24 October 2013

Socially-responsible reporting trumps irresponsible government every time #nlpoli

For starters, the messenger the provincial government comms geniuses selected to scold CBC wasn’t their best possible choice.

Well, not if demonstrated credibility was the goal.

Charlene Johnson has a long history of bungling as well as a rep for coming off as condescending and arrogant without even the slightest possible justification for being so.  

She is, as SRBP put it before, Nicola Murray but without the political oomph.

In one of her many gaffes, Johnson the environment minister presided over a fiasco involving a string of public bridges her department was responsible for but didn’t inspect. When a federal government inspection of some of them found that one had disappeared entirely, Johnson’s department undertook a crash inspection program while insisting that public safety was their prime concern.  It was of such concern, evidently, that Johnson and her department did nothing about it until a freaking bridge vanished off the face of the other, much to the surprise of her staff.

Then there was the time that environment minister Johnson did not merely dismiss but actually ridiculed the idea of banning water bottles from government buildings as not worthy of any consideration at all.

There was another time where she had no jurisdiction when it was politically fashionable to claim jurisdiction  over the ocean environment.

Then there were the mounds of tires shipped to Quebec for incineration. The list goes on.

What Johnson did have going for her though was a track record of telling the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that she and whatever officials she was fronting for at the moment were far better qualified to know information than were the great unwashed masses.

That sort of patronising crap was Johnson’s stock-in-trade in whatever department she ran at the moment.

It wasn’t surprising that the provincial communications brain trust sent out Johnson to tell us all that people involved in the sex trade are at risk and that even the act of acknowledging the existence of a report the government paid for into sexual exploitation put people’s lives at risk.


Johnson couldn’t say.

She pointed to the deputy police chief who said:
I will say that every question I answer puts more information into the public domain, which provides more information to those who could potentially do harm to others.
Any specifics?

Any suggestions as to how that works?


Apparently the people involved in luring teenagers into prostitution wouldn’t know what to do unless they heard that there was a report into child sexual exploitation.  At that point, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary deputy chief Bill Janes sounded uncomfortably like Colonel Flagg, the bumbling CIA spy from M*A*S*H.

This would all be funny if Janes were not a competent, experienced  police officer put in the embarrassing position of spouting such pure crap.

What makes the Janes and Johnson tag team not funny but disturbing is that the topic they wanted to keep under wraps was a government-funded report into sexual exploitation in the province.  The provincial government funded the research two and a half years ago and has buried the report ever since. 

CBC got wind of the report, went looking for it and were told they couldn’t see it.  What’s more, once CBC got a copy of the report, Johnson’s officials tried to play the public safety card but without – apparently – any more substance than the stuff that Johnson and Janes got on with in public.

Their comments were ludicrous on the face of it.  Think about it for a second.  Johnson and Janes claimed that even saying that someone had a report on sexual exploitation put lives in jeopardy. Well, it stands to reason that doing the research three years ago put them in immediate danger.  After all, the researchers the provincial government hired spoke to people in the sex trade at the time, not three years later.

What’s more, Johnson made it plain that even devising a strategy to combat sexual exploitation put people in danger.  She didn’t intend it to come out that way, but such is the inevitable outcome of completely preposterous media lines:
You’re missing the whole point. The whole point is that, by even saying that we’re doing a piece of work around this, will cause potential harm to these people involved. That’s the whole point.
Sexual exploitation, especially child sexual exploitation, exists in Newfoundland and Labrador. Raising public awareness of the problem is one way to build the sort of political climate to support whatever legal, police, and health resources we should be devoting to this scourge.

Not talking about child sexual exploitation is wrong.

The problem is everyone’s responsibility, as the title of the report says.  The political problem is that no one in government has a mandate to deal with the problem of sexual exploitation, as the report tile also notes. 

The recommendations we know of – thanks to CBC’s socially responsible reporting – are simple enough:
  • Mentoring programs must be established for potentially vulnerable children and youth.
  • All governments must take responsibility in establishing 24-hour help lines working in conjunction with crisis intervention services and outreach teams.
  • "The healing process involves finding the source of the problem."
  • Children or youth at high risk for sexual exploitation must be identified by those with authority and ability to intervene.
The report calls for a number of programs or supports, including:
  • Help for those in the sex trade, such as a 24-hour drop-in centre for youth and a street nurse program.
  • Emergency housing for people trying to leave the sex trade.
  • Laws to permit anonymous testing for sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
  • A single agency in charge of dealing with exploitation.
The report also makes a series of suggestions for possible changes to the justice system, and repeatedly cites the issue of 16-year-olds left to live alone as a problem.
Now that you’ve seen the recommendations go back and look at what Johnson and Janes said. 

According to the minister and the deputy chief you are not supposed to know those few sentences because people’s lives would be jeopardised as a result. 

Now you understand that what Johnson and Janes said was utter garbage.  In the end, they didn’t harm CBC so much as they tarnished the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and – arguably – continued to stall getting help to people whose lives are in jeopardy.

No one could be faulted for thinking that the real problem here was less about the threat to the victims of sexual exploitation than to the people who ought to be doing something about it but who aren’t.  As the report’s title says, sexual exploitation is everyone’s responsibility but no one part of government has a mandate to do anything about it.

You can see proof of that in the news conference itself.  Charlene Johnson was there as minister responsible for the status of women, the agency that apparently holds the report.   Sexual exploitation is not a problem affecting only women.  The report includes sections dealing with children and men, for example.  The latter are especially victimized since the informants reported discrimination from agencies that should be helping them.

Where was the child advocate?

Where was the current minister of justice?

How about the current minister responsible for children?


Whatever department they’ve buried social services in these days?

None of them were in sight.

What we did have was Johnson – the minister responsible for public engagement – explaining that as a matter of official government policy, the government would not be engaging the public on this issue at all.  Indeed, government policy here was silence or, failing that, a half-assed attempt at shaming and intimidation.

Thankfully, it didn’t work.

The next question should be how we ensure there is action to deal with sexual exploitation in Newfoundland and Labrador.  It does exist, even if Johnson and Janes would just as soon no one knew enough about it to be worried.at the lack of government action.