18 Sept 2021

Every Child Matters in Vancouver Centre this Election

Election Day is here, and Vancouver Centre is at a crossroads on one vital issue:

Protecting all children.

Nothing is more sacred than our little ones. Children are our precious hope for the future.

Children count on us to speak up for them when they cannot.

Vancouver Art Gallery community memorial to the 215 children

For years, it has been the worst-kept secret of Vancouver Centre that Liberal MP Dr. Hedy Fry ignores many issues that don’t affect the majority in our riding. But since the last election, Dr. Fry is ignoring harm to children.

Like the harm done to Tori Johnson when she and her grandfather were arrested while legally opening an account at a federally regulated bank within Vancouver Centre.

Dr. Fry’s reaction? No comment.

Or when Bobbie Bees, survivor of child sexual assault on a military base, requested that Dr. Fry authorize his House of Commons petition e-2537 to modernize military law to fully protect children from sexual assault on military bases.

Dr. Fry’s response? “We would like to decline your request because there are no military bases in the riding of Vancouver Centre.”

And most recently, only a few weeks after the first 215 children announcement at Kamloops, 89 Liberal MPs voted unanimously with every other party to end the Crown’s punitive litigation tactics against Indigenous children and residential school survivors.

Dr. Fry’s vote? She sat in silence with the Liberal cabinet. The cabinet was whipped by Prime Minister Trudeau, but Dr. Fry abstained voluntarily. On June 7, 2021, Dr. Fry was present to vote for Vote No. 131, she cast her vote on other matters throughout that day, but she refused to vote when the time came to protect vulnerable children.

This is not the leadership that we deserve in Vancouver Centre.

That’s why I told my team to put pressure on Dr. Hedy Fry to answer for her failures to speak up for children since her re-election in 2019. We issued a news release calling on Dr. Fry to withdraw from this election because of her failures.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip provided the following statement in support of our call on Dr. Fry: "I am appalled that Liberal backbencher Hedy Fry chose to abstain on the vote to end the Crown’s punitive litigation tactics against Indigenous children, even though 89 of her Liberal colleagues voted to end it”, said Phillip. “Breen has shown us that he will protect Indigenous children, because all children matter.”

Some people questioned calling on Dr. Fry to withdraw from the election after it was underway. However, most people understood the real reason for the news release. Nobody seriously expected Dr. Fry to withdraw. We needed to put pressure on Dr. Fry to give reasons for her failures. Vancouver Centre always deserves answers from our MP.

This time it worked. Dr. Fry was compelled to provide answers under growing scrutiny and the pressure of public debate.

Dr. Fry’s first response came at the Broadway Lodge all-candidates panel.

One resident of the care home made an impassioned plea to never forget the 215 children. My heart swelled with pride as he demonstrated that there is no age limit on antiracism. He implored us to hold the Government of Canada and the churches accountable for the genocide perpetrated against the innocent children that were murdered and secretly buried at residential schools across the country.

In answer to his question, I told the crowd about Dr. Fry’s failures to defend Indigenous children since 2019. The gentleman who raised the question blurted out “Shame!” about halfway through, and then shouted “Shame! Shame!” at the end of my statement about Dr. Fry’s silence.

At another point during the Broadway Lodge panel, I raised Dr. Fry’s refusal to authorize Bobbie Bees’ petition to protect children on military bases. In response, Dr. Fry claimed that she was barred by her neutrality as an MP from signing any petition. This was an incredibly misleading excuse.

Bobbie Bees did not ask Dr. Fry to sign the petition. Bobbie requested Dr. Fry to authorize the petition through the official process of the House of Commons. She was his MP. Authorization by an MP is a mandatory step in the official petition process. Bobbie's request was part of Dr. Fry’s official role as an MP, and she declined to exercise that role.

After Dr. Fry’s refusal to authorize Bobbie’s petition, Conservative Defence Critic James Bezan of Manitoba stepped up to protect children. It took an MP from another province to stand in when Dr. Fry refused to do the right thing.

After the Broadway Lodge panel, I kept pushing Dr. Fry to answer for her failures to speak up for children. I thought I would have another chance to demand answers from Dr. Fry at the St. Paul’s Anglican Church debate. However, Dr. Fry sent regrets at the last minute. She didn’t attend.

