Committee on the Rights of the Child considers report of Canada

27 September 2012

The Committee on the Rights of the Child completed its consideration of the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Canada on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this morning.

Presenting the report, Judith Bossé, Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Health Agency of Canada, said that in 2011 there were 7.3 million children under the age of 18 years in Canada and according to a 2006 census, over 400,000 children were identified as First Nations, Métis or Inuit. Children’s rights were a priority in the country’s domestic and foreign policy. The Government provided over 10 million Canadian dollars each year for programmes devoted to Aboriginal people. Canada had taken measures to support strong and accountable education systems for all children, to prevent child sexual exploitation, and to protect and support child victims of crime and abuse. Canada had amended its Criminal Code to prevent child sexual exploitation by introducing two new offences, while investment in various health programmes had successfully improved the health and well-being of vulnerable children and worked to promote safer and healthier communities across the country. Other reforms had been carried out in areas of juvenile justice, protection of child victims of crime and support in the areas of child and youth mental health, obesity prevention, youth suicide and substance prevention. The country also played a leading role in supporting the rights of the child in international fora.

In the dialogue Committee Experts raised questions about the definition of the term ‘child’, gender inequalities, access to education and healthcare by children from minority and underprivileged backgrounds, and the conditions in which unaccompanied or separated children seeking asylum in Canada were initially housed. The promotion of unhealthy eating habits by the media and marketing industries, children’s mental health, maternity and post-natal care and the use of corporal punishment were also discussed, as was legislation on child labour.

The Delegation of Canada included representatives from the Canadian Public Health Agency, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the Government of Quebec, and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the Office of the United Nations at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 a.m. on Thursday, 27 September, when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Canada on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/CAN/1).

The combined third and fourth periodic reports of Canada can be read via the following link: the (CRC/C/CAN/3-4).
Presentation of the Report

JUDITH BOSSÉ, Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Health Agency of Canada, said Canada was a federal State with legislative, executive and judicial powers divided between federal and provincial/territorial Government. In 2011, there were 7.3 million children under the age of 18 years in Canada and according to a 2006 census, over 400,000 children were identified as First Nations, Métis or Inuit. Over $10 million in annual Government funding paid for programmes devoted to Aboriginal people, which were ran through 34 federal departments and agencies and in partnership with Aboriginal communities and provincial and territorial governments.
Additional investments from the 2012 Economic Action Plan had been made to help First Nations students improve their education outcomes and participate fully in the country’s economy. The Government was committed to taking measures to support strong and accountable education systems on-reserve, and to setting up mechanisms that would ensure stable, predictable and sustainable funding for First Nations elementary and secondary education. Provinces and territories had adopted initiatives to support the learning and achievement of Aboriginal children off-reserve.

Canada had amended its Criminal Code to prevent child sexual exploitation by introducing two new offences: making sexually explicit material available to a child, and using telecommunications for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child. Measures adopted at the provincial and territorial level complemented federal initiatives, while also responding to needs at a more local level. Canada’s ongoing action to protect victims of crime included the support children and youth who had been victims of abuse. In 2010 and in 2012 Canada had dedicated funds to supporting the creation or enhancement of 14 Child Advocacy Centres across the country. In the area of juvenile justice, Canada shared concerns about young offenders serving time with adult offenders, which is why, via federal legislative reforms, the Government had made it clear that no person under the age of 18 years would serve their sentence in an adult institution. That action was in full compliance with the Committee’s 2003 recommendation.

In the area of health, Canada continued to invest in programmes that had successfully improved the health and well-being of vulnerable children. The Government was also committed to providing public health services and support in the areas of child and youth mental health, obesity prevention, youth suicide and substance prevention. Canada recognized that obesity in particular was an important public issue facing children, and in 2010 it had made childhood obesity a collective priority for action across provincial governments. The Government had also invested in programmes for the prevention of harmful effects of illegal drugs. Its aim was to promote safer and healthier communities through a focused approach involving enforcement, treatment and prevention, and to reduce the supply of and demand for illegal drugs and also to tackle drugs-related crime. Children’s rights, said Ms. Bossé, were a priority in Canada’s foreign policy. The country was involved in development assistance efforts and played a leading role in international fora where it actively supported resolutions on the rights of the child, for example at the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.

