Edmonton Sun

Sunday, March 21, 1999

What about the rights of parents?

The Edmonton Sun

Premier Ralph Klein is a great believer in discussion and consensus. Through it, he says, Tories, Reformers and others all get along together in his government. The secret is to find out what the people want, and do it.

Following that formula his party for years has debated the United Nations treaty on the Rights of the Child. Many nations and all the other Canadian provinces have signed it. In fact, most premiers, not wanting to be accused of opposing the "rights of children," did so with no public or caucus discussion whatever.

Alberta's politicians, being Albertans, asked questions. What did the treaty actually say? They found something rather startling. It declared that a parent had no right to in any way physically coerce a child, no right to interfere with what a child read, watched on TV or to restrict whom a child may associate with.

So they forced the issue before the Legislature which resoundingly refused to sign. Last November, the Tory party convention again affirmed this stand overwhelmingly and a special committee of the Tory caucus voted, somewhere in the order of 30-15, not to sign.

Then last week it was quietly announced that Ralph had signed the treaty.

True, he had expressed certain reservations about it, but what the world would see was the signature of the 10th and last Canadian province. That's what mattered. Such a treaty has the force of law in Canada, says one feminist academic and it may now be unreservedly cited in court cases involving parental rights. Ralph's "reservations" will not be mentioned.

Ralph acted, it was explained, in response to an urgent plea from the prime minister that Alberta at last conform with the rest of the country and sign on. So Ralph did. "Discussion and consensus" are all very well, but when Ottawa speaks, we jump. That's what happened.

The situation raises an interesting question. Why does Jean Chretien really care? After all, Alberta has been refusing to sign ever since Chretien took office. Why such urgency now?

Try this for an explanation. A whole series of recent events has exposed his government to the altogether plausible charge that it is "anti-family." There was its refusal to use its legislative powers to repudiate the decision of a B.C. court authorizing the possession of child pornography which (according to police reports) is now flooding into that province in a deluge.

Next came the declaration of one of its cabinet ministers that stay-at-home mothers are lazy and do not contribute to Canada. Within a year the Supreme Court, acting on an Ontario case, will probably make it illegal for a parent to physically coerce a child. Slapping a child's hand will be declared a criminal offence. The government will again be asked by the Reform Party to repudiate the court. Meanwhile Health Minister Allan Rock is producing a plan to set up a federal "child czar" who will "represent the rights of children." Against whom? Against their parents, obviously. And at the same time Justice Minister Anne McLellan is bringing in a law making parents responsible for crimes committed by their children, over whom another law prevents the parents exercising any physical control.

Now all of this establishes a marvelous platform for any party declaring itself champions of parents' rights and family authority. And lo and behold, guess what's coming down the pike at this very hour. The United Alternative, naturally, and it's heaven bent to create just the kind of state-versus-parent controversy that could rapidly become a major issue in the ensuing election.

What the Liberals emphatically do not need, therefore, is for the Child Rights Treaty - signed by the federal Tory government and upheld by the federal Liberal government (the Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle Dum of federal politics, as the UA will describe them) - to come exploding into the middle of the campaign.

People might then actually read it and see the idiocies which it contains. That would be most unfortunate. So what to do? Call Ralph, of course. Explain to him how really important it is that Alberta give up this foolish obstinacy and sign that treaty. Of course, Jean, we can do that. But there'll have to be somewhere noted a couple of reservations. Of course, Ralph, of course.

What will be the payoff, you wonder. Because there's always a payoff.