Book Review: The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada. By Katherine Covell, R. Brian Howe & J.C. Blockhuis. 2nd ed. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2018. x, 246 p. Includes index and bibliography. ISBN 978-1-7712-355-6 (softcover) $44.99.

Reviewed by Jennifer Walker
Head Librarian
County of Carleton Law Association
In CLLR 44:3

When Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, the promise of robust and effective rights for children seemed to be on the horizon. In the almost 30 years since ratification, this promise has not been fulfilled. In The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada, authors Covell, Howe, and Blockhuis use the upcoming anniversary of Canada’s ratification of the convention as an opportunity to reflect on where Canada was in 1991, what has changed, and what needs to be done to ensure that the provision, protection, and participation rights of every child are guaranteed.

The book follows a logical path, providing insight for anyone researching the topic for the first time. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the issue of children’s rights and the inherent dangers of social toxins on the life and development of children, and it lays out two critical points that the authors return to repeatedly in the book. The first and possibly most important point is that for Canada to move forward with comprehensive human rights for children, a shift in attitudes is necessary. Children need to be understood as worthy of rights entirely on their own, not as property and not as people who will one day become adults. Canadians also need to embrace the idea that it takes a village to support children and families. Following that, the authors’ second point is that Canada needs to conduct a shift in the laws, policies, and practices created to guarantee these human rights.

With this in mind, the book first moves through some of the sociological background necessary for understanding the topic. Chapter 2 reviews notions of childhood and children’s rights throughout recent history and how, because the convention is not automatically legally binding here in Canada, achieving the convention’s goals must be worked into our consciousness and legal system through time. The following chapter discusses more thoroughly the development of the convention and the sociological concepts that went into its design.

In Chapter 4, the authors review matters that have come before Canadian courts (the Supreme Court of Canada, for the most part), where the convention has been mentioned or considered. As there are few judicial decisions that have referenced the convention, the authors are able to provide a quick analysis of almost all of the cases and show how it figured into the judges’ reasons.

The most substantial part of the book is in chapters 5 through 7. Each chapter covers a specific concept along with an analysis of Canada’s successes and failures in establishing provision (i.e. sharing and distribution of assets), protection, and participation rights for Canadian children. The final chapter, “Meeting the Challenge,” provides a recap of how Canada, in many ways, has failed to live up to the articles of the convention. The authors also include suggestions as to how to steer Canada on course.

The authors of this book do not shy away from offering both critiques and recommendations. They express a definite viewpoint on the necessity of rights for children and back up their work with references to a significant number of studies, reports, articles, and other supporting documents. An extensive footnote section is included for each chapter, as well as a lengthy selected bibliography that includes citations to the cases discussed in the book, as well as a list of online resources. A thorough index concludes the text.

From the outset, the authors acknowledge that this text does not delve deeply enough into certain aspects of childhood in Canada. As an example, the authors cover Indigenous childhood, but only briefly as it pertains to specific situations. Despite these lapses, the book provides an important overview of the rights of Canadian children that is easy to read, well researched, and persuasively argued. The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada would be a suitable addition to libraries supporting research on this topic, or as a concise starting point for anyone interested in the effort for children’s rights in Canada.

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