Questions from the Experts

MARTA MAURÁS, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Canada, said in certain ways the report indicated that Canada had not met the requirements of the Committee’s recommendations made during its last review of the State party, in 2003, while the websites submitted by the delegation made it difficult for the Committee to gain a comprehensive view of progress made since 2003. There was a lack of analysis as to how much had been achieved in terms of the promotion of the rights of the child. In the case of the world’s most advanced economies the Committee expected States to raise the bar, and that applied to Canada. Furthermore, the report indicated significant gaps in fulfilling the rights of all children while other well-documented reports showed a rise in poverty and growing inequalities faced by children from vulnerable communities such as Aboriginal, Afro-Canadian and immigrant groups.

The Rapporteur praised Canada’s efforts in promoting the rights of the child at the international level, specifically highlighting overseas aid offered by Canada to humanitarian projects involving children. She thanked the delegation for providing specific figures and statistics but said it had been difficult to decode the information: was data on minorities other than Aboriginal children available? She added that the Committee was concerned that since its ratification of the Convention there had been little movement towards making the sophisticated institutional set-up of Canada work better for children. The question remained of how to ensure that federalism worked for the full and equitable implementation of the rights of the child in all jurisdictions and regions across the country. The Rapporteur asked whether the State party would lift its reservations to Articles 21 and 37(c), following consultation with the Aboriginal people.

Were regular and comprehensive assessments of federal and provincial level programmes carried out? Had inter-departmental cooperation improved, and how many times a year did provincial and federal officials meet to discuss issues relating to the rights of the child? Had Canada considered developing regular public reports on the status of children and their rights in Canada, facilitating participation by children in setting the national agenda, and promoting a system of accountability for children’s rights? The federal budget for children did not seem to have changed since 2005/2006. The fact that it had not decreased was good news, especially in view of the global financial crisis, but the fact that it had not been increased either was a concern. How would the Government ensure that its numerous spending obligations at federal and provincial level were met in an equitable manner? What were the obstacles to establishing a children’s fund? The National Action Plan had been a useful initiative, the Rapporteur said, but a large number of initiatives did not necessarily constitute an effective plan with monitoring mechanisms and timelines. Had the National Action Plan been evaluated and what were the next steps?

The Committee was increasingly aware of the impact that the business sector had on the rights of the child in Canada. In particular, the media and marketing industries promoted unhealthy food products, such as snack food and processed food, which had serious consequences in the rise of obesity levels. Furthermore, had Canada made efforts to put in place a legislative framework which would enable legal accountability of Canadian gas, oil and mining companies for human rights and environmental abuses perpetrated abroad? Were there any effective monitoring mechanisms to keep in check Canadian companies and multinationals operating abroad through subsidiaries or joint ventures in order to ensure respect of the rights of the child?

Overall, children’s rights were very well respected in Canada and the voice of children was heard, an Expert said, although he complained that the Committee had not received much information from non-governmental organizations in the country. How many civil society organizations were there and had children been invited to contribute to the work of those organizations? The Committee was under the impression that children had not been consulted enough.

Regarding the definition of the term “child”, another Expert noted that it was not clear whether Canada respected the definition of children as persons below the age of 18 years. On the subject of criminal responsibility, was it true that children above the age of 16 years could be treated as adults even though they were below the age of 18 years?

An Expert noted that Canada’s report lacked a gender perspective and that gender inequalities were not being explicitly addressed, even though they were particularly pertinent to girls who were Aboriginal or had disabilities or had been subjected to
sexual abuse. What was the Government doing in that respect? Focusing on freedom of thought, another Expert asked whether Canada only provided funding for certain religions, or for all religions across the board. Were children allowed to opt out of religious education at school?

On the issue of environmental health, as a country with high greenhouse gas emissions, what was the Government doing to provide information to children through the education system about climate change? Were children involved in discussions about climate change, which affected children’s immediate and long-term future?

