This is the second time that I have considered Children’s death by violence in conjunction with the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Two years ago, I considered gun culture in the United States in the context of the massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut school:

Herod’s murder of boys was directly linked to his own quest for power. He had boys massacred, according to the story, so that a new “King of the Jews” could not usurp his role. How can children’s deaths today be at all linked to preserving power. This is the theme I am going to examine today, using two examples from 2014, one far from home in a country where democracy is struggling to take hold and another right here in Ontario, where democracy is apparently alive and well.

The murder of 132 schoolchildren and 9 adults at Peshawar’s Army Public School by the Taliban was proudly proclaimed by those responsible. The BBC’s reporter, Mishal Husain, was among the first to report from the scene. His thorough, compassionate review provides a good factual account of this tragedy: Like Herod in the Christmas story, the Taliban were seeking not only to terrorize but to protect their own regional power. The targeting of children on such a scale is an indication that those responsible will stop at nothing to further their own aims and, as a world community, we should remember this whenever we are engaged in dialogue with them. This is an example at an extreme end of the spectrum of children’s deaths, but examining such an extreme circumstance can highlight those elements of a situation in Ontario considering children’s deaths that bear close scrutiny.

In the interests of accountability and transparency, the Wynne government in Ontario introduced Bill 8, An Act to promote public sector and MPP accountability and transparency by enacting the Broader Public Sector Executive Compensation Act, 2014 and amending various Acts. Under this act, which covers many aspects and areas where public accountability may be desired, the government extended the powers of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, but only for circumstances related to children who are in the care of, or being considered by, a Children’s Aid Society in Ontario. The Chief Advocate, Irwin Elman, is rightly concerned that the powers of his office will not extend to other vulnerable children: children connected to the children’s mental health system, children in custody or in conflict with the law, children in Provincial Schools for the Deaf and Blind and children with special needs. These are all children obtaining services from Public Sector agencies and one might truly think that a government interested in being accountable and transparent would seek these qualities around all agencies and not just some. Being so removed as we are from Herod and Peshawar, and mindful of the lessons each teaches, should we not consider that every child’s death is important?

At present, if a child dies or is mistreated in one of institutions named above, the advocate must learn about this from unofficial sources, for example, the media. There is no obligation for all deaths of children in provincial institutions to be reported to the Advocate.  When Mr. Elman asked why his recommendations regarding vulnerable children in provincial institutions would not be honoured, he was told that there were concerns that the “document process might be a burden on the transforming children’s mental health system”.  But surely the deaths of children in these institutions in any circumstance is a public concern and a great burden to their families and our society? What reason can there be for not allowing this scrutiny? Even in this province, the only possible reason is still related to a government protecting its own interests. Someone will surely say that I am overreacting since children in provincial institutions in Ontario are not at the same risk as schoolchildren in Peshawar, and the Government of Ontario is not comparable to the Taliban. But, in fact, is the difference not one of degrees only?

The children who died as a result of Herod’s lust for power were considered the first martyrs of the Christian Church. Any child who is a victim of a government’s or agency’s desire for control should remind us all that we are not caring as we should for the most vulnerable. Bill 8 needs to be reworked so that the circumstances of all children’s deaths in Ontario can have the scrutiny they deserve.

No child should ever be a martyr and if we can’t get this right in Ontario in 2014, how are we ever going to manage to get this right in Peshawar?

One thought on “The Feast of the Holy Innocents: A reflection on the deaths of children

  1. Andrew Fenus says:

    Good one…nicely done …how you weaved in the Holy Innocents. A

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