July 24, 2014 2:40 pm

Alberta lifts publication ban on children who die in care

Alberta Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar listens in on group discussions in Edmonton, Wednesday, Jan.29, 2014 around changing provincial privacy laws to allow more information to be published on the deaths of children in government care. The minister was attending a conference on the topic, which was spurred by the recent revelation in media stories that Alberta had used sweeping privacy laws to cover up the deaths of 89 children in care since 1999.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dean Bennett

EDMONTON – Alberta’s Bill 11 was proclaimed on Wednesday, getting rid of the publication ban on children who have died in the care of the province.

“I believe we must empower those who are closest to these children to speak or not to speak,” said Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar.

“It is their right as human beings.  If we do not have the right to speak up about justice as individuals then we have taken away too much.”

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In April, the Alberta government introduced changes to allow the publication of names and photos of children who die in government care.

READ MORE: Alberta changes rules on child foster deaths 

“It is the basic right of each and every one to express grief publicly or to protect privacy in a period of tremendous stress,” said Bhullar at that time.

“This is not a decision for the government to make.”

Last November, a Postmedia newspaper series detailed gaps in child death investigations and frustration over parents not being allowed to talk publicly about the death of their loved ones.

Using documents obtained under freedom of information rules, the series revealed the province has used its privacy laws to avoid telling the public about the deaths of 89 children in care since 1999.

READ MORE: Alberta to review how it investigates, reports foster child deaths 

Bhullar, after he was named to the human services portfolio in December, then released information that indicated there were hundreds of other deaths of children who were not in direct care — but had been at one time, or were in indirect care, or had injuries under investigation.

With those figures added in, the total number of deaths since 1999 stands at 741 out of 275,000 children.

“Upon my appointment as Minister of Human Services seven months ago, I pledged to change the province’s laws that govern what information can be shared about the tragic deaths of children in care,” Bhullar said on Thursday.

“Whether it was at our two-day roundtable in January or through a unanimous vote in the legislature, the broad consensus was that the publication ban must be lifted.  Yesterday, Bill 11 was proclaimed and the ban no longer exists.”

Bhullar added there is a legal process in place for any person, including families with children in care, to apply for a publication ban with the courts. The Act will put a quicker, simpler process in place.

The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Amendment Act will also give Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff and officials more latitude and powers to investigate the deaths or serious injuries of children in care.

With files from The Canadian Press

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