An Expert noted that the report contained little information about awareness-raising initiatives, especially initiatives targeting children, who were the beneficiaries of the Convention. Was the Convention translated into indigenous languages? Had an assessment of the degree to which the Convention was known been carried out? Were children well informed of their right to have their voice and opinions heard? Had there been court rulings where the principles of the Convention had been applied directly? To what extent was the principle of the best interests of the child practically applied in rulings and throughout the various stages of the life of the child in the family and in society? Did the Government have the obligation to provide grounds for the best interests of the child, and were they based on objective criteria? Was the principle respected in all territories of the country?

There did not seem to be a well-developed database or a data collection system of disaggregated information such as asylum seeking children, refugees and so on. Were there plans to have a system at central level and also at provincial level to look at rights violations which could then feed into policy formulation within the framework of the Convention?

An Expert said the Committee had received information that children born to Canadian parents outside Canada did not automatically have the right to acquire Canadian citizenship. That excluded Canadian diplomatic and military personnel abroad, which could be perceived as discrimination on the basis of employment. Turning to independent monitoring, the Expert said that the Offices of provincial Children’s Advocates which had been set up in recent years were a major step forward. However, despite the Committee’s recommendation there was still no Federal Office.

Response by the Delegation

The delegation began its response by saying that Canada took a corporative approach to the implementation of the Convention. It endeavoured to address centrally the broader issues of the rights of the child and the application of the principle of the best interests of the child, while individual departments were responsible for specific issues. Evaluation in Canada was taken very seriously and programmes were evaluated on a regular basis.

Responding to the question about gender, the Head of Delegation said that a gender-based analysis had been taken into account for several years. At the same time, the necessary tools were being developed to ensure that public officials knew how to apply gender-based criteria to their work.

The principle of the best interests of the child was an important consideration in decision-making processes and was taken into account in a number of ways, including the development of federal, provincial and territorial legislation. The principle was assessed on a case by case basis and the particular circumstances were always taken into account, but overall the principle was part of the legislative process. In terms of training, the principle had been explicitly addressed in the training of government officials such as legislative drafters and was taken into consideration in the family law context, for example in cases of divorce and parenting.

Moreover, the best interests of the child were always considered when decisions were made about refugee and asylum seekers, especially in cases where there was evidence that the interests of the child were different from those of the main asylum applicant or the child was the main or only applicant. The parallel humanitarian and compassionate programme also took the best interests of the child into account. Officers interviewing child refugees and asylum-seekers had a very specific set of operational guidelines which they followed but also took each child’s individual wishes into account.

Concerning the question about the reservation on Article 37(c), Canada shared the concerns about young offenders serving their sentence in adult institutions and Canada was going to consider withdrawing that reservation. Regarding the reservation on Article 21, the rationale for that reservation remained unchanged. Aboriginal groups that had initially expressed concern about that reservation had not asked the Government to withdraw its reservation since. In addition, in certain territories Aboriginal customary adoptions were recognized anyway and there were also mechanisms in the legislation to ensure that the best interests of the child were taken into account.

A delegate clarified that international conventions were not automatically incorporated into Canada’s domestic law but Canada took seriously its legal obligations under the international human rights treaties which it had ratified and took measures to ensure their full implementation.

Regarding the question about data collection, a delegate said that data disaggregated by gender and age were available, and reported that the 2011 census had counted fostered children for the first time. Statistics Canada provided information on children in employment. According to the Labour Force Survey, the minimum age for employment was 15 years. Canada was in the process of modernizing many of its data instruments for persons with disabilities. Once the process was completed, more precise data and new information would become available. Multiple survey instruments were used to collect information about children and youth from ethnic minority backgrounds. Data was also gathered on children living in poverty, even though that information was not always released or reported out, which might have been due to sample size.

Questions by the Experts

MARIA HERCZOG, Committee Member acting as a Co-Country Rapporteur for the report of Canada, asked whether Canada had any plans to facilitate the provision of free access to early education, in particular for the most vulnerable groups of society. Were minority groups, such as black Canadians, in need of similar help and were there any plans to extend existing aid programmes to other groups of the population? On the subject of domestic violence and corporal punishment, how did Canada explain that corporal punishment in a family environment was not penalized, and how did it raise awareness about prevention of corporal punishment? What kind of parenting programmes, early intervention programmes and culturally sensitive programmes were in place to offer assistance to parents?

