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Protect migrant and refugee children in the state’s care

CBA Sections support Bill S-235, which aims to assist young people transitioning out of care.

Caring for youth

The Family Law, Child and Youth Law and Immigration Law sections of the Canadian Bar Association, in a letter to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, insist on the importance of ensuring migrant and refugee children taken into the state’s care aren’t left without status or path to citizenship when they age out of care. To that end the Sections support Bill S-235, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and offer a few suggestions for improvement.

Transitioning out of care without status or a path to citizenship leaves young people vulnerable to financial and social harms, given the hurdles they face accessing basic services such as health care and education. Some provinces, the Sections note, have taken some steps to address this concern by amending their own youth welfare laws to authorize workers to assist children in care apply for citizenship. A good but insufficient step, “as child welfare workers are not adequately trained to help a child apply for citizenship, and do not have the capacity to assist with necessary paperwork and follow-up due to their caseload.”

The Sections write that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights legislation protect against discrimination and unequal treatment under the law. “Deporting young people who were formerly in the child welfare system is also contrary to Canada’s international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).”

Recommendations for improvement

The Sections recommend rewording the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act in plain language, since it will impact young people including those who may not have learned English as their first language.

As well, the Bill should insist that the Citizenship Act be applied in a manner consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a party.

The CBA letter suggests that instead of opening a path to citizenship for children based on how long they have been resident of Canada, the legislation should base it on a specified portion of their childhood spent in the child welfare system.

Given that the maximum age for youth in the child protection system in several provinces and territories is nineteen years old, the letter recommends changing the current definition of a minor to a person who has not attained the age of nineteen years instead of the current eighteen.

“A Minister or institution responsible for a child who is ageing out of care must plan for the child’s adulthood. If this planning does not occur until after the designated age in the Act because the child lives in a province or territory where they may be in care until the age of nineteen,” the letter reads, “it is foreseeable that this older child will be excluded from the benefit of this amendment.”

And finally, the Bill should clarify that children who reside with relatives for their protection under arrangements with child welfare agencies are not excluded from the intended pathway to citizenship.