Sadly, B.C. has lost one of its finest champions for the rights and well-being of children. I was greatly saddened to hear of the passing of Barbara McLintock, who died this past Saturday, long before her time.
I first met Barb in the early 1980s, when she would come to visit her father Peter, the renowned editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, and her brilliant, grammatically correct mother Ruth because my baby daughter Juel and I were their neighbours and they had taken a shine to her.
I followed Barb’s career as an astute and articulate journalist for various newspapers in the province, marvelling at her ability to dig deep and dig hard.
When I was appointed the provincial ombudsman in 1992, I had the good fortune to see Barb in a whole new light. I became the direct benefactor of Barb in her starring role as Vancouver’s Vera (Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope) when she began work on a story about the abuse of children. That role was as a tireless and tenacious investigative journalist.
Before my appointment, Barb had instigated the news story, unearthing facts about systemic abuse at a provincial school for children with disabilities, working solo, fighting against systematic denials and bureaucratic barriers.
Jericho Hill School was the provincial residential school for children who were blind and deaf. It began with hints of problems at the school in the 1980s and developed through her incredible journalistic instincts and swelled into a full-fledged ombudsman investigation and ultimately the subject of a report tabled with the legislative assembly. If it were not for Barb, this story might have taken many more decades to be discovered, delaying righting the wrongs done to the victim children.
One of the recommendations in the report, which the government rejected, was to recognize American Sign Language as the official language for the deaf. The report made the direct connection between the abuse occurring and going undetected and the lack of institutional respect for the language of the deaf, which prevented the children from communicating.
Fast forward a decade and my journey found me at the UN on Canada’s delegation to assist in drafting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Jericho Hill investigation helped me understand the deaf community, language and culture and inspired me to do what I could to ensure the official language status of ASL (and other deaf languages) found a rightful place in the convention to apply worldwide in all the 177 ratifying countries, including Canada.
Barb went on to accomplish many other wonderful things journalistically, as a coroner and in her volunteer work for the Girl Guides, to name but a few. But I will remember Barb most for her unpretentious aptitude for doing what was right and moral that helped lay a brick in the foundation for the rights of children and adults with disabilities around the world. Sadly, she might not have even been aware of her role.
Dulcie McCallum is the former ombudsman for B.C.