Friday, June 08, 2007

Government failing sexually abused children

So how do you feel, as a British Columbian, knowing that your government thinks it costs too much to ensure children who have been sexually abused get quick access to counselling?
It’s hardly a frill. A little boy or girl is abused. Somehow the abuse is uncovered. Maybe the child works up the courage to tell.
You know that child needs help now, not in weeks, or months. Delays are terrible. Children wonder if the abuse is their fault. They withdraw. Sometimes, they even become abusers. The abuse looms over every hour of every day, for the child and family.
But the government has decided it’s too expensive to make sure children get quick access to counselling and therapy.
Instead, they wait while it considers whether there is a cheaper, better way to deliver the services.
This is not a Liberal thing. The first time I wrote about this problem, the NDP was in government. The situation was the same. The Mary Manning Centre in Victoria took the lead in raising the issue that time, as it has again.
Government funding for child sex-abuse prevention and counselling has not been increased in 17 years. Other programs might help children who have been abused. But the funding focused on the problem has been froze since 1990.
The Mary Manning Centre said it has had to lay off three part-time therapists this month because provincial funding wouldn’t cover their salaries. As a result children will wait longer for help in dealing with their sexual abuse.
And it’s not just the Victoria centre. Other agencies in Victoria and Nanaimo report waits of four to six months. One Nanaimo agency has just given up and quit offering support for sexually abused children. There are similar stories of waits across the province.
So why is government letting this happen to little children?
First, Children and Families Minister Tom Christensen said urgent cases would still get help quickly. Only “non-urgent cases” would wait.
But those on the front lines said that wasn’t true. And they added that until children began treatment, it’s impossible to determine how serious the abuse was. They might be reluctant to reveal everything, keen to minimize what happened.
Then Christensen said Mary Manning, which got a $25,000 funding increase this year, wanted too much money — another $150,000. (Enough for the equivalent of about two full-time counsellors.)
The government could afford the money, Christensen said. But it needed to do “due diligence” first, “to ensure that the delivery of sexual abuse and intervention services is being delivered in the most cost-effective way possible while at the same time providing the best outcomes for children.”
I haven’t heard any allegations that Mary Manning and the other centres are wasting money or performing poorly. Maybe there are savings - each child could get fewer counselling sessions or something. If the ministry has a plan, excellent.
But until it does, the obvious obligation is to fund the service adequately, so children don’t wait.
Especially because it’s unclear when the government will unveil it’s new, more cost-effective treatment model.
In a letter to the Victoria Times Colonist, Christensen wrote as if things were well under way. “An examination of the Sexual Abuse and Intervention Program has provided information that will allow us to strengthen and improve services for children, youth and their families in a diligent and thoughtful manner,” he said.
But the ministry says that examination has not resulted in a report, or memo or any paper record of recommendations.
The sensible and compassionate thing to do is clear. While the government is working to figure out if there’s some better, cheaper way to help these children, put up the money to ensure they get prompt treatment.
They shouldn’t suffer because the government is uncertain about the best way to help them.
It’s baffling. These are all decent people.
How can they think it’s acceptable that boys and girls who have been sexually abused go to bed night after night, waiting for help?
Footnote: Christensen said the ministry will work with the centre on a “case-by-case basis to ensure children requiring assistance get appropriate services in a timely manner.” Presumably, the centre is supposed to call the ministry when there are too many victims, plead for funds and then try and find counsellors. The result, of course, is delays in treatment.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Police , prosecutors look bad in raid case

So what are the Crown prosecutors and RCMP hiding in the legislature raid case?
That’s the big question that emerged this week from the corruption trial of former ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk. The two are charged with accepting benefits in return for leaking confidential information about the B.C. Rail sale to one of the bidders.
The trial really hasn’t begun. Defence lawyers have been arguing for weeks in B.C. Supreme Court that the Crown has failed in its legal obligation to share the information its investigation uncovered.
Without that information, their clients can’t defend themselves, they say.
And now B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett has agreed, delivering an extraordinary ruling granting the defence all its requests and delivering a stinging slap for both the RCMP and the special prosecutor named to handle the case.
In our system, the Crown and police are required to share all relevant evidence with the defence. The object is justice, not winning a conviction by withholding evidence that might cast doubt on guilt.
Bennett was brutally direct in finding that the RCMP and Crown had failed to do their legal duty.
That wasn’t entirely surprising, especially after evidence last month that an RCMP officer had written “Not for disclosure” on the notes he had made of his interview with then Liberal party president Kelly Reichert.
But her 37-page ruling that ordered disclosure was scathing.
It included the directive that that “every police officer or civilian who touched or spoke about this investigation” review every piece of paper in their possession to see if they have documents that should be disclosed.
“I regret that I must make the following order in such broad and sweeping terms,” she wrote. “However, given the substantial failure to respect the disclosure rights of the accused, this order is the only way I believe I can ensure that no miscarriage of justice will occur.”
And Bennett raised specific questions.
Like what happened to the investigation into the activities of Gary Collins, then finance minister and Basi’s boss.
Collins was under suspicion in December 2003, just before the raid, she notes. The RCMP even set up surveillance when he met with representatives from one bidder for B.C. Rail in a restaurant.
“There is nothing that I have seen in writing that indicates who made the decision to stop pursuing Minister Collins as a suspect and when that decision was made,” Bennett wrote.
Bennett also ordered prosecutors to reveal what kind of deal they made with lobbyist Erik Bornmann to secure his testimony. He is expected to testify that he bribed Basi in return for inside information on the B.C. Rail.
The Crown has said there is no documentation on the immunity deal, despite a policy that requires such agreement to be set out in writing.
Bennett said that’s not acceptable. “There have been too many wrongful convictions based on informant information which was obtained in dubious circumstances,” she noted.
The case is obviously of enormous public interest. The charge of corruption around the sale of B.C. Rail, RCMP claims of a link to drugs, the subsequent allegations of Liberal political dirty tricks all raise significant concerns.
That makes the failure of police and prosecutors to fulfill their obligations even more alarming.
It’s a big mess. Three-and-a-half years years after the legislature raids, the mystery is just as deep and even more questions are left unanswered.
The RCMP’s credibility has been dealt another high-profile blow and the Crown prosecutor is on the defensive. Allegations of B.C. Liberal dirty tricks, funded by taxpayers, are left unanswered.
And the real trial hasn’t even started yet. Unless the Crown and police start performing, it might never start. The defence lawyers are likely to argue that the delays and the prosecutor’s failures have made it impossible for their clients to get a fair trial.
Based on her order this week, Bennett might be inclined to accept the argument.
Footnote: Allegations at the trial — like reports of a political dirty-trick operation being run by Basi with the knowledge of the premier’s office — have already embarrassed the Liberals. The potential for further damaging revelations increased sharply with Bennett’s order.