The Carlington Summit
by David Darwin.

Plans by Elections Canada to conduct a vote in all Canadian schools is causing concern in some quarters. The major issue is the lack of consultation of parents or school boards.

On Oct. 20, MP Eric Lowther is among those opposing participating in the vote. Lowther, also the opposition critic for Children and Families, is contacting school boards across Canada, informing them about Elections Canada's plans to conduct a poll of children in their schools without consulting parents or the school boards.

Elections Canada announced in July that, in conjunction with UNICEF Canada, it was going to enter 15,000 schools in the country and conduct a “rights” vote of children aged 6 to 18, based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Many have expressed concern about the lack of parental involvement or provincial approval for this exercise. Parents say they're concerned that their children are being manipulated for political purposes, in a poll that could be used as a political lobby tool.

Many are concerned about associating this event with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child itself, which has never been debated by elected representatives in Parliament or provincial legislatures.

According to Lowther, the 36th Parliament alone has received petitions of 13,000 signatures from Canadians about the implications of the Convention on family life and parental rights and responsibilities. Some school boards have already indicated they will not allow the vote to go ahead in their school division.

“The parents and school boards hearing about this initiative, are concerned because the children are being manipulated for political purposes,” said Lowther. “Now school boards will have the facts necessary to make an informed decision about whether children in their schools should participate in this ill-advised exercise."

The other side of the debate

On Sept. 13, Harry Black, executive director of UNICEF Canada and students from the Ottawa and Outaouais regions presented the candidates for Canada's First National Election for the Rights of Youth to Jean-Pierre Kingsley, chief electoral officer of Canada, who will oversee the voting process. They also unveiled the election web site (http://www.itsyourvoice.com).

According to Elections Canada, the 10 rights candidates reflect the scope, spirit and letter of the Convention. They are: education, family, food and shelter, health, name and nationality, non-discrimination, own culture, protection from harm, rest and play, and share opinions.

It's Your Voice: National Election for the Rights of Youth will take place nationwide on Friday, Nov. 19. Primary and secondary school-age youth under 18 will be eligible to vote for which of the 10 rights on the ballot they feel is the most important to them, as individuals and as members of their families and their communities. The election is inspired by UNICEF-supported elections for the rights of youth which have taken place in Belize, Colombia, Mexico, Mozambique and Zambia. Youth from these countries will travel to Canada to act as international observers of the Canadian election in November.

UNICEF Canada hopes to heighten understanding of and commitment to children's rights among both adults and children in Canada and to offer Canadian children an opportunity to speak out about their own rights as citizens of a country which was among the first to ratify the Convention.

Elections Canada's wants to promote understanding of Canada's electoral process among youth to prepare them to vote in regular elections when they reach 18 years of age.

“This historic experience will be a valuable lesson in democracy for the young Canadians who participate. Voting nationwide on such an important issue will give them a greater sense of the democratic process and the responsibilities that go along with it,” said Jean-Pierre Kingsley.

Supporters of the election include the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadian Heritage, Human Resources Development Canada's Youth Initiatives Branch and Aboriginal Relations Office, the National Capital Commission, and the National Film Board of Canada which donated 130 sets of Rights from the Heart videos as early registration incentives.

For information on rights of youth and on UNICEF contact Tim Sen, Regional Director, UNICEF Ottawa-Carleton at 233-8842. For information on the voting process and on Elections Canada contact Pierre Blain at 993-2224. For Eric Lowther, MP, call 995-1127.