“We continue to see situations where children are chronically neglected, putting them at grave risk in a province where we’ve had a history of this” -David Coon
Article by: JOHN CHILIBECK
FREDERICTON • Stephen Horsman, the minister responsible for families and children, wouldn’t take questions from reporters about a couple in Saint John was convicted of neglecting their five children.
Photo: John Chilibeck/Legislature Bureau
The minister of families and children says he’s ordered an investigation into the case of a Saint John couple convicted of neglecting their children after they were discovered living in an apartment empty of food and smeared with excrement on the walls.
In question period Thursday, Stephen Horsman, also deputy premier, said hearing about the details of the court case broke his heart.“We should be upset,” he said. “I’m probably the most upset of anyone in this province. First thing this morning, I asked the department to investigate this and find out what happened.
“My heart aches for the children that go through this.”
Largely speaking from notes, Horsman said privacy rules prevented him from talking about the specifics of any one case. But he said as a father of two and a soon-to-be-grandfather, he was deeply affected by the details of the story. The names of the parents are under a publication ban to protect the identity of their children, but the Crown argued Wednesday in a Saint John courtroom they should be imprisoned in a federal penitentiary for at least two years.
The defence argued a conditional sentence order should be imposed, which would allow the parents to live near their children, who now reside with other family members. Defence lawyer Joel Hansen argued it was a clear case of neglect, not abuse.
Under repeated questioning from Progressive Conservative MLA Ernie Steeves, Horsman said on the floor of the house more than once that “the safety and security of our children in our province is a top priority for this government.”He said changes had been made within the Social Development Department over the last 10 years that strengthened the child protection system.
However, the deputy premier sidestepped Steeves’s question on whether he would ask the province’s independent child and youth advocate and auditor general to investigate.Instead, Horsman encouraged anyone with concerns about the care of children to contact the department or local law enforcement. He said they could also call the toll-free line 1-888-99-ABUSE (22873) to seek help.
Horseman declined to take questions from reporters after the session.Green Party leader David Coon said Horsman had to accept ministerial responsibility for what had happened and that it was ludicrous for the department to investigate itself for its own failings.
Coon said he agreed with the Tory proposal calling upon the child and youth advocate and the auditor general to investigate, but he also believes the government should set up an inquiry with public hearings.
“We continue to see situations where children are chronically neglected, putting them at grave risk in a province where we’ve had a history of this,” he told reporters at the legislature. “Children have died. It’s almost the 10th anniversary of Juli-Anna’s story, published by the first child and youth advocate, Bernard Richard, which had followed on the heels of the inquiries into Jacqueline Brewer’s death in Saint John and John Ryan Turner’s death in the Miramichi from chronic neglect.”
Coon said if all the recommendations from investigations into those child deaths had been followed, “you wouldn’t expect to continue to see cases of children being neglected in terrible situations, putting them in grave danger.”