The Progressive Conservative provincial government has proposed a ministerial roundtable to discuss the deaths of foster children, but the Wildrose Party is still demanding a full public inquiry.
“We strongly believe that clearly there is a problem. Where that problem is we don’t know and we don’t think the government knows either. So the only way to make it better is to have a public inquiry,” Wildrose MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Kerry Towle said on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Human Services Minister Dave Hancock invited opposition members in the legislature to join the roundtable discussion. Hancock said the roundtable’s report would hopefully be tabled in the legislature for debate.
Reports of deaths in the province’s foster care system stunned Albertans on Monday. An investigation by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald revealed 145 children have died in government care since 1999 — but only 56 deaths were included in government reports.
Of the 145 deaths, 50 were from disease or illness. The total also included 14 sudden infant deaths, 14 premature deaths, 14 by hanging, 11 from head trauma, six due to collisions, four drownings, three asphyxiations, three overdoses, three from hypothermia, and several other disturbing causes.
Towle said Hancock says deaths were not reported because they were due to natural causes.
“Why is the government saying that when it’s not true? They fully missed or removed reporting two-thirds of the children in care who died. That in itself is tragic.”
She said newspapers spent four years in a legal battle with the province to get the information on the foster child deaths.
“Why did the government spend four years and a multitude of resources fighting this in court? Would it not have been better to take that four years and sit down with stakeholders and figure out how to prevent even one single death?
“At no point in time should legislators be scared of an open and honest conversation about how we make the system better, especially when it prevents deaths.”
She said Wildrose is not giving up on its efforts to fight for families who had children die in provincial care.
“This is a huge issue. It’s devastating to the families. Some of these family members didn’t even know their loved ones had died.”
The province says that in 2012, it began reporting all deaths of children in care regardless of the cause.