Thursday, July 6, 2000

Paul Willcocks
Sun Legislature Bureau

p. B08.

Children-at-risk bill expected to pass

A bill giving the government extraordinary powers to scoop children at risk off the streets is expected to pass today despite objections from the provincial Children's Advocate and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Children's Advocate Joyce Preston said the legislation should not be put into place without a firm commitment to provide the services needed to keep children from reaching the desperate situations that justify secure care.

And John Westwood of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said it's a "disgrace" that the government is planning to scoop up children who are at risk because it has failed to provide them with needed help.

The secure care bill will allow a parent, guardian or the newly appointed director of secure care to apply to a board to have a child or youth at risk taken into custody and held for up to 30 days.

That can be extended by the board for an additional 60 days. In emergencies, youths can be held for 72 hours without board approval.

The act is intended to allow detention of youths who are considered at immediate risk of harm from activities such as involvement in the sex trade or drug addiction.

Preston, who is the appointed advocate for children and families, said it's wrong to introduce serious limits on young people's rights while there are inadequate resources to provide help before they hit bottom.

"The services aren't there," she said. "People have to be in crisis in order to access services."

Children's Minister Gretchen Brewin has said introducing secure care will cost $10 million a year, and Preston said the same amount should go to provide services to keep children from ending up on the streets.

"We're very far from that," she said.

Brewin said she's disappointed in the criticism. The bill has to pass now to allow the start of up to 10 months of preparations before secure care is actually available, she said.

"We aren't authorized to spend money until we have the act," she said. "I appreciate the concerns and we're going to keep on talking about them."

But Preston said the bill is too important to be passed with significant flaws. "I don't have full confidence that after it's passed, amendments can be introduced," she said.

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Created: June 7, 2001
Last modified: June 7, 2001
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