Best Interests of the Child: Meaning and Application in Canada

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Org: Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
Date: 2009

Best Interests of the Child (BIC) is a central principle in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. What does it mean? How does it apply in Canada?

This report reflects on how this principle has been used, misused, and under-used in ways that deeply affect children. More importantly, it proposes a rights-based approach for application in a wide variety of areas. It is the outcome of a multi-disciplinary conference that considered the concept of Best Interests of the Child in general and its application for many areas in the lives of children in Canada. The conference was held at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, on February 27-28, 2009.

Main Contents (those of particular interest to our sector are expanded upon below):

  • Best Interests for All Children: Main Conference Report
  • The Voice of the Child in Family Law
  • Child Welfare
  • Adoption
  • Children in the Refugee and Immigration System
    • Discussion: In practice, application of the BIC is inconsistent. A recent research project by the Canadian Council of Refugees (PDF) documented both good examples and cases that did not respect the rights of children. BIC does not apply to family reunification for refugee children in Canada whose parents are in other countries. Canada lacks a clear policy framework to protect the best interests of children who are unaccompanied asylum seekers. Trafficking of children is a growing concern. Issues related to the BIC arise in services for children in families of uncertain status, such as health services for asylum seekers and education for children of parents who are appealing designation as illegal immigrants. Coordination between governments is required to bridge gaps in laws and programs for immigrant families.** Suggestions for Action: Make the BIC and the Convention part of Canadian law. Adopt the UNHCR Guidelines for Determination of the Best Interests of Children for use by Canadian officials. Train all officials in BIC guidelines and the Convention. Give special attention to children in the development of strategies to prevent trafficking. Broaden the definition of family. Ensure access to education, health, and social services for all children, regardless of the status of their parents. Reduce waiting times for refugee applicants with children.
  • Aboriginal Children
  • Youth Justice
  • Education
  • Early Childhood Learning and Care
  • Health Care
  • Children and Cultural Diversity
    • Discussion: The relationship between the BIC and cultural diversity is an area of tension. It has been used to threaten the right to cultural identity, as in the residential schools policy. It can also be a protection for the rights of individual children within a group. Children often get caught between a parent’s desire to preserve their past and young people’s desire to be accepted in the new country. In some ways, Canada’s multiculturalism policy has fostered the continuation of "frozen cultures." Identity can be confusing, particularly in Canada. What is a Canadian identity?
    • Suggestions for Action: Prioritize community-based approaches to education about the rights of children. Provide alternative dispute resolution are important for young people who find themselves caught in tensions with their family around identity issues.

Download this report in English and French