After first dealing with the shock of learning through the media that his office was being axed by the Ford government, Ontario’s child advocate’s focus shifted and it was not about his future.
Irwin Elman began thinking of the children his office is trying to help.
More so the 27 individual investigations currently on-going into residential care, like group homes and foster care said Elman.
“I have been very clear what I think about this change. I absolutely do not agree with it. Now I have been working, thinking and turning my mind to how we can we preserve all the things we do,” said Elman, 61, Tuesday.
He said right now it is “unclear” what happens to those investigations if he isn’t able to complete them before new legislation is passed that will officially close his office.
“We’re talking to the ombudsman to ensure any investigation that isn’t wrapped up transfers over. We don’t know where the government’s mind is,” said Elman.
“We intend to complete them. Our office expects those investigations will go over if they are not completed. We will fight to ensure that happens.”
He also said more investigations are expected to start and that the province is notified each time one is opened.
Elman couldn’t speak specifically to any individual investigation, just that they are based on complaints his office received into group and foster care homes.
APTN News knows one of them appears to be Johnson Children’s Services (JCS) which operated three foster homes in Thunder Bay when Tammy Keeash died in May 2017.
APTN reported last week that the three homes were closed after Keeash’s death but had been investigated at least seven times within a year of her dying.
This was all found in an on-going court battle between two Indigenous child welfare agencies fighting over jurisdiction. In documents filed as part of the litigation the advocate’s office first wrote Dilico Anishinabek Family Care of its intention to investigate JSC in August 2016. It appears, from the court documents, Dilico asked the advocate’s office to wait until the agency first investigated JSC.
It was then again confirmed in documents the advocate’s office was investigating JSC following Keeash’s death.
“We can’t allow Indigenous children to fall through the cracks of saying ‘oh you called this ombudsman’s office’ and they’ll sit in Toronto and they’ll tell you use a complaints process. Tell that to a 15-year-old First Nations child, to use a complaint process. When our process is we will go out and stand with the child and walk them through some of the options they have to ensure their voices are heard,” said Elman.
“The ombudsman is not used to working with children. The ombudsman doesn’t have any ability, yet, or capacity, yet, to use an Indigenous lens in its work but we have strived to develop one.”
Elman’s term officially ends Friday as the child advocate. Before he learned his office was being closed he was supposed to be attending a meeting with the provincial government Nov. 26 to discuss what the province is going to do about problems with residential care.
He’s unsure if he’ll still be invited to that meeting if he’s told between now and Friday he is no longer the advocate.
The meeting was scheduled after Ontario’s chief coroner released the findings of the so-called expert panel report into the deaths of 12 children living at group or foster homes in Ontario between 2014 and 2017. Eight were Indigenous and included Keeash.
The panel of experts picked by the coroner reviewed each child’s death and provided recommendations after finding the system failed each of them and continues to do so.
But it wasn’t news to those that have been listening for the last 10 years since the child advocate’s office was first opened.
“This is not news,” said Elman of the report. “We supported the process but we were sort of astounded that people pretended like this is the first they ever heard about it.”
Regardless, if it created action by the government Elman supported that.
But the first move the Ontario government publicly made after the report was released in September was to announce the closure of his office.
That means Elman will be the first and last child advocate in the province.