Toronto Star

Saturday, February 13, 1999

Parties agree to push through CAS bill

NDP wants public hearings before MPPs return to Legislature

By Joel Ruimy
Toronto Star, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

The three political parties at Queen's Park say they're agreeable to a deal for speedy passage of a law giving the Children's Aid Society more power to act when it determines a child is in danger.

Social Services Minister Janet Ecker and Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty said yesterday they're ready to push ahead with the bill, which died when the Legislature rose for the holidays in December.

NDP children's critic Frances Lankin said in a statement her party also supports the legislation but first wants public hearings into the bill.

With all-party agreement, the bill could become law in as little as two days after the Legislature resumes sittings March 22.

The stalled Bill 73 has been in the news this week following reports that the CAS was concerned about the safety of a 13-month-old Scarborough baby but could not intervene because the new law hadn't been passed.

Tamara Thomas died Monday afternoon of asphyxiation but an autopsy also showed she had nearly a dozen broken bones; her 22-year-old father has been charged with second-degree murder.

Bill 73 would place protection of the child ahead of family autonomy, as is now the case. The legislation was drafted following a series of coroners' inquests over the last two years into a string of children's deaths.

Concerns are running high about speedy passage because Premier Mike Harris is expected to call an election shortly after the Legislature reconvenes on March 22.

If he does, there is a danger Bill 73 could die again when the Legislature is dissolved. But with an all-party agreement, the bill could be rushed into law.

``I am quite prepared to talk to them again about all-party agreement to get this passed as quickly as possible,'' Ecker said.

McGuinty said he's ``anxious'' to have the bill passed.

``We should have hearings in an ideal situation but if time does not permit,'' then the Liberals will just vote for the legislation, he said.

Lankin has offered her party's consent for quick passage if the government agrees to public hearings sometime between now and the March 22 return of MPPs.

But Ecker said Bill 73 already has the support of the CAS and of provincial coroners and doesn't require further hearings.

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