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Silence is complicit ----Mdm. Marie-Claude Landry Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission

December 13

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Graham Thomson: Alberta human services minister tries to weather self-created storm

Published on: December 8, 2016 | Last Updated: December 8, 2016 11:28 PM MST
Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir  talks about actions to improve, Alberta's child intervention system on Dec. 8, 2016, in Edmonton.
Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir talks about actions to improve, Alberta's child intervention system on Dec. 8, 2016, in Edmonton.GREG SOUTHAM / POSTMEDIA
If Human Service Minister Irfan Sabir is not willing to resign over his department’s bungled handling of an internal report into the death of a four-year-old girl, maybe he should resign for his performance the past two days, after the story broke.
The performance included actively avoiding the media, holding an irritatingly vacuous news conference, blaming the previous Progressive Conservative government and forming a bogus all-party investigative panel to distract attention from his performance as minister.
At the heart of the story is Serenity, the little First Nations girl who died while in government-supervised “kinship care” in 2014. The cause of death was a traumatic head injury, but she also suffered from a disturbing list of abuse including hypothermia, catastrophic malnutrition and genital bruising.
Serenity’s tragic story has gripped the Alberta legislature ever since it was disclosed by my colleague Paula Simons three weeks ago — with the opposition, led by the Wildrose, demanding answers to a litany of questions surrounding this disturbing tale.
They want to know, among other things, why nobody has been charged and why it took two years to complete an autopsy report amid complaints from Alberta’s child and youth advocate that his own investigation was stonewalled. The RCMP has been investigating, but ran into a bureaucratic brick wall of its own when it couldn’t get its hands on an internal review of Serenity’s death conducted by Children’s Services.
That report should have gone to the Mounties in 2015. It didn’t.
Frustrated Mounties eventually contacted officials in mid-November for that report, but couldn’t access it until Dec. 6.
Why the delay?
“It was an unfortunate error,” Sabir told Simons Wednesday night when she broke the story of the delayed report. “As minister, I take responsibility on behalf of the government.”
On Thursday, Sabir suggested Simons didn’t have all the facts when she wrote her column Wednesday night — that the reason the RCMP didn’t get the report for several weeks was simply due to a problem accessing the secure file online.
OK, but why did Sabir actively avoid my other colleague, Emma Graney, who was at the legislature late Wednesday night specifically to ask Sabir about details of the story and opposition calls for him to resign?
If Sabir had problems with Simons’ column, he could have corrected them then. Instead, Sabir brushed past Graney several times in the hallway outside the assembly, saying he was on a cellphone call.
Then on Thursday, Sabir held a hurried news conference to insist he will not resign.
“We have work to do and I’m not here to assign blame anywhere,” he said.
Which is the kind of response you give as a politician when people are saying you’re the one to blame. He then announced the terms of reference of a closed-door, all-party panel to improve the child intervention system: “I’m here to talk about solutions, the terms of references provided this morning and we are looking forward to working with the opposition.”
The opposition is not so keen to work with Sabir, saying he should resign and the government should call an open-door public inquiry.
Sabir said several times: “It is clear to me that we have not done enough and we have not acted fast enough,” but he wasn’t just talking about his NDP government. He was referring to the PC governments of yesterday.
Sabir was spinning himself in circles Thursday, trying to say he had done a good job. He might have inherited a broken system from the PCs, but in the past three weeks he has dropped the ball by not giving the Serenity file the kind of attention he finally gave it Thursday.
Interim PC leader Ric McIver made this simple but spot-on analysis of Sabir’s political failure: “Every minister of the Crown should know that within your ministry if there is an item so troubling that it’s the first story on the supper-hour news, it’s the front-page story in the newspaper and you’re getting hammered on it in question period every day, the minister’s job is to reach into his or her ministry and say ‘Give me that file.’ ”
Sabir apparently did that Thursday morning, finally — but it was much too late.

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Doug Malech
The Blame game! The right blames the left, the left blames the right, and the buck passes down the line. The MINISTER, despite inheriting a very abhorent file should have dealt with it, not now, but right now!.The Conservatives need to admit their culpability, and the WRP needs to provide concrete solutions. BUT, most importantly, and immediately, every child in a foster or caregiver home, must be checked on and his/her safety MUST be assurred! No more B.S. rhetoric!
LikeReply10Dec 9, 2016 4:18am
Julie Ali ·
I see no problem with blaming both the PCs and the NDP folks for the mismanagement of the Serenity file. Blaming the GOA for poor performance when there is poor performance is part of the work of good citizens; we hold government accountable.