I was beginning to wonder whether Dr. Fry was trying to dodge my questions. But then we both attended the Proud2Vote virtual town hall. When the candidates were asked about their plans for reconciliation, I spoke about my dismay on learning that Dr. Fry abstained on the House of Commons vote to end punitive litigation against Indigenous children. I promised that I would fight for all children.

Finally, we received Dr. Fry’s reason that she abstained, which can be viewed at 1:22:12 of the recording of the town hall:

“The reason I abstained was that this was a motion brought in by the New Democratic Party in the House. And there were some components of it that were great. I liked some of the concepts of that motion. There were some that were concerning me. Because, for instance, with Residential Schools, we’re looking at residents who lived there all the time and who were subject to such awful practices. And then there were the day kids. And what happened was that the [Canadian Human Rights] Tribunal suggested that everyone should get the same amount of recompense. I found that if you just were in there for maybe a few days, and then you were there from years and living and sleeping and everything, then in fact the trauma you suffered may in fact be even greater than if you were just a day student. I wanted to look at that because the judicial in—courts—asked, if we look at this to be fair to everyone who was going to get rec—compensation. I was torn, and so when you are torn you abstain, because I don’t want to say yes to something that I felt had negative repercussions, or no to something that I felt had positive repercussions. So, I abstained for that simple reason. I am still looking at the issue. We are taking it to a judicial inquiry to ensure that that equality and fairness comes about in the compensation given to the kids.”

It took a Twitter campaign that started on June 9, a press release calling for Dr. Fry to withdraw from the election, and five election debates to finally get a response from Dr. Fry. That’s 96 days from the first time I sought a reason from her.

And Dr. Fry’s excuse for her abstention was her hunch that someone might be overcompensated for their trauma in day school. Without presenting any evidence that her speculation is true. Regarding years-long litigation. Courts processes are centred on evidence, so where's the proof, Dr. Fry?

There is even more omission and misinformation to unpack in Dr. Fry’s long-overdue excuse for her failure to vote to end punitive litigation against Indigenous children.

First, Dr. Fry said nothing about Indigenous children suffering today. Dr. Fry speaks as if these atrocities only occurred in the past. Cindy Blackstock and her organization are fighting for Indigenous children mistreated by Canada right now. Blackstock has been fighting for 14 years to end chronic underfunding of Indigenous children by the federal government. Chronic underfunding that makes children vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. Chronic underfunding that is literally costing some of these children their lives.

Second, Dr. Fry completely ignored improper attacks by government lawyers on Blackstock's organization in the claim she brought for Indigenous children. Crown lawyers have an incredibly extensive history of punitive litigation tactics over the 14-year history of Blackstock’s Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case. Since 2007, the federal government has delayed the case and fought for these children to receive absolutely no compensation!

Blackstock herself has said that the government claims “irreparable harm, but not to the children, to the government! They’re arguing that this $2 billion [tribunal award, the maximum allowed of $20,000 per child], which represents less than 1% of the federal budget, is somehow irreparable harm to the government, and they want to collect legal costs against organizations that oppose them, including mine, which has two full time employees and lots of teddy bears. They want us to pay their legal costs!”

Who could possibly consider any of this “equality and fairness” in the compensation process?

Dr. Fry, by her own admission.

Dr. Fry’s abstention shows that she will allow the government to continue to unfairly underfund Indigenous children. Dr. Fry’s abstention shows that she will allow Crown lawyers to keep trying to bankrupt the organizations that are fighting to achieve equality for these children. This is what Dr. Fry’s abstention actually supports, no matter what she claims.

Third, Dr. Fry’s long-overdue excuse suggests that she supports a compensation tactic known as “meat chart” litigation. Before my father’s death on December 29, 2020, he told me about the regular physical abuse that he received at the hands of a nun in day school. I have other relatives who attended day schools and were repeatedly sexually assaulted by nuns and priests. It haunts them to this day.

I want Dr. Fry to receive a powerful message: the thousands of kids abused at day schools are not pieces of meat for anyone to measure out, price up, and even discard. I fight to send this message to honour the memory of my late father and every other person who has died without receiving justice.

It is time for new leadership in Vancouver Centre. Leadership with integrity. Leadership by justice. Leadership for everyone.

I am the strategic vote to defeat Dr. Fry.

I am an engaged and energetic leader for Vancouver Centre.

I will protect children everywhere because I believe that all children matter.

Help send a powerful message: vote for Breen Ouellette, NDP, as the first Indigenous MP for Vancouver Centre on September 20.

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