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Committee has not yet chosen replacement for B.C.’s youth watchdog

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia’s representative for children and youth for the past nine years, says the government has known for months that the last official day of her second – and final – term is Nov. 27.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

B.C.'s watchdog for children and youth says politicians still have not agreed on who will succeed her, so she will be finishing her final term at the end of next month without having groomed a new independent representative and with several important investigations in limbo.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia's representative for children and youth for the past nine years, said the government has known for months that the last official day of her second – and final – term is Nov. 27.

Yet, a bipartisan committee, which was was gridlocked over choosing a replacement earlier this year, is still deliberating after it received new applications for the position last month, she said.

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With the legislature not sitting this fall, her successor will not join the body until next year, said Ms. Turpel-Lafond, who is using up her remaining vacation days to effectively leave the job by the end of this month.

"I've trained, supported, encouraged and mentored lots and lots of people in my teams and they [politicians] certainly would have no difficulty finding a highly qualified person for the job, but they would have to agree on them and put them in place," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said late last week.

Michelle Mungall, a New Democrat MLA who sits on the committee to replace the representative, said a group of five MLAs is now reviewing the applications for the position, but the final appointment will only be finalized when the provincial legislature assembles once again in February.

"There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Mary Ellen leaves very big shoes to fill," Ms. Mungall said. "And coming to a consensus to fill those shoes takes time, as most consensus processes do."

New Democrat critic Melanie Mark, who worked at Ms. Turpel-Lafond's office before jumping into politics this year, said that the group of MLAs is exhausting all avenues trying to select a permanent representative. After that, it will recommend a short list of interim leaders to to be vetted by a separate parliamentary committee, of which Ms. Mark is a member.

This interim representative must be someone without any political background, but "someone who is focused on child welfare and has a solid understanding of working in an independent office," Ms. Mark said.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond said the provincial Liberal government has become increasingly confrontational under her tenure.

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She noted that the government issued a response to her controversial report on the death of a Downtown Eastside aboriginal teen – who overdosed at the age of 19 despite 30 previous child-protection reports – the same day as last year's federal election. The government also hired a former bureaucrat to investigate a specific case involving child abuse that led to a report calling for the phasing out of Ms. Turpel-Lafond's position.

"These are issues that need to be rigorously depoliticized," she said.

"[My job] is for someone that has a pretty strong hide and a big compassion for vulnerable kids who is prepared to go deep on the issues," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.

Last week, after her latest report, she said social workers were at times shuffling perpetrators and victims of sexual violence in the child-welfare system to other placements as part of an ad hoc approach to dealing with serious problem.

In most instances, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said, only "nominal effort" was made to ensure the abuser – in some cases another foster child – did not have continued access to vulnerable children. She gave the example of a social worker telling a new foster family to "watch out."

The lack of a permanent successor will leave a large void in the agency while it handles ongoing critical files, such as the investigation of the death of Alex Gervais, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said. Her office has conducted more than 70 interviews in the case of the teen in care who died while being put up in a hotel. She said the case is about 80 per cent complete, but she does not know if or when it will be finished now that she is leaving.

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Ms. Mark said these cases will continue and reports will be issued after an interim representative signs off on them.

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About the Author
News reporter

Mike Hager is a general assignment reporter at the newspaper’s B.C. bureau. He grew up in Vancouver and graduated from the University of Western Ontario’s Huron College and Langara College. Before joining The Globe and Mail, he spent three years working for The Vancouver Sun. More


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