This is especially important when we are holding the GOA accountable for the death of one our most vulnerable children in the care of the GOA.
Who else are we to blame?
The mother?
The GOA took the kids away from the mother and therefore was the public parent of the kids.
I see no reason to stop blaming both the PCs and the NDP folks since no one in these parties allow us to blame anyone.

Once the blaming game is played we can then go on to the firing game in the next election.
LikeReply12 hrs
Deanna Johnston-Chou
People calling for the resignation stink of political opportunism. Standing there all self-righteous - what has either party done in the decades of trouble? Hypocrites! Stop trying to make political hay over an abused child's corpse.
LikeReply9Dec 9, 2016 8:08am
Dickie Rodrigus
They need to: not only fire the minister but, every person in that department right down to the janitor, Clean the whole works out. Till then the NDP has lost my vote
LikeReply4Dec 9, 2016 8:45amEdited
Deanna Johnston-Chou
Dickie Rodrigus Am I misunderstanding something? I am not a NDP or PC supporter in anyway so I think I am able to easily see beyond party lines. Serenity arrive in hospital in 2014 - the NDP came to power in 2015 - the PC were in power foe 40 years. 71 children died in care - not all from abuse but 71 children! - where were people calling for the PC minister's job? This problem seems long in the making, completely systemic, and requires an entire overhaul. This can not be laid at the feet of a new minister. Instead of playing politics, and shifting blame, get to WORK!
LikeReply6Dec 9, 2016 9:30am
Donald Wiwad ·
Deanna Johnston-Chou ; Deanna, it is so much easier to blame the ND, then it is to get to work. We all know that whenever some thing happens that we do not like, It must be the ND's fault. Like the cold weather we are having because of the ND's bad management.
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 3:59pm
Tabby Sabo ·
Deanna Johnston-Chou 685 kids deaths hidden from the public for ten years, PC government taking away funding to investigate why these kids died , why is that . Chief medical examiner quitting because of out side pressure to change autopsy reports.
Samantha Martin's autopsy has wrong colour of hair , and parts of Samantha brain missing ...why is that Samantha Marin's old foster parent and caseworker still working inspite of extreme neglect resulting in death
LikeReply2Dec 11, 2016 10:17am
Julie Ali ·
Actually we are not making political hay.
We are saying as citizens that this junk has gone on long enough and there needs to be change in the GOA.
We have our MLAs hopefully saying the same thing to the Premier and the human services minister.
I hope that my MLA who I voted for -Dr. Bob Turner is expressing my dismay at the failures of the current NDP MLAs to live their values and make change happen in the child welfare and continuing care systems.
If the NDP MLA aren't for the most vulnerable citizens in Alberta are they the PCs who ignored the messes in the child welfare system for 44 years? Do the NDP MLAs who railed against the incompetence of the PC MLAs in the child welfare deaths (over 700 kids dead) now believe that they are off the hook when more kids die under their watch? Sorry it doesn't work that way.
When the NDP MLAs don't do the work of change, we're here to dissent and make a ruckus. You call this making political hay. We call this holding the GOA accountable. And haven't you understood that if we don't speak, these vulnerable kids will have no one to speak for them?
LikeReply12 hrs
Julie Ali ·
Donald Wiwad I don't blame the NDP for the cold weather. I blame them for the lack of political will. They were hired to make change happen.
Where is the change?
Kids are still dying in the child welfare system and the minister tells us that the Serenity case is not his fault. Well maybe she didn't die under the NDP government watch but certainly the post-death messes are entirely attributable to the NDP folks. I mean who ever heard of an autopsy report taking two years? It's unbelievable. But this is Alberta. Anything is possible here.
LikeReply11 hrs
Julie Ali ·
Dickie Rodrigus I agree with you. The GOA needs pruning and if the NDP don't have the balls to do this work then we hire new folks to do the work of change.
LikeReply11 hrs
J.E. Molnar
This story of Serenity is tragic. Given the possibility of misinformation being circulated by the opposition parties, the media and social media tolls, it is incumbent upon the government to release a public statement today on the facts.

This should include accompanying timelines, explanations for delays and other information relative to the RCMP investigation and the medical examiner’s office. If I’m the minister, I’d be leery of the opposition trying to inaccurately frame the debate and mislead the public. If mistakes were made, they should be acknowledged. If information cannot be revealed because of legally binding confidentially agreements or RCMP restrictions, then that should be spelled out as well. Good communication practices dictate that the minister needs to get ahead of the parade of misinformation now.
