Among those jumping to the defence of B.C.'s children's watchdog following a report suggesting her office be phased out, the province's native leaders were arguably the most alarmed and outraged.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip called Bob Plecas's investigation zeroing in on Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond's office a "witch hunt" and "smear job." Doug Kelly, chair of the First Nations Health Council, decried the fact Premier Christy Clark was turning to "an old white guy" for advice. Cheam First Nation Chief Ernie Crey said the Plecas report constituted a "danger to the many thousands of aboriginal children in the province."
First Nations chiefs stood behind Ms. Turpel-Lafond at a news conference Monday at which the children's representative denounced Mr. Plecas for recommending her duties be taken over by government.
The strong show of a support from the province's aboriginal leadership was surprising. It wasn't long ago that many of these same chiefs were slamming Ms. Turpel-Lafond for one of her own reports. In 2013, the representative revealed that tens of millions of dollars were given to aboriginal child welfare agencies and effectively wasted. The children the money was meant to protect remained as vulnerable as ever.
It was one of the most damning reports Ms. Turpel-Lafond had ever released.
As I say, the reaction from First Nations leaders was swift and furious. How dare Ms. Turpel-Lafond say such things? Afterward, she told me about some of the vitriolic e-mails and phone calls she received from First Nations representatives.
Now here we were, two years later, and many of these same people were indignant over the mere idea of Ms. Turpel-Lafond's office being eliminated.
Time heals all, it seems.
The role of delegated aboriginal child welfare agencies was not something Mr. Plecas touched on in his probe. He likely felt it was one hornets' nest he was best not stirring. But if not him, who? Because someone has to take another look at these authorities and report on how effective they are and ways they can be improved.
Perhaps this is something Chief Ed John will look at as part of his mandate to advise the province on aboriginal child welfare matters. Although in reviewing his marching orders from government, it does not appear that this is anything he's been asked to report back on. According to his contract, Mr. John has been asked to "provide a focused role on creating permanency for Aboriginal children in care; particularly those in care through continuing custody orders (in care until reaching the age of majority)."
Whatever that means.
It seems to me if the Ministry of Children and Family Development is going to come under constant criticism for the job it's doing, then other groups operating under the same umbrella should be fair game, too. Interestingly, it was Ms. Turpel-Lafond who argued the move by the B.C. government several years ago to offload responsibility for the aboriginal children in care to these delegated agencies was a huge mistake.
She said many children in First Nations communities being served by these bodies were not being served at all. There was a complete lack of oversight and accountability. There weren't the necessary personnel to properly staff the agencies. And many of the people who were working in them weren't properly trained.
But after saying this, and getting blasted by aboriginal leaders for doing so, that seemed to be the end of the matter.
That is not good enough. Honestly, I think people are simply afraid to tread down this path for fear of being branded racist or worse. What Ms. Turpel-Lafond did in voicing her criticisms took enormous courage. It will be difficult to find someone with the same strength of conviction to replace her when her time is up next year.
We all know what the statistics say about the gross over-representation of aboriginal children in care. That is something that continually needs to be addressed with the goal of significantly reducing that number over the next decade. But we also need to ensure that those children who are in need are getting the best care possible, regardless of who's delivering it.