Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Liberals stumble again in child death reviews

VICTORIA - John Les tied himself in knots Monday in a hopeless effort to minimize the government's bungling of child death reviews.
The latest revelation was that the government shut down at least 80 significant investigations into children's deaths when it eliminated the Children's Commission in 2002. The reviews weren't finished. The families didn't have answers, and the lessons that could be learned remained hidden.
But the government wanted the Children's Commission gone, and the simple way was to close the files. Sorry, Martel family of Kitimat. You'll never get a full report about how your little boy died during a superbug outbreak in a Vancouver hospital. It's not important enough to finish the review.
The NDP raised the issue in Question Period, and Les, as the solicitor general, gamely tried to answer questions in a scrum. (He's responsible for the coroner's service, which was supposed to be taking on all these child death reviews.)
So did 80 child deaths go unreviewed, falling through the cracks?
No, Les maintained. "The appropriate reviews were done on each of these unfortunate cases," he claimed.
And then, barely taking a breath, Les contradicted himself.
"There were some issues about whether the reviews were completed," he said.
In the real world, it's hard to claim that everything was properly completed, except for the fact that things were not actually properly completed.
In any case, actions tell the real story. And Les said that after he learned about the incomplete investigations about a month ago, he told the coroner to review them. And now he's come up with emergency money - several hundred thousand dollars - to get the job done properly. At least half a dozen deaths raise issues that demand a thorough review.
Les won't say how he learned about the abandoned investigations, or why no one in government did anything about the issue for three years. It was a hardly a secret - parents complained back in 2002 that the reviews of their children's deaths were being abandoned.
None of this is terribly complex. The Children's Commission, among its activities, reviewed the deaths of children in the province. It had a $4-million budget, with some $1.5 million going towards the death reviews. They established facts, and looked for ways we could avoid future tragedies.
The Liberals decided the commission was unnecessary (although they were very big fans in opposition).
So the commission, along with the Child and Youth Advocate, were gone, replaced by the Child and Youth Officer. Child death reviews were supposed to be taken over by the coroner.
Except at the same time the Coroner's Office budget was cut by $800,000, and only $200,000 was provided for child death reviews. It was obviously hopelessly inadequate.
Since then, the government has been playing word games to cover up what has been lost.
The coroner is still reviewing child fatalities, the government has said over the last several months, as questions over the death of Sherry Charlie have mounted.
That's at best an evasion. The coroner is still looking at all deaths. But child death reviews are not the same. They take a broader look, at what could have changed to save a life, or a family.
Chief Coroner Terry Smith has acknowledged as much. More than three years after his office took over responsibility, only one child death review has been done and released.
Smith hopes to start the work next year, and has asked for an extra $1 million to cover the cost. "We're now at a point where we need to start doing the fuller reviews, and I have asked for additional resources along with some legislative changes to accommodate that," he said. Now being three years after the government began maintaining nothing was lost with the elimination of the Children's Commission.
No wonder Les is struggling to come up with answers.
Footnote: In opposition, Gordon Campbell - like Judge Thomas Gove - rejected the idea that standard coroner's investigation was adequate. An independent commissioner was needed, he said then, and must look at every child death. Campbell was at a convention centre construction photo op in Vancouver when the new questions were raised in the legislature.


Anonymous said...

Where were you Paul Willcocks?

The corporate media rolled over and gave the BC Liberals a free ride.

While it is nice to see the mainstream finally getting a clue; it does make one wonder.

Perhaps one day we will see a rigorous retrospective analysis of the fakery surrounding the budgets, revenues and fraud of the "Structural Deficit" which is the foundation of this deck of cards.

You do remember the structural deficit don't you?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Willcocks is less deserving of that rebuke than just about anyone else in the BC media. I'm one of the parents who's been ranting about the horrific way MCFD has been run since 2001 and he's one of the very few journalists who paid at least some attention -- devoting column after column to these issues while his colleagues almost universally ignored them.

On the other hand, I do agree that our reporters in general have been missing in action, especially during the first four years of Liberal rule when there was no functioning Opposition, and when a strong watchdog press was needed more than ever.

Much of the tragedy surrounding MCFD (and child death investigations is simply the tip of the iceberg) could have been avoided or mitigated if the media had not let us down so badly.

I put the blame squarely on the media owners, many of whom paid big bucks to help elect the BC Liberals and were thus not overly inclined to rain too hard on their parade. And the competitive corporate model ruling today's newsrooms provides absolutely no incentive to invest in the sort of journalism this requires, especially when the latest Hollywood trivia will likely sell more papers AND keep the advertisers happier.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is as exciting right now( for a political junky) than watching question period as questions directed at the Premier get shunted to the Solicitor General who seems pretty unaware of most anything. How many reviews/ who knows?. Who cancelled the origional files, no answer.

Maybe the guys sweeping the floor dumped them in the garbage.

And when thy tire of asking questions on that subject there is alwasy the sale of BC rail and how folks are getting hosed for living along the tracks. Falcon figures he is pretty sharp but the more he talks the more stupid he ends up looking.
Some others sit there hoping they arn't next. Thorpe reminds me of a deer caught in the headlights. he knows maximus is not off the radar either.

Media folks are stuck with what are supposed to be the facts in referring to Hansard , or what they pick up in scrums,and are slowly catching on even there, it's not always the facts. The word stonewall comes to mind.

More transom papers will come up as the New Era gang continues to flounder.
Wllcox doesn't need me to defend him but his stuff is usually pretty good.and I beleive that'sn ot just my opinon

Anonymous said...

"Liberals stumble again in child death reviews" is Willcock's take. Looks pretty good compared to Palmer's take- "Liberals struggle to stay on top of burgeoning dead-children file". The Liberals are "struggling to stay on top" like the San Francisco 49ers are "struggling to stay on top" of the NFC West i.e. dead last and getting worse every step of the way.