LikeReply8Dec 9, 2016 8:55amEdited
Erin Pearce
Exactly. Doing a little research of my own has illustrated the huge yawning gaps in statistical information that is being provided publicly by government. It's very concerning, as this could reach well beyond that one ministry and into the judicial system, etc. It is also concerning that this highlights the difficulty that legit media is having in accessing data through the FOI Act. What we don't know is hurting us.
UnlikeReply5Dec 9, 2016 8:30am
Julie Ali ·
What parade of misinformation?
There is the following information provided courtesy of the press:
1) The GOA removed the kids from the mother.
2) The GOA became the public parent.
3) The GOA put the kids into foster care where they were thriving.
4) The GOA told the mother the kids had to go to a kinship placement or would be split up. The mother felt pressured to give the kids to the extended family.
5) The mother complains to the GOA folks about abuse. The abuse complaint is followed up by the separation of the mum from the kids so no more boots on the floor to see the progression of the situation.
6) Other folks in the community complain about abuse. No one has the brains or will to take the kids to a doctor. At least the doctor would have found signs of starvation in Serenity.
7) The kid dies.
8) The autopsy takes 2 years rather than days
9) RCMP have to wait 2 years for the case information and autopsy.
10) No one is to blame because the GOA never blames itself.
11) We -the citizens of Alberta blame the GOA because if this kid had had a visit from the GOA folks she might have lived. Instead there were no visits for 11 months.
12) Another foster care kid--Samantha Martin got no visits for over a year and was underweight; she gained weight when transferred to the birth family. Samantha's case is a precursor to this one and so in my opinion there is no excuse for Serenity not getting a visit to check up on her especially after the abuse complaints.
13) The only misinformation we get is from the GOA which seems to provide spin about panels. We have had former panels. These panels have thousands of recommendations. All these panels do are simply to add to the mountain of recommendations that never get acted upon.
14) Time for action folks. Not spin.
LikeReply3 minsEdited
Mark Pearson
I am divided on my feelings about this matter has been handled. This tragedy has history to it but at the same time I want to see a minister who cares more about what happened to this girl and other children then his concern for his own political career. If you cannot do that then you must resign. This also can't be also simply about gotcha politics. If you have any decency all politicians regardless of party affiliations do something to make sure this doesn't happen to another child again. None of this is about you.
UnlikeReply6Dec 9, 2016 8:18am
Maureen Schwab
The fact this child was not monitored properly in kinship care lies at the feet of the party in power at that time more specifically the bureaucrats responsible for running the department under the former PC Government. The fact that the current Minister was asked repeatedly about this case and he did not ensure the RCMP had all the information lies at his feet and he needs to resign. Many opposition members held the NDP feet to the fire yesterday in Question Period and for the first time Hoffman was not shrieking and blaming everything on the PC's.
LikeReply4Dec 9, 2016 7:26am
Donald Wiwad ·
Would someone please explain how giving information to RCMP today or six months ago would have helped this particular girl who died while under the care of the previous Con government. This is not the U.S. . We do not replace 14,000 government workers when we elect a new provinvcal government. Most management positions are contract term positions with generous termination clauses. A government left with no money by the previous gov cannot change things over night
LikeReplyDec 9, 2016 4:09pm
Julie Ali ·
Donald Wiwad They aren't being asked to change the GOA overnight. They are being asked to do their jobs. In this case, seems like some folks didn't do their jobs or why else was this child not checked for 11 months? Why were abuse compliants not followed by increased oversight? Why did the autopsy report take years instead of days? There needs to be answers to these questions and so far all we have is the same delay, denial and distract strategy of past PC governments. We're no longer willing to accept this poor performance.
LikeReply12 hrs
Kyle D.W Wickstrom
Blocking an RCMP investigation makes him an accomplice to murder, and I'm sure if you dig deep enough into this ministry, you'll find many more.

And people wonder why crowds want members of their governments Locked up
LikeReply4Dec 9, 2016 7:22amEdited
Donald Wiwad ·
kyle, you want to lock a minister up because of a file that started well before, at least one year before, he even became a minister.Yet, you say nothing about the minister who was reponsible for the file to begin with. And people wonder why the Cons and Wild Ones are so full of hate that they keep making these nasty, detestable,loathsome, repugnant, vile posts,
LikeReply2Dec 9, 2016 4:22pm
Shannon Burge ·
This incident was two years ago, when the PCs were in power. So, with all due respect, what the hell is wrong with you idiots blaming the NDP?
