By Lloyd Dolha
BC’s former conflict-of-interest commissioner Ted Hughes will single-handedly review the province’s child protection system after the provincial government announced that 713 child death reviews were never properly completed.
The provincial Liberals revealed that 713 child death files were transferred to the BC Coroner’s Service in 2002, after the Liberals abolished the Children’s Commission. But the files were never physically transferred to the service and were left to languish in a Victoria warehouse.
Former blue ribbon panel members Chief Coroner Terry Smith and youth officer Jane Morley, along with former child advocate Joyce Preston and Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit were dropped from the panel. Now, they will serve in an advisory capacity only along with Justice Thomas Gove.
Children and Family Development Minister Stan Hagen announced the move in a news release stating: “This change is being made in light of recent events concerning the management of child death reviews.”
Morley wrote the review that recommended abolishing the children’s commission and shifting child death reviews to the coroner’s service. Smith then set up a child death review unit to handle the new responsibility.
Hughes said he always had misgivings that some panel members would be viewed as having “vested interests.”
“I expressed that view on a number of occasions and I think ultimately the government came to the conclusion I had a point,” said Hughes.
Morley said either she nor Smith have vested interests, but said she’s been suggesting that Hughes review it alone because of the difficulties scheduling meetings with all of the panelists, as well as her already heavy workload.
“I’ve got a very, very high regard for Ted Hughes and his fairness and I think it’s important that he feels unfettered,” she said. “He’s got limited time too and I think there’s some level of urgency here.”
The ex-panel members will now serve in an advisory capacity, while Maureen Nicholls will assist with research and administrative work.
Hughes said Nicholls comes to the table “like myself, with a completely open mind.”
It’s the second major change to the panel before it held a single meeting.
The government earlier appointed Justice Thomas Gove, but retracted that when he was unable to get leave from the provincial court.
Gove was the provincial court judge who was commissioner of the Gove Inquiry into Child Protection ten years ago. The 1995 Gove Inquiry led to the establishment of a new office called the Children’s Commissioner which was dismantled in budget cuts by the Liberals in 2002.
The independent panel had been appointed to examine British Columbia’s system of child and youth protection in the wake of the recent controversy regarding the deaths of 19 month-old Nuu Chah Nulth child Sherry Charlie in 2002; and three-year-old Carrier toddler Savannah Hall in 2001, who died while in non-native foster care.