An Expert said that it was difficult to get a full picture of the mental health situation in Canada, especially at the national level. The tables of data and websites which had been included in the report were not easy to understand. Had Canada conducted any studies on how effective its mental health programmes and initiatives had been? Concerning education, the Expert noted that a disproportionately large number of African-Canadian students appeared to drop out of education and said that the Committee was concerned about the increasing fees in education. Did Canada have a comprehensive national policy on asylum seeking and refugee children?

An Expert also noted with regret that Canada had failed to comply fully with its obligations under the Optional Protocol on Children involved in armed conflict and asked whether children in Canada were aware of that Optional Protocol.

Did the minimum age of employment, which the delegation had said was 15 years old, apply to all provinces and territories? The Committee had received reports that children as young as 12 years old were allowed to work, albeit part-time, in British Columbia.

Despite the details included in the report there was no indication of how much progress had been made in terms of reducing child poverty and raising the standard of living of children. Was there a way of assessing the equitable outcomes of the investments which were being made? What proportion of children of various communities and minority groups received the benefits which were mentioned in the country’s report?

Response by the Delegation

The Head of Delegation said that all Government programmes relating to children were regularly reviewed to ensure that they were effective and appropriate. Alongside existing poverty reduction strategies at provincial level, a coherent, coordinated and sustainable strategic approach existed at federal level which targeted the children most in need. In 2011 and 2012 Canada invested over 15 billion dollars in early childhood development and childcare, both through direct spending and through tax measures for families with children. The highly distributive nature of Canada’s tax system meant that two thirds of benefits paid went to those most in need. In assessing benefit needs, factors such as income and ethnicity were taken into account. The ethnic background of citizens was also taken into consideration in policy analysis and development.

Canada, like Australia and New Zealand, did not have a single official measure of poverty but used several measures, and there was concrete evidence that Government initiatives were effective. The low income rate for children had declined to 8.1 per cent, which represented approximately half a million children.

Under the “Universal Child Care” plan, assistance was offered to help parents from low income families to return to work. The working income tax benefit was meant to help those more in need and was another example of effective collaboration between the federal government and the provinces and territories. The Government also aimed to increase the participation of Aboriginal families in the labour market and provide benefits to reduce child poverty.

Regular reviews and re-evaluations of programmes across the system took into account important socio-economic changes. A delegate highlighted that Canada had experienced an after-tax income inequality during the period from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, especially in comparison to other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, but stressed that that reflected rising incomes among the top one per cent of income-earners, not a decline in the redistributive capacity of the country’s tax and transfer system. Canada was actively working with international organizations to help them develop an accurate methodology which would give a more accurate reflection of the situation in the country. Thanks to rising education and declining poverty rates, Canadian children were very likely to have an income much higher than that of their parents.

Canada was considering ratifying Convention 138 of the International Labour Organization, even though it was reported that there was already a wide adherence to the Convention across the country.

In terms of promoting physical and mental health, a delegate said that all provinces provided targeted services to pregnant mother, including a very effective home visiting service. Home visitors receive formal training and came from the community of the pregnant mothers concerned, which ensured that the service they provided was both medically and culturally appropriate. Special programmes for young pregnant mothers under the age of 20 years also existed in all provinces.

With regard to breastfeeding Canada had set up a framework for action comprising of a set of initial actions focusing on breastfeeding and involving baby friendly and aware-raising initiatives. The marketing of healthy food to children was also being addressed.

Canada had recently released a mental health strategy but was also aware that, as research was still being carried out in the area of positive mental health, new findings were becoming available. The Government’s priority was to address the root causes of suicide in collaboration with community groups through developing tripartite agreements. Community-based intervention strategies also were in place and were testing the strategy of increasing positive mental health as a way of preventing suicide.

Regarding early childhood development and child care, an agreement between governments at federal, provincial and territorial level ensured the improvement and expansion of early childhood development programmes through regular reporting on the wellbeing of children in the country by using specific indicators. The information was available on an easy-to-use website. In addition, data was compiled regularly at federal, provincial and territorial level and a track of expenditure was kept. Policy development in Canada was largely informed by data sharing across its provinces and territories.

