Hon. Jim Munson:
Honourable senators, November 20 was Universal Children’s Day, National Child Day in Canada, a recognition of the 1989 unanimous adoption by the United Nations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides an invaluable framework for enabling children to live and grow and flourish. Eliminating social inequities and respecting children’s rights begins with making the choice to do so. While Canada made this choice when it ratified the convention in December 1991, we are not meeting our obligations to all children of this country.
National Child Day reminds us not only of what has been accomplished with respect to children’s rights but also of the work that needs to be done, particularly when it comes to those who are more vulnerable, like indigenous children or those with physical or intellectual disabilities.
According to UNICEF Canada, Canada ranked twenty-fifth out of 41 rich countries on children’s well-being. Imagine, twenty-fifth. Shame on Canada. Canada needs to do more to live up to its commitment to children. Article 6 of the convention says children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.
There are inconsistencies in health and mental health services, access to healthy food and clean water, and education services across this country. For this reason, I and many others in this chamber continue to encourage the position of a national commissioner for children and youth in Canada. This would level the playing field for children across the country so that no matter what economic or social situation they are born into, they have the chance to succeed and achieve their greatest potential.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that countries should have a children’s commissioner. The Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates has given the same recommendation. Two former members of Parliament have private members’ bills for a youth commissioner. Our own Senate Human Rights Committee, under the chairmanship of Senator Raynell Andreychuk, gave this same recommendation in its 2007 report entitled Children: The Silenced Citizens. We must honour our commitments to young people in this country, and a national commissioner would be a good place to start.
Today I’m thinking of the tens of thousands of children who woke up in this country and didn’t have breakfast. Imagine in a country like Canada children living in poverty and families not having the basic necessities of life. Shame on Canada.
Over the last two days, the Senate has opened its doors and we’ve had celebrations in here for National Child Day. There were 300 students in these seats, senators. They sat and shared experiences and talked about learning from each other, their rights as youth. It was inspiring to see the optimism and motivation in these young people.
Watching this, I was reminded of how fortunate they are, but we can’t allow other children to be left behind. In the shadows of this Parliament, you can go to places where people aren’t having breakfast in the morning or proper nutrition. Go around the corner and you’ll find it here. You don’t have to go across the country. It upsets me.
This is one of the most important and greatest commitments a society can make to its children. Honourable senators, there is a saying: You can seek the wisdom of the ages, but always look at the world through the eyes of a child.