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An apathetic electorate

Most schools are ignoring UNICEFs 'kiddie-rights' vote

by Joe Woodard

(Reprinted with the permission of The Report Magazine - October 25, 1999)

Last July, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF and Elections Canada announced "Canada's first national election for the rights of youth." School kids of all ages will vote in the November 15-18 poll, through the agency of whatever teachers join the program. The students will choose from a ballot offering a selection of enticing rights ranging from "Education", to "Rest and Play" and the federal Liberals have vowed in advance to incorporate the election results in their pending National Children's Agenda. Parents across the country are already bridling at what they consider anti-family "street theatre", and pro-family organizations are working to fire a grassroots boycott of the little-publicized vote.

"Elections Canada is taking sides in a contentious political issue here," says Reform MP Eric Lowther, the party's critic on children's and family issues. "The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child potentially grants kids rights to pornography, contraceptives and abortion. And just last year, Parliament received petitions with 13,000 signatures protesting its intrusion into family life. So now UNICEF and Elections Canada are also violating the responsibilities of the local school boards. We're writing every Canadian board, encouraging a boycott."

In a private meeting last August, chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley admitted that he was approached by UNICEF only after the UN agency won enthusiastic support from the federal cabinet. The Liberals will soon unveil their National Children's Agenda; which may include a $15-billion national daycare program and national parenting centres. So, Mr. Lowther predicts, "they'll be using this election to sell their big-budget, nanny-state policies."

Despite the high hopes it generates federally, the official promotion of the UNICEF election has been fairly quiet.

According to Elections Canada officials, their involvement has been a single letter to the schools last June, and maintenance of the election website ( UNICEF spokeswoman Barbara Strang says that UNICEF sent a letter to the schools in September, and otherwise is simply shipping teachers' kits as requested. She reports that only 850 teachers have signed on nationwide, well under 10% of the total number of Canadian schools-and in many of them it may be a single class project,not one for the whole school. (UNICEF Alberta reports 106 schools signed on, or 5%.) Ms. Strang cannot explain why no systematic effort was made to work through school boards; random phone calls by this magazine to a dozen schools and boards reveal a widespread ignorance of the event.

("I think they're counting on low participation," says Linda Rasmussen, director of the Canada Family Action Coalition's Surrey chapter. Teachers most interested in the UN's kiddies-rights agenda are already on-stream, she suspects, and are most likely to deliver UNICEFs preferred results (low on private rights like "Family," high on statist entitlements like "Education.")

What ever the numbers, they'll be announced as representative of the whole country. So, to avoid provoking parental opposition and an angry boycott, it's made sense for UNICEF to stay low-keyed."

A growing number of parents and boards have been provoked anyway. In B.C., the Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Fraser-Cascade boards are boycotting the election, and Maple Ridge is requiring its schools to poll their parents. At least two other boards have been deliberating the issue, and CFAC and REAL Women of Canada are trying to sound the alarm with still more.

In Alberta, Christ the Redeemer Catholic School District in Okotoks has turned the UNICEF information over to its controversial materials review committee, where it languishes.

"There are serious concerns about the children's rights movement intruding on parental responsibilities," says superintendent Ron Wallace. "We're also aware of UNICEF's record promoting abortion world-wide, so at Halloween, we support the Holy Childhood Fund rather than the orange UNICEF boxes. "Other Alberta boards have not returned calls on the issue, but the province's CFAC chapter and pro-life groups are reportedly alerting them.

Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer for the Ontario-based Campaign Life Coalition, reports that the Kingston public school board is boycotting the UNICEF vote, and a number of others are considering following suit. "Once the boards know what's happening, they're troubled by the way parental rights and local authority have been circumvented," she say. "For heavens"sake, UNICEF is second only to Planned Parenthood as a promoter of abortion, but nobody knows that. Schools have always given UNICEF free access."

As a shortcut to reaching the roughly 100 Ontario school boards, Campaign Life is sending letters to 5,000 Ontario clergy seeking their support. "If we let the government use our kids, just once, as a means of legitimating their policies, we'll never again get that door shut," Mrs. Douglas warns. "Our kids aren't political pawns."

October 25, 1999 The Report

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