The Government continued to support parenting through education programmes which aimed to combat child abuse in particular. Additional support was provided to parents of children from 1 to 5 years old. The use of physical discipline by parents was strongly discouraged and methods of parenting that did not involve force were strongly recommended. Nevertheless, it was also recognized that parents had the duty to educate and protect their children and in that respect the use of minor corrective methods of discipline was accepted.

A delegate reported on a recently implemented programme for victims of domestic violence in the Province of Quebec which covered violence against women and children in a family environment and had produced positive results. Moreover, services provided to victims of domestic violence in Quebec had improved significantly since 2003 and had been expanded to include shelters for children who were affected by domestic violence. Further provisions were being planned for the period 2012-2017 which would give priority to children victims of family violence and would also target spouses or partners who engaged in domestic violence.

Canada had made Aboriginal issues a priority in recent years and recognized that, despite important investment in the field of education, there continued to be a gap between the education of Aboriginal children and children of other backgrounds. Canada had developed a new database system which would improve the collection of data on children from ethnic minority groups, while the central Government had announced a number of other initiatives, including the rebuilding and renovation of schools in order to create a better learning environment for children. Canada was committed to exploring further the need for stable funding in education.

The Aboriginal People Survey was used to obtain accurate and reliable information on Aboriginal persons and its findings were used to ensure inclusion in society. The Community Wellbeing Index was used to monitor the situation at community level. Government Aboriginal programmes were largely informed by data collected at central and local level, programmes were evaluated regularly and adequate responses were formed to the review and evaluation of programmes.

Canada had taken steps to address reported discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act and amendments made to the Act had ensured that children of mixed marriages, which had lost their right to register as Indians, were now allowed to do so. Regarding the translation of documents into Aboriginal languages, Canada promoted actively the translation of official documents in Aboriginal languages although that was not law-enforced.

In Canada there were specific ways of addressing the situation of stateless persons, who had access to protection mechanisms wherever needed. Canada was bound by the 1961 Convention on the reduction of statelessness, which it had ratified. With respect to the question about citizenship, a delegate clarified that a child born outside Canada to Canadian parents who had not been born in Canada was not automatically granted the Canadian citizenship, which was a way of limiting the perennial transmission of Canadian citizenship by non-Canadian residents.

On the policy for unaccompanied or separated asylum-seeking children, a delegate said that those children received protection and assistance and pointed out that there were age sensitive guidelines for officers conducting interviews of such persons. A guardian to help a child through the asylum process would also be appointed whenever necessary. A designated representative from social services or a lawyer might also be appointed to represent the interests of the child and provide assistance to child asylum-seekers during hearings. Children were also allowed to express their own views with respect to proceedings.

There was no prohibition on former child soldiers claiming asylum, provided that they met the eligibility criteria. Once eligibility had been determined on the basis of specific criteria each application for asylum was examined on its own merits. Priority processing was an option available in certain cases. If it was necessary for a child to be detained during the process, that was for the shortest time possible. Children held for more than six days would have access to a teacher and would be held separately from adults.

Follow-up questions by the Experts

The National Action Plan “Canada Fit for Children” consisted of many initiatives which were listed in the report. To what extent did that plan provide a consistent and coordinated framework which brought together all of the different activities in the different sectors? Had reports been submitted to the Parliament on the Plan’s impact and were there plans to continue to implement the Plan in cooperation with local communities?

What was the difference between the legal guardian and the designated representative of unaccompanied children? Was it true that under new detention rules for asylum-seeking children below 18 years such children were taken into detention if they were unaccompanied? Reports had been received that girls were not kept separately from boys in detention centres, while men were kept separately from women. Were there enough facilities to ensure that children were held separately from adults, and were children tried in the same courts as adults?

What strategies did Canada have in place to control the marketing of food which created nutritional problems and led to obesity? According to recent studies, the use of illegal drugs by adolescents had more than doubled since 1994 despite the Government’s commitment to tackle the problem. Also, the relatively high standard of healthcare offered in Canada did not appear to be shared by adolescents of Aboriginal background or from rural areas, who were more likely to be obese and develop respiratory diseases. What was the reason for that?

