11/23/2018 14:05 EST | Updated 11/23/2018 14:29 EST

You Can Take Our Voice, But Ontario's Youth Won't Go Quietly

Eliminating the Office of the Ontario Child Advocate has far-reaching implications for children across the province.

By Austin and Rohan, members of Plan International Canada's Youth Advisory Council

The holiday season is fast approaching, which means signs of celebration everywhere. Yet despite the warmth of the holiday spirit, vulnerable young people of Ontario are faced with a very different message.

Last week, Ontario's provincial government announced that it will be eliminating the Office of the Child Advocate in Ontario as part of its Fall Economic Statement. The Office of the Ontario Child Advocate served as an ally, champion and resource for young people, supporting the province's most vulnerable youth and advocating on their behalf.

Jim Rankin via Getty Images
The move will eliminate the Office of the Ontario Child Advocate, Irwin Elman.

This past August, the world celebrated International Youth Day and, ironically, the theme for 2018 was "safe spaces." The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child clearly states that children are entitled to special protection to allow them to develop physically, emotionally, spiritually, morally and socially.

Eliminating the Office of the Ontario Child Advocate is far from ensuring protection.

"Young people are our future" is not only an overused cliche, it is entirely misleading. As young people ourselves, we can tell you we are very much part of the present. While we of course cannot speak for all Ontario's young people, we can say that our experience has shown that all too often, youth are denied a voice at the decision-making table, and are excluded from the political, environmental and socio-economic (to name but a few) decisions that affect us most. And now, entities that empower us are being cut from provincial priorities.

We refuse to accept the far-reaching implications that this decision will have on children in Ontario.

As young people, we are unfortunately used to being used as tokens for photo ops and not much else. However, when our rights are undermined, we refuse to be silenced. We refuse to accept the far-reaching implications that this decision will have on children in Ontario.

Canada's most populated province will now be the only province without an independent watchdog organization to advocate for the province's young people. As young people, we recognize that efficient and responsible fiscal management is imperative to economic growth and productivity — but this should never come at the expense of the rights and education of our peers. Children in care, Indigenous youth, youth in transition, your neighbour, your friend, your relative, will all be affected by this decision.

Jon Feingersh Photography Inc via Getty Images

While eliminating this watchdog position is problematic in and of itself, removing an accountability mechanism in our democracy that ensures the leaders we elect are representing those without a voice is of another serious concern. This is especially true, given the reality that those who will be caught in the crosshairs of this decision are Ontario's most vulnerable.

The transition from Office of Youth Advocate to the Ombudsman's Office will be a painfully slow process. Even when responsibilities have been fully moved over, who is to say that the ombudsperson will be able to effectively advocate for the issues that young people are facing?

The responsibilities of that office are already enormous, and it is fairly unlikely that a young person, especially one that is vulnerable or in care, will be able to stand up for their themselves in of sea of bureaucracy.

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We assure you that, as young people, we are here, we are loud and we will not stop until our rights are no longer undermined. Young people in Ontario and around the world are not a political pawn to save a dollar — will you join us in the fight against eliminating our voices?

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