P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate says he wasn't consulted over birth alert change

·3 min read

The first time Marvin Bernstein, P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate, heard that the province was ending birth alerts was when a reporter called him last week.

"Prior to that, no kind of communication from government whatsoever," he said.

Birth alerts allowed social workers or hospitals to flag expectant parents they thought might put their newborns at risk. The province ended the practice last week.

Bernstein said he would have expected to be consulted if the government was considering such a change.

"I would have expected the phone call to come from the government looking at a significant change in policy that would impact upon the rights, the interests and well-being of newborn, high-risk infants," he said.

Bernstein said something that has been absent from government communications is children's rights in this matter.

"Who's speaking for those infant children?

"There's no reference in any of these communications to the impact upon these children or the rights that children have under the convention or the rights that children have under the charter. They're not subordinate to adult rights. So I haven't seen any of that in the messaging. So that creates some concerns in my mind," he said.

Bernstein said he has asked government for a full briefing on the matter. As of Saturday, he had not received a response, he said.

New office

He said that since this is a new office, there might be a learning curve in how it's supposed to interact with government.

"I'm hoping that we can turn the corner and that this is just a blip and that we can restore good working relationships."

In 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls described birth alerts with words like "racist" and "discriminatory."

Bernstein said he is unable to offer an opinion on birth alerts in P.E.I. because of the lack of consultation on the subject.

"I don't know what the data is," he said. "I don't know how many of these birth alerts have been issued."

Tawan Jz / Shutterstock
Tawan Jz / Shutterstock

He said he recognizes that the move comes after stark criticism from the 2019 inquiry. But he said if he had been consulted it could have contributed to a more nuanced discussion based on the situation in P.E.I.

A statement from the province said that the practice of providing birth alerts to hospitals was a historical one that was not authorized by the Child Protection Act.

It also said that the act places the obligation on the child and youth advocate to request information from the government, and no request was received in this case.

"Government acted in a manner consistent with the applicable legislation; however, the Province recognizes that earlier communication with the Child and Youth Advocate on the topic of birth alerts may have offered that office an opportunity to provide an additional perspective in the decision making process," the statement said.

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