If a child was born abroad to Canadian parents who were also born abroad, he or she was not automatically eligible for the Canadian citizenship; if the child in question could not acquire the nationality of the country where it was born either, then it would be stateless. Had Canada taken such cases into account when limiting citizenship rights?

Was corporal punishment prohibited under the Penal Code? Reports had been received about the suspension and reporting to the police of schoolchildren involved in cases of school conflicts. What measures were there to enhance communication and to find better pedagogical ways of dealing with such problems without resorting to the suspension of pupils? How was the Government dealing with children of Roma background living in Canada?

Response by the Delegation

The National Action Plan required a joint effort at the level of federal, provincial and territorial governments, alongside which the provinces also defined their own areas of priority taking into account local needs but also central guiding principles.

With respect to Canada’s maternal healthcare programme, a delegate said that there were several clusters of programmes developed in collaboration with local authorities, which were allowed the flexibility to design and implement their own programmes in accordance with the needs of their local community.

Statistics showed that there had been no increase in incidents of obesity in childhood and adolescence in Canada since 2004. Nevertheless, obesity continued to constitute serious problem which led to chronic diseases such as diabetes. The problem was complex and work was being done in collaboration with schools to raise awareness on the benefits of physical activity and proper nutrition. The delegate also said that the marketing of healthy foods was favoured and that in addition to the central Government approach each province was free to develop its own strategy.

A delegate clarified that cases of children born to Canadian parents abroad who did not have Canadian or any other citizenship and were stateless were treated as exceptional cases and there were provisions to grant Canadian citizenship to such persons on exceptional grounds.

Claimants from Hungary were consistently the highest group of asylum claimants in Canada in recent years. A delegate said that Hungarian claimants, including Roma claimants, had access to the same asylum-seeking procedures as all other applicants and that each case was decided on its own merits.

Benefits were available to all Canadian children, including Aboriginal children and children of low income families regardless of ethnicity. In addition to general benefit programmes there were specific programmes which had a strong Aboriginal component.

A delegate said that there were youth courts which could only give adult sentences to children between the ages of 16 and 18 years in exceptional cases. In such cases, which included very serious offences such as manslaughter, the prosecutor bore the onus of showing that an adult sentence was necessary.

With respect to corporal punishment, the Government did not condone abusive behaviour in a domestic environment and there were several offences in the Criminal Code under which an offender using violence against a spouse or a child could be sentenced. Minor corrective discipline methods employed as part of effective parenting did not fall under the same category.

A delegate said that in the Province of Quebec young men and women detainees were held separately in detention centres, although certain activities, such as sporting activities and meals, were conducted together.

In terms of international cooperation, Canada had doubled its overall assistance and had made commitments to double its international aid to Africa. Canada would continue to lead in several areas, for example by strengthening its focus in countries where it could make a genuine impact in terms of improving humanitarian aid and securing the future of children and youth. Spending for children and youth had steadily increased in recent years.

Canada was taking action on all fronts to address the issue of climate change. The education system was seen as the primary vehicle for awareness-raising and information, and climate change was part of the primary education curriculum in all provinces.

Concerning the impact of Canadian companies operating abroad, Canada believed that the primary responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights in the foreign State lay with the foreign State concerned but, nevertheless, Canadian companies were expected to operate in a transparent way and to conduct their activities in a responsible manner. The Government had developed a number of strategies to ensure that that was the case, especially in the extractive industry sector. Canada had been very supportive of voluntary methods of dispute resolutions, which it saw as more effective and less costly than rigid national regulation.

Regarding the Optional Protocol on Children involved in armed conflict, the protection of children around the world was a clear priority for Canada, which took action both in the United Nations and on the ground and pushed for the accountability of the perpetrators of violations of the rights of the child.

With respect to Canadian soldiers, the age of enrolment was consistent with the Convention as Canada did not deploy persons under the age of 16 years in areas of the world where soldiers were at high risk. The age of recruitment was 17 years or 16 years for certain programmes. The consent of a parent was required for those who were under the age of 18, in cases of enrolment. The Canadian forces did not target specific ethnic groups but, rather, sought to draw on a broad range of Canadians so that its armed forces were reflective of the broad range of Canadian citizens.


For use of the information media; not an official record