Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Sherry Gott, Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, is photographed at her office in Winnipeg, on Oct. 20, 2022.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Manitoba is failing to tackle or address the systemic causes of suicide, addictions and intimate partner violence that have contributed to the record number of deaths of youth in the province, says the legislature’s independent agency representing the rights and interests of children.

The Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth’s office, which opened in 2018 after unanimous support in the legislative assembly, has been tracking its recommendations to various government departments over the past four years, including the ministers responsible for families, justice, mental-health services and education.

In its most detailed report to date, released Thursday, the office outlined how nearly half of those proposals have yet to be fulfilled. And although some recent progress on these issues from the government – past and current – is commendable, “the truth is these achievements have not always translated into tangible improvements,” said advocate Sherry Gott.

“It is a shared failure,” she told reporters at her Winnipeg office. “Children, youth and young adults are suffering. They are losing their lives.”

For kids between the ages of 10 to 17, suicide is “currently the leading manner of death in Manitoba,” the report notes. Out of 265 child deaths in the 2022-23 fiscal year, at least 37 were suicides – the highest number the office recorded since it began monitoring them.

Many of them were Inuit, Métis and First Nations youth, who are overrepresented across the agency’s systems and services.

The advocate’s recommendations are meant to help resolve this enduring plight in Manitoba, Ms. Gott said. She described them as straightforward solutions, such as creating education materials, collecting accurate information, developing action plans and setting provincial standards.

But for at least 48 per cent of these proposals, the majority of which are undergoing their second, third or fourth assessment this year, progress has been “unacceptably slow,” she said. Just 32 per cent of the advocate’s recommendations are now fully complete after four years.

The only recommendations that are being assessed for the first time in the new report relate to children who have been exposed to intimate partner violence. The advocate wants the government to recognize those children as victims of violence themselves, which was not a standard before.

Acknowledging the “crisis levels of youth suicide and addictions in our province,” Families and Accessibility Minister Nahanni Fontaine told The Globe and Mail that Thursday’s report highlights “how much work we still need to do.”

In a statement, she said the “government is committed to strengthening supports and services so more young Manitobans can reach their 18th birthday,” adding she is working closely on the matter with Mental Health Minister Bernadette Smith.

Matt Preprost, a spokesperson for the Opposition Progressive Conservative Party, called out the NDP government for not delivering on its promise to create a comprehensive mental-health and addictions strategy.

He said in an e-mail that the NDP disbanded its mental-health department and has “a terrible record of increasing the number of children in care, adding it is “well past their first 100 days and Manitobans deserve to know what their plan is moving forward.”

Mr. Preprost said the PCs, which had formed government until last fall, “invested more than $62-million since 2019 in the mental-health road map and decreased the number of children in care through family reunifications.”

Ms. Gott would not say whether the advocate’s office has found it easier to work with the NDP or the PCs.

“It would be easy to point fingers at the implementing bodies and place the blame,” she said. “But that wouldn’t be fair, nor would it be accurate. Fulfilling children’s rights is a shared responsibility, and we fall short of it.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe