Affordable housing, safety and potable water are a few of the rights that appear on an approved motion to create a Children’s Charter of Rights for the Halifax Regional Municipality.
“The purpose of [the charter] is to position Halifax as not only a great place to raise children but a great place to be a child,” said Coun. Lisa Blackburn, who introduced the motion to council in September.
Unlike Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the HRM Children’s Charter of Rights would not be legally binding. Instead, it would act as what Blackburn calls a “lens” through which council makes decisions.
Alongside a broad set of policies, the proposed charter puts forth six basic children’s rights:
- affordable housing
- affordable child care
- access healthy food
- safe potable water
- recreation and healthy lifestyle
“This certainly isn’t going to sprinkle magic fairy dust over the HRM and change the world for every child,” said Blackburn. “But what it will do, I think, is give, in particular this council and councils going forward, a different lens from which to view their decisions through the eyes of ‘what is this going to mean for the children of the HRM?’”
As the charter makes its way through council, Blackburn would like to see more specific policies attached to it.
“This is going to be a very long process,” said Blackburn. “It’ll be next year before this comes back to the table.”
Sarah MacDonald, primary health manager at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, says she believes a children’s charter could make a difference for children’s health in the city.
“If it’s used in a way that’s a guiding document, that’s a real opportunity and we would be happy to see anything that exists that helps keep children at the forefront,” said MacDonald.
“We know that the determinants of health include things like, do you have a place to go? Do you have a place where they care for you? Do you have food? Are you safe?” she said. “By focusing on and being mindful of those rights, we know that it has a big impact on child health.”
The idea for a children’s charter came to Blackburn from Pamela Lovelace, a project manager at Wisdom2Action, a children and youth advocacy organization run out of Dalhousie University.
“We started to do a little scan in Nova Scotia and realized, ‘Wait a minute, there are other cities in Canada that have children’s charters. We should have one too!’ So I literally picked up the phone and called Lisa … and she said this is great, we should be having this discussion.”
Lovelace ran for a District 13 council spot in 2016.
Lovelace and Blackburn acknowledge that the HRM Children’s Charter of Rights is a work in progress. Nevertheless, they both hope that if it goes ahead, it will ensure that youth have a voice at the table with every decision that council makes.
“The first step,” said Lovelace, “is to get the city of Halifax, to get HRM council to recognize that ‘Wow, yeah, kids are important, youth are important, and we should make that statement that Halifax is the best place to raise a kid, to be a kid.’ But you can’t really do that until you have a children’s charter.”