Toronto Star: Teens across the country gather in Ottawa to finalize new children’s charter

Toronto Star: Teens across the country gather in Ottawa to finalize new children’s charter

By Mary Getaneh StarMetro Calgary

Wed., June 6, 2018

CALGARY—Young people from across the country met in Ottawa on Wednesday to finalize the new Canadian Children’s Charter.

Crescent Heights High School senior Toney Bedell was one of the 15 young delegates participating in the event in the nation’s capital.

Bedell, 18, is a former member of the Mayor’s Youth Council and has been active in student politics since he was in middle school.

He said he was interested in participating in the project because issues that young people face need to be addressed.

“Though we do have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, oftentimes in our political discourse, we tend to only focus on issues that adults face,” said Bedell. “We brush under the rug how those issues affect children.”

Developing the children’s charter began in 2017 when Children First Canada, a national non-profit organization, hosted online forums and focus groups to see what issues concerned Canada’s youth.

Sara Austin, founder of Children First Canada, said creating this charter gives children the opportunity to voice their opinions on the issues impacting them — such as poverty, better access to mental health services and combating violence and abuse of children.

“As an organization, we can share research, share statistics and we can speak up on behalf of children,” said Austin. “But it’s important for our government to hear directly from young people on their own experiences.”

The first draft of the charter was created in November 2017 in Ottawa on National Child Day. Now that it has been finalized, the group hopes to bring it to the attention of the government with an action plan on how to address the issues highlighted by Canada’s youth.

Bedell said he’s especially concerned about substance abuse and mental health issues.

“These problems not only hurt and damage youth, but it leads to hurt and damaged adults, and that perpetuates a cycle of damage for the next generation,” said Bedell.

It’s important for young voices to be represented in politics, said 11-year-old Roman Wolfli, who participated in the event online with his class at River Valley School in the city’s northeast.

“Eighteen is not the most important number, it’s really when high school ends, but the brain doesn’t stop developing there,” said Wolfli.

“People need to see that some youth have voices that are very reasonable and should be included in the political discussion. We comprise a large part of the population and yet we are not represented.”

The fifth grader hopes the Canadian Children’s Charter will improve the lives of many.

“We want to take these themes in the charter and bring them to life and actually make real change for those children in Canada who are less fortunate,” said Wolfli.

Mary Getaneh is a Calgary-based reporter covering arts, culture and diversity. Follow her on Twitter: @marygetaneh