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Some Alberta MLAs reject proposed panel on children in government care

Click to play video 'Alberta opposition parties reject proposed panel on children in care' Alberta opposition parties reject proposed panel on children in care
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta's opposition parties are playing hardball with the government over the proposed panel meant to look into the province's child intervention system. The panel was announced in response to the death of a four-year-old girl who died in kinship care. Tom Vernon reports – Dec 13, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally indicated Serenity died while in kinship care. However, on Oct. 6, 2017, Alberta’s Ministry of Children’s Services clarified that although it was through the kinship care program that she was put in the care of the man and woman now facing charges, they were later given permanent guardianship, meaning Serenity was no longer in kinship care. It was at some point after this development that Serenity died. 

An Alberta legislature panel looking at ways to keep children safe in government care has morphed into a standoff between parties on both sides of the aisle.

Leaders of the four opposition parties said Tuesday they will boycott the panel unless Premier Rachel Notley’s government gives it the tools to get at the root of the problem.

They also said the minister in charge, Irfan Sabir, needs to excuse himself from the panel because some recent problems are tied to him.

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READ MORE: Rachel Notley defends Alberta human services minister in child-care death

“Essentially the minister is on trial here and he’s part of the judge and jury the way the government has designed (the panel),” said Progressive Conservative interim leader Ric McIver.

“It’s all unacceptable. Why meet if you’re not going to do anything?”

Watch below: The case of a four-year-old Alberta girl who died has sparked outrage across the province. Now, the mother of the girl is speaking out about the tragedy. Sarah Kraus reports.

Click to play video 'Mother of young Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out' Mother of young Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out
Mother of young Alberta girl who died in kinship care speaks out – Dec 8, 2016

Earlier Tuesday, the opposition leaders sent a list of changes they believe are needed for the panel to have the necessary authority and credibility.

The changes include a commitment to an open process and protection for those who come forward from being punished in the workplace for speaking out.

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They also want Sabir to testify.

The leaders, and NDP deputy government house leader Deron Bilous, said they haven’t closed the door on negotiations.

“We’re trying to work with the government here,” said Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.

Bilous, however, said the panel will begin its work soon, with or without the opposition.

Sabir and Notley announced the panel on Dec. 1 after it was revealed through media reports and the child and youth advocate that there had been little action for two years on the death of a four-year-old girl named Serenity.

According to the Edmonton Journal, hospital staff noted she had bruises all over her body, including her pubic and genital area. Global News has not been able to independently verify these claims. A report by Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate also said doctors noted Serenity had bruises at various stages of healing and was “significantly underweight.”

Child advocate Del Graff reported that warning signs of maltreatment were investigated and dismissed, and that after Serenity’s horrific injury her siblings told authorities she was routinely hit.

Sabir promised action when the issue became public late last month. But opposition members are now calling for him to resign after he admitted last week that after his promise it took another two weeks for Mounties to get access to the government’s electronic file on Serenity.

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Sabir, with Notley’s backing, is refusing to quit the human services portfolio. He has said there is much work to do and he is committed to doing it.

The panel is to meet in the coming weeks to devise rules that can be put into law by the spring on strengthening death reviews for children in care. It is also to look at longer-term problems in child welfare and make recommendations later next year on how to fix them.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said previous inquiries have made recommendations for improvements that could be made immediately.

“This happened on the NDs’ watch. They have failed to implement recommendations made by panel after panel,” said Clark.

Liberal Leader David Swann said it’s difficult to boycott the panel, but added: “If we don’t do it well, we’re going to have a repeat of what we’ve seen in the past.”

The New Democrats, while in opposition, were highly critical of Progressive Conservative governments for lack of accountability and transparency in the deaths of children in care.

Notley, in the house during question period Tuesday, suggested opposition members are trying to sabotage the panel by delivering unreasonable last-minute demands such as focusing on cases solely during the NDP’s term in office.

“They suggested the minister should be called to testify and put on trial,” said Notley.

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