario's child advocate react with 'sadness,' 'frustration,' to news office will be axed

The announcement that the province's child and youth advocates office is on the chopping block is prompting some strong reaction from people who say it's doing important work in northwestern Ontario.

Involvement with the office was 'life-changing,' says young Indigenous advocate

Ontario's children and youth advocate Irwin Elman has spoken out about many issues relevant to northwestern Ontario over the years, including the deaths of students attending school in Thunder Bay, the deaths of students in care and the youth suicide epidemic in northern First Nations. (CBC)

The announcement that the province's child and youth advocates office is on the chopping block is prompting some strong reaction from people who say it was doing important work in northwestern Ontario.

During its fall economic update, which was released Thursday, the government announced its plan to cut the office, which advocates for vulnerable children, including children in care and Indigenous children.

For Tesa Fiddler, an educator who works with many Indigenous children in Thunder Bay, the news came as a blow.

"I immediately felt tremendous sadness," she said.

"I thought of all the young people that will be disappointed, that will be let down by this government. And then I was feeling tremendous frustration because it's such a setback for the work that is being done to give voice to some of our most vulnerable children and youth."

Office brought Indigenous youth together

In particular, Fiddler said she admired the work being done by the office through its Feathers of Hope Forums, which brought Indigenous youth together to talk about issues that are important to them, and to push for change.

The office also played an important role in the inquest into the deaths of seven young Indigenous students in Thunder Bay, she said, adding that the presence of young Indigenous people working with the office "brought a truth" to the inquest proceedings.

Ardelle Sagutcheway, an Indigenous advocate from Eabametoong First Nation, was one of those young people.

Ardelle Sagutcheway, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ont., says involvement with the province's child and youth advocate's office changed her life. (Ardelle Sagutcheway)

She served as one of the office's youth advisory committee members for the inquest, and has also been involved with the Feathers of Hope initiative from the beginning. 

Voice for youth 'life-changing'

The Feathers of Hope forums, where young people discuss everything from their rights, to social determinants of health, the child welfare system and culture arm young leaders with information and confidence to speak up, said Sagutcheway, who was also recognized with the Young Leader Award from the city of Thunder Bay in 2017.

"I think for myself, I would be a completely different person had I not been part of that first meeting with them," she said, explaining that the forums started in the early 2000s, after the advocate's office decided it needed to do more for the Indigenous youth of the province's north.

"To be able to be listened to and heard was life-changing for me."

When asked what worries her most about the loss of the stand-alone office, Sagutcheway said she's concerned that young people will now "fall between the cracks."

"They'll be alone," she said. "They'll feel alone."