Whether due to naivete or a bold streak, Reform MP Eric Lowther has decided to take on Ottawa’s pro-United Nations bureaucracy all but single-handedly. Being told to get lost by a bureaucrat in the Department of Canadian Heritage was added motivation to push ahead.
Mr. Lowther is the Reform Party’s children and families critic and also a member of the Parliamentary Heritage Committee. The human rights program of the Department of Canadian Heritage is the body “responsible for co-ordinating, with provincial and territorial governments, the domestic implementation of international human rights instruments and the preparation of Canada’s reports to the United Nations.”
When Mr. Lowther learned that the Heritage Department was preparing a report on Canada’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to be submitted to the UN early this year, he inquired about the process, wanting to find out if there was any way that Canada’s elected representatives can take part in the process.
Five years ago, after receiving Canada’s first compliance report, the international agency condemned the government for continuing to permit parents to spank their children. Pro-family Canadians were already irate over the way Brian Mulroney’s Tory government ratified the convention without the support of all 10 provinces. No mechanism exists to automatically vet international treaties by Canada’s elected representatives in Parliament.
The Reform Party has an official policy to change that, and Mr. Lowther is trying to force the Department of Heritage to submit the report to public scrutiny.
His first attempt to address the problem, however, received a stern response from a top-level bureaucrat in Sheila Copps’s department. Mr. Lowther says that “a manager in the human rights program of the Canadian Heritage department sent (back) a fax which stated: ‘I understand you may … be interested to comment on Canada’s second report … However, none of those comments are to be incorporated in any way into Canada’s report.'”
In other words, Mr. Lowther remarked, “Why bother?”
Mr. Lowther then went to the Heritage Committee and sought support for a request for information from the department on the process that is in place for preparing the report. As a result, Mauril Belanger, the parliamentary secretary for Sheila Copps, is expected to submit a written report to the committee explaining the process that is in place.
Mr. Lowther credits the correspondence from many Canadians to committee members for his success. He also notes that, in the 36th Parliament alone, almost 12,000 Canadians have signed petitions objecting to the erosion of parental rights in Canadian law and public policy.
Mr. Lowther already faced resistance over this first request for limited disclosure. Responding to Mr. Belanger’s criticism, he said, “I am distressed at the utter contempt (he) showed for oversight by parliamentarians into the integrity of this critical process. He admitted that he did not know what the process was, but expressed his opinion that a review of the process was unnecessary anyway.”
He is hoping that an explanation of the process used to prepare the report will shed light on any anti-family bias that may exist among Canadian Heritage bureaucrats. He noted in a press release in November that his office “has discovered that 365,000 taxpayer dollars have been given to a “children’s advocacy group” to prepare a supplemental “non-governmental organization report” to be submitted along with Canada’s official report.
Due to the heavy taxpayer funding of anti-family groups in recent years, including of those lobbying to criminalize spanking, Mr. Lowther is concerned about the nature of discussions that take place behind closed government doors – discussions that the government apparently wants to keep out of the public eye until it is too late for Canadians to influence the process.