Serenity's Law will likely never become legislation, MLAs concede

A private member’s bill named for a four-year-old girl who died of catastrophic injuries after she was placed in kinship care on a central Alberta reserve was introduced in the legislature Tuesday, but will likely never become law.

United Conservative Party MLA Mike Ellis introduced Serenity’s Law, or Bill 216, as the child’s mother watched from the gallery.

Efforts to immediately move the bill into second reading were thwarted after UCP House leader Jason Nixon failed to get the unanimous consent of the legislature to proceed. 

The fall session of the legislature is scheduled to end on Thursday and there is a backlog of government bills on the order paper. If Nixon’s motion had succeeded, the bill could have jumped the queue into debate.

“While it’s not technically dead right now, the bill will be dead at some point in the near future before its read again,” he said.

Bill 216 proposes an amendment to the existing Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, that would compel adults who know a child is being abused to contact either the police or the child welfare director in their region. Failure to do so could result in a maximum $10,000 fine or six months in jail.

Serenity’s mother said the bill would have saved her daughter’s life. The little girl was brought to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in September 2014.

Serenity suffered from head injuries and was severely underweight. Her body had signs of sexual and physical abuse. She died four days after she was admitted.

Her guardians have been charged with failing to provide her with the necessaries of life. 

‘Concerns about unintended consequences’

Even if the bill made it to debate, Ellis acknowledged the government’s actions indicate they would not support it.

In question period, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee said police services and the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police have concerns about the bill.

“We continue to have concerns about unintended consequences and confusion with this proposal,” she told the legislature.

Her department later told the Canadian Press that it would be best to have those complaints about children who are not under direct threats of harm submitted to child intervention staff.

Ellis, a former Calgary police sergeant, dismissed Larivee’s comments. He said police officers regularly do checks on people’s welfare.

“The police, their responsibility is to protect life,” he said.

Serenity’s mother met with Larivee on Tuesday. She was not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. 

“Every time I asked her if she supported Serenity’s Law and the children in Alberta, she refused to say yes, every time,” she said. “She basically made up excuses every time.”

The mother, who cannot be named under Alberta child welfare laws, lives outside the province. She flew to Edmonton to witness the bill’s introduction in the legislature. 

Ellis introduced the same bill a year ago but it never came up for debate. 

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