LikeReply4Dec 9, 2016 10:16am
Kendyl Hudson
Who else would be to blame but the actual party in power when it happened? Why should he take the blame for their failure?
LikeReply9Dec 8, 2016 11:38pm
Beachy Wilson ·
Time for the Premier to demote this guy. I'd handy to blame previous governments, but what's on display is the "go forward" alternative - arrogant, self-aggrandizing, but afraid to take responsibility, and obviously terrified of probing the deeper implications of this tragedy.
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 11:55am
Linda Feland-Swityk
He is not afraid. He is taking action and going forward
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 5:56pm
Devin Artzen ·
The minister must be held accountable for this tragedy.
LikeReply2Dec 9, 2016 8:38am
Donald Wiwad ·
Devin, yes, but which minister. Which minister could have prevented, this child from dying. Devin and Dickie, it would seem that both of you did stop to think, but you forgot to start again.
LikeReplyDec 9, 2016 4:32pm
Julie Ali ·
Donald Wiwad This minister could not have prevented this child from dying but certainly he could have prevented the problems that have developed from the poor handling of the file after the child died. We are always moving forward with the GOA but where are we moving forward to? Does the GOA ever adopt any of the recommendations of previous panels? If so, where is the proof of this? Samantha Martin did not get any oversight by the GOA for over a year. This child did not get oversight for 11 months. Why are the same errors being repeated by the GOA and how does the minister explain the lack of communication by his department with the mother of this child, with the RCMP and the public? Poor performance needs to be explained to us. Going forward does not mean ignoring mistakes, errors and problems that need to be examined by the GOA and recommendations from previous panels should be implemented.
In this case a public inquiry would tell the public why an autopsy report that normally takes days took years.
LikeReply4 hrs
Dave Sloane ·
The opposition was in charge of this until very lately who the hell are they to be casting aspersions?
LikeReply1Dec 10, 2016 10:01pm
Julie Ali ·
They were voted out remember? We understood that the PCs were poor managers and so we voted for the NDP. Now we find the NDP are equally poor managers at the GOA. It's troubling.
The opposition parties are required to hold the GOA accountable. Remember when the NDP used to do this job? There were casting aspersions right at the PCs until they became government. Now you are saying the NDP can't be held accountable just because they are in government?
LikeReply12 hrs
Dickie Rodrigus
And they wonder why people are chanting " lock her up " !
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 8:50am
Shannon Burge ·
There is no reason for that.
LikeReply3Dec 9, 2016 10:15am
Julie Ali ·
I don't think ordinary Albertans are asking for retribution. We are asking for transparency and accountability. It is necessary for the GOA to perform better than it has in several portfolios such as the child welfare and continuing care areas.
It's important that our most vulnerable citizens who have no one to defend them have at least the people of Alberta standing up for their basic human rights and safety needs.
If we don't speak we are complicit with the disasters of their care.
Silence is complicit ----Mdm. Marie-Claude Landry Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission
LikeReply12 hrs
Laura MacRae ·
LikeReply3Dec 9, 2016 6:19am
Douglas Nelson ·
There is never an excuse for being stupid.
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 6:50am
Julie Ali ·
Douglas Nelson I don't think any of these MLAs are stupid. They just seem to do the politically and bureaucratically expedient things so as to cover the butt of the GOA. It's troubling that they don't simply address the problems which have solutions provided in multiple former panels and studies. It's like the politicians have to make a new study for every child death or senior fatality so as to indicate to us that something is being done but the reality is that the recommendations don't seem to be implemented or why else are we having repeated adverse events?
Serenity for eg. was not checked on for an 11 month period. If she had been checked and taken to a doctor they would have found evidence of starvation at least.
In a similar earlier case, Samantha Martin was not checked for over a year and was underweight; yet when she was returned to her birth family she gained weight.
Why isn't the GOA manadating face to face meetings with kids in care with associated medical examinations required?
This isn't a matter of stupidity. It's a matter of no oversight, no interest, and negligence.
LikeReply12 hrsEdited
Linda Feland-Swityk
Stop putting pressure on this minister and let him do his job!! The WRP has been the official opposition now for 6 years. They have nothing to contribute to change. All they do is complain and whine and fight within their party! Enough already. Either shite or get off the pot!!
LikeReply7Dec 9, 2016 12:17am
David Sokolan ·
And the NDP supporters continue to spin amd deflect.....its not about you and your tribal party loyalties Linda...its about a dead little girl. The minister sat on this report for many many months......that is the issue.
LikeReply6Dec 9, 2016 5:59am
Linda Feland-Swityk
David Sokolan actually no he didn't. His staff may have kept him out of the loop. Staff from the previous government. He is taking the rap.
LikeReply2Dec 9, 2016 6:15am
Erin Pearce
Unfortunately, it's the pressure that might finally driving the ministry to DO their jobs. As misdirected as it is toward the minister rather than the entrenched ministry itself, the kids that are in care currently need action regardless.
LikeReply3Dec 9, 2016 8:19amEdited
Spencer Bennett ·
Linda, what is the Wildrose party support to do to implement change? The opposition party get their bills outvoted by the governing party. They have suggested some excellent changes (study into equalization payments), but get shot down. What more do you expect?
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 9:11am
Donald Wiwad ·
Linda, seems that they have done alot of what you are asking, because that is all that they seem to be able to dish up!
LikeReplyDec 9, 2016 4:35pm
Donald Wiwad ·
Spencer Bennett ; The Wild ones suggested a study into equalzation payments that Alberta pays to Ottawa. That makes sense, since eqalization payments are a Federal matter and are paid from Ottawa to the provinces. lmfao
LikeReply2Dec 9, 2016 4:40pm
Linda Feland-Swityk
Spencer Bennett excellent changes in your opinion. Equalization payments have nothing to do with provinces. It is federal legislation.
LikeReplyDec 9, 2016 5:48pm
Linda Feland-Swityk
David Sokolan so just so you know I did not vote NDP and am not a member of the party. But I like what they are doing.
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 5:50pm
Jim Bean
Nice Linda. Instead of staying focused on the issue you try to deflect. Pretty sad when the NDP blocks an investigation and "objective" NDP supporters like yourself can find no fault in it. Shameful actually.
UnlikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 6:20pm
Linda Feland-Swityk
Jim Bean what evidence do you have that they have blocked an investigation? Talk about deflection. The Minister seems interested in moving forward on the investigation
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 6:23pm
Donald Wiwad ·
David Sokolan ; No David , the issue is not the fact that the minister have the file, as much as you try to make it the issue. The issue is the death of the little girl. but you seem to forget that. No matter what the ND does or does not do, nothing will bring the child back. But the previous government could have saved her life.
LikeReply1Dec 11, 2016 5:01pmEdited
Jim Bean
Linda Feland-Swityk holy smokes did you even read the article? If so, try again without your orange coloured glasses!
LikeReplyDec 9, 2016 10:03pm
Linda Feland-Swityk
Jim Bean yes I certainly did read the article! Recite what I missed
LikeReplyDec 9, 2016 10:15pm
Julie Ali ·
The Wildrose Party is doing a good job holding the GOA accountable for the failures of government in this case.
It is more likely that the NDP have nothing to contribute to change. Why else is there no change in the child welfare system and in the continuing care system in Alberta?
The NDP folks we voted for are not living their values but are morphing into the PCs. Same tactics, same end results.
LikeReply12 hrs
Julie Ali ·
Linda Feland-Swityk I don't see any information here about an investigation. There will be a panel that is closed to the public. This isn't moving forwards or changing the system. This is all old style Tory strategy and we're tired of it.
We want a transparent review of this case preferably by a public inquiry that determines culpability by both the PCs and the NDP folks.
Best to get the two parties' poor performances out in full view so we can vote both of these parties into oblivion in the next election.
LikeReply12 hrs
Julie Ali ·
Erin Pearce This then begs the question of why we have to work so hard as advocates and citizens to keep the GOA on task.
Don't we pay them to do their jobs?
And if they don't do their jobs, why then are we retaining the services of civil servants, bureaucrats, executive staff and their entire coterie?
Why not dispense with their services and hire new employees who will do the work properly?
LikeReply4 hrs
Jim Bean
Donald Wiwad ·
Mr. Bean, seems that you never did get past the first year into Socialism 202. LMFAO
LikeReplyDec 10, 2016 4:56pmEdited
Mina Lee
So far not impressed with this minister! But the same can be said of all the previous Ministers who were in charge of children services! Shame on them too! Too many stories like this over the years (case in point, the fatal death series in 2013)! So I blame ALL the parties - the WRP, the previous conservatives & the NDP...instead of massively overhauling the system and looking to hold people accountable (I.e. Directors /managers who can overturn a unanimous decision by children's welfare panel of professionals!!!), lets do something about it!!! Please do some good!!
LikeReply1Dec 9, 2016 3:47pm

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