World Children’s Day on November 20 is another opportunity for the University of Ottawa’s to drive home the message that every child matters and that children’s rights must be protected every day of the year. This year, the laboratory is holding a conference on the rights of Indigenous children and on culturally-rooted child and family services in the socio-historical and legal context of the adoption of Bill C-92 in Canada.
Since its creation in March 2007 by three professors from the Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section, at the University of Ottawa, the laboratory has been recognized for its diverse research and knowledge mobilization activities based on a comprehensive approach to issues involving children’s rights and their welfare.
“Children’s rights are, simply put, human rights tailored to children,” says Mona Paré, laboratory co-founder and the first director appointed to head the laboratory’s steering committee. “Theoretically, human rights apply to children. However, in practice, aligning legal documents and general instruments with children is difficult. Children are not autonomous individuals. They need assistance in exercising their rights,” she adds.
Children’s rights practices and policies
The laboratory officially began its work in 2008 with a first symposium on the relationship between young girls and street gangs. It’s research mission is dedicated to the recognition of the individual identity of children with regard to their rights. The laboratory studies the impact that family, school, health, social, justice and youth protection ecosystems can have on these rights.
This can be seen through the testimony of the laboratory director to the Quebec Special Commission on the Rights of the Child and Youth Protection, which was established as part of reforms to the province’s Youth Protection Act. It can also be seen in the efforts of its members to abolish section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code, which permits the use of corporal punishment where children are concerned. Two bills on the matter are currently before the Senate for review.
Multidisciplinary expertise beyond the law
In the Canadian children’s rights milieu, where other stakeholders are more focused on issues revolving mainly around the family, the truly interdisciplinary nature of the academic research conducted by the IRLRC puts it in a unique position. Its area of focus extends far beyond the mere prism of the discipline of law by including topics related to education, privacy, identity, cyberbullying, social pediatrics and delinquency.
“We have developed extensive expertise on such varied issues as child psychology, discrimination against Indigenous children, vaccination, medical assistance in dying and children in the digital world,” says Paré, who makes no secret of her desire to strengthen the laboratory’s position as the go-to reference on children’s rights in Canada.
“We have developed extensive expertise on such varied issues as child psychology, discrimination against Indigenous children, vaccination, medical assistance in dying and children in the digital world.”
Professor Mona Paré - Faculty of Law (Civil Law Section)
— Director of the Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory on the Rights of the Child ( IRLRC)
That very expertise allows the laboratory, a member of the Canadian Association of Human Rights Institutes, to play an active role in preparing reports on the implementation in Canada of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. These reports are presented from time to time to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child by the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, of which the laboratory is also a member.
“The laboratory currently consists of some 40 members from the Faculty of Law (Common Law and Civil Law sections) and faculties of Social Sciences, Health Sciences, Medicine and Education, for example. Our members come from the research community and the practitioner community (lawyers and social workers). We believe that it is essential to have a foothold in the community and to include community partners, who enrich the dialogue and help shape our approaches to research.”
Besides laboratory academic members affiliated with the University of Ottawa, there are members affiliated with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Toronto Metropolitan University, Université Laval, the Université de Montréal, McGill University, Royal Roads University (British Columbia) and the Université du Québec à Montréal. There are also members associated with bodies such as the Youth Division of the Court of Quebec and the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children.
A knowledge mobilization champion
Collaboration with members of the practitioner community (education, youth protection and social pediatrics) is essential to foster dialogue and disseminate knowledge about children’s rights more effectively. “We want our research findings to not be limited to the academic milieu. We want to share this knowledge with the community, in a language that is useful for practitioners,” Paré says.
The laboratory’s and lunchtime lectures are a key part of this knowledge mobilization strategy. The laboratory also conducts numerous activities jointly with centres whose research focuses on youth citizenship (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Citizenship and Minorities), social work with the Indigenous community (Kinistòtàdimin Circle), Black health (Interdisciplinary Centre for Black Health), human rights (Human Rights Research and Education Centre) and the impact of digital technology (eQuality project).
For the past 10-odd years, the laboratory has been organizing an essay contest on children's rights open to students from universities that are members of the Canadian Association of Human Rights Institutes. It has also been offering a graduate interdisciplinary course for students from all faculties. The course examines the relationship between theory and practice in children’s rights from the vantage point of disciplines including law, criminology, psychology, social work and education. The course, which is structured around the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, looks at issues concerning various aspects of the lives of children and the methodology of research on children.
To maximize its impact, for a second consecutive year, the laboratory is also offering a one-day certificate training session on a practical means for child rights impact assessments. The session, open to administrators from different levels of government, non-governmental organizations and members of all faculties, seeks to provide participants with tools to improve their decision making and minimize the risk of negative affects on children and their rights, whether in the lead-up to or aftermath of policy and program development, to make adjustments and propose reforms.
The laboratory’s director says that everything connected with children can affect their rights. “We want to broaden the scope of our research and the diversity of our members so that we can delve deeper into hot-button and priority issues in Canadian society, including issues concerning Indigenous children,” she says. This mission fits perfectly with the priority research areas of the University’s Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, related to the promotion of just societies and